Salmon are synonymous with the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. The region offers a multitude of fishing locations that vary from the offshore fisheries of the Pacific Ocean, to shallow coastal estuaries, to the many classic fishing haunts of the protected waters of Puget Sound. Throughout the Salmon’s saltwater range, anglers have great opportunity to catch these prized fish as they aggressively feed. As their biological clocks trigger the migration back to spawn, fishermen head to their local rivers to intercept them. Although Salmon stop feeding once they enter the river fishers coax Salmon, fresh from the sea, with lures and baits that tempt them to strike, triggered by their spawning aggression.
Steelhead are considered by many Northwesterners to be the most prized catch in our rivers. These large cousins of the Rainbow are essentially a sea-going trout. Like Salmon, the Steelhead migrates from their natal river to the Pacific Ocean to feed and mature, and eventually makes the voyage home to spawn. Steelhead can be challenging to catch, which makes each one landed such a rewarding experience. Their range is as broad as that of Salmon, with returns to rivers in Alaska’s Kodiak Island south to the rivers of Northern California, and from Washington’s Olympic Peninsula east to Idaho’s famed Clearwater River.
The Pacific Northwest and Alaska hosts such a great variety of Trout species in a wide array of waters, and they are both appreciated by longtime anglers and the gateway catch to people new to the sport of angling, sparking interest in other fisheries. Wild Rainbow, Cutthroat and Brook Trout populations thrive in rivers and streams throughout the West. High country hikers find alpine lakes that yield pan-sized Trout fit for the skillet. Lowland lakes in practically every city and town are stocked with catchable sized Rainbow Trout. Out of the millions of folks that hold a fishing license, the vast majority of angling effort is focused toward trout fishing.
Albacore Tuna have, in recent years, caught the attention of many of the Northwest’s saltwater anglers. It wasn’t that long ago that an Albacore fishing trip required a booking on a two day charter, just to have the time to get out to the distant tuna grounds. With today’s faster boats, reliable outboards, high tech electronics, and online information, fishing for Albacore Tuna has become easy and extremely lucrative. Albacore migrate northward along the Pacific Coast until they reach the rich feeding grounds near the ports of Newport, Garibaldi, Ilwaco and Westport. Upon reaching the edge of the continental shelf, one becomes awestruck by the shear abundance of sea life, the birds, schools of Anchovy, Sunfish, Sharks, and large schools of Albacore. For one a good day’s worth of fishing, a boat can bring back enough tuna to feed the entire crew’s family for the year!
Halibut have long been a popular catch in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. These flat-sided bottom feeders can weigh in excess of four hundred pounds. But to the casual Halibut fisher, even a nice 30 to 40 pound fish is worth the trip. Halibut can be found along the edges of offshore canyons near the continental shelf in the Pacific, the underwater ridges and banks of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and around the reefs and pinnacles off the rugged coast of Alaska and British Columbia. Halibut fishing is so popular and productive that more marine areas have strict seasons and limits to keep the stocks from becoming overfished, one taste of fresh-caught Halibut will help you to understand why.
Lingcod have slowly become recognized as a prized catch in our marine waters. These toothy bottomfish are voracious feeders, and will ambush baits that are almost as large as they are. A wide variety of lures will catch the eye of the Lingcod, and yet there’s nothing like targeting these mean predators with live-bait rigs. They reside on rocky structure in areas were a strong current provides a constant supply of prey, and are accessible to both nearshore and deep sea fishers. The Lingcod’s white fillets are flaky and delicious, making them not only great for their aggressive nature and the fight, but also for the dinner table.
There are a variety of Rockfish species that swim around our marine waters, and the beauty of fishing for them is that you are often surprised by an unexpected catch. Pelagic Rockfish (those that swim around to chase food), such as Black Rockfish, Blue Rockfish, Yellowtail Rockfish, can be found in great numbers along the Pacific Coast. Non-Pelagic Rockfish (those that spend their entire life around the same piece of structure), such as Yelloweye Rockfish and China Rockfish, are more solitary than their socially schooling pelagic cousins. Rockfish are often easy to catch and great tablefare.
The Northwest is blessed with some of the best opportunities to harvest your own seafood, and the act of foraging and fishing for our area’s numerous species is something that folks around the region are proud to partake in. Succulent Dungeness Crab are abundant in Puget Sound and the coastal estuaries. Spot Shrimp, otherwise known as Alaska Spot Prawns, are such a popular catch in some areas that the annual season is a mere two days long. The Pacific Coast harbors such a huge biomass of Razor Clams that an opener can draw upwards of twenty thousand diggers to the beach. Even along the urban waterfront of Seattle, local fishing piers are crowded during winter evenings as anglers flock to catch a limit of Squid. Many area beaches offer the chance at a gagger-sized Geoduck, along with limits of Oysters and Butter Clams.