I love March! And why, might you ask, do I have this “hug fest” during a timeframe when many are still climbing out of a winter funk?
Let’s see, I’m turning to page 105 to 123 of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) regulation pamphlet, and wow, it shows there’s a plethora of saltwater late winter and early spring salmon fishing options. Add to that decent tidal exchanges right out of the starting gate, improving fishing reports, and baitfish schools finally appearing in all the usual places with hungry chinook likely right on their heels.
Now you know why I’m stoked!
However, before the excitement settled in it was somewhat rough out of the starting gate as Mother Nature dealt crummy weather from January through most of February in the San Juan Islands (Area 7) open through April 15; northern Puget Sound (9) and east side of Whidbey Island (8-1 and 8-2) both open through April 30.
The good news is angler pressure remained light and chinook encounter rates were low. Often premature closures of areas hinge on catch guidelines or encounter limits for sub-legal and legal-size chinook (minimum size limit is 22 inches). Therefore, planning a trip sooner than later will guarantee you more time on the water. WDFW managers monitor all the fisheries and provide regular updates on sport catch data.
In San Juan Islands fishing is fair to good for winter chinook – 5 to 12 pounds with some hitting the high teens – around Spieden Island; Waldron Island, Spring Pass; north side Orcas Island from Lawrence Point west to Point Thompson; Sucia Island; President Channel in Warm Beach area; Rosario Pass; Smith Island; Tide Point; Lopez Pass; and Obstruction Pass; and Thatcher Pass. In northern Puget Sound, the “go to” spots are Point No Point; Pilot Point; Possession Bar; Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend; Browns Bay; and Double Bluff off Whidbey Island. Action has been slow to fair at “racetrack” between Camano Head and Hat Island; Elger Bay; Baby Island; Rocky Point; Greenbank; Holmes Harbor; Onamac Point; and Columbia Beach.

More salmon options come to light

Winter chinook action will ramp up in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca (5) when it opens March 1 through April 30, and eastern Strait (6) opens March 1 through April 15.
Historically March and April are prime time in the eastern Strait at exposed underwater shelf’s like McArthur, Partridge, Salmon, Hein, Coyote, Eastern and Middle banks.
Looking at the tide chart before taking a trip to the bank and understanding locations of where schools of chinook are hunkering down on a flood or ebb tide is important. For example, Hein is best on an ebb tide along the east and south sides. Partridge, Eastern and Coyote are also better on an ebb tide while McArthur produces on a flood tide.
Remember this is big water fishing grounds and in late winter and spring these exposed banks can churn up winds and rough water at a moment’s notice. Just to give you an idea of how far away the banks are to dry land its more than 22 miles from Port Angeles to Hein Bank by boat and more than 20 miles to the Port Townsend Boat Haven Marina.
Other decent locations are Sekiu; Freshwater Bay; Winter Hole and Ediz Hook off Port Angeles; and the “humps” – three underwater shelfs – located just west of Winter Hole.

Don’t overlook South Sound salmon

Central Puget Sound (10) is open through March 31; and south-central Sound and Hood Canal (11 and 12) are open through April 30 although success has been minimal. Southern Puget Sound (13) is also open year-round. That doesn’t mean the light switch won’t turn on at a moment’s notice off Jefferson Head; West Point south of Shilshole Bay; Point Monroe; Fourmile Rock; Rich Passage; Southworth; Manchester; Allen Bank off Blake Island; Clay Banks off Point Defiance Park in Tacoma; “Flats” outside of Gig Harbor; Quartermaster Harbor; and Point Dalco on south side of Vashon Island.

“20 in 2020” is NW Fishing Derby Series slogan

The first three derbies of the 2020 season wrapped up last month and success was fair to good in the San Juan Islands.
The Resurrection Salmon Derby in Anacortes on Feb. 1-2 kicked off the series with 329 anglers catching 62 fish. First place was Corey Coleman with an 18.14 pounder that earned him $12,000.  The Friday Harbor Salmon Classic was Feb. 6-8 and 308 anglers caught 100 fish. Jeff Nelson took first with an 18.57 pounder who took home $20,000.
Those were followed by the Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15 where 343 anglers caught 174 fish. Winner was Jason Squibb’s 18-pound, 14-ounce fish worth $12,000.  Next is the Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby on March 13-15; Everett Blackmouth Derby on March 21-22; and For the Love of Cod Derby in Coos Bay/Charleston, Oregon on March 21-22 and in Brookings, Oregon on March 28-29.
The highlight of the 2020 series is a chance to win a $75,000 fully loaded, grand-prize all-white KingFisher 2025 Escape HT boat powered with Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motors on an EZ Loader Trailer. The boat is equipped with Shoxs Seats for maximum comfort in the roughest of seas; a custom engraved WhoDat Tower; Raymarine Electronics; Burnewiin Accessories; Scotty Downriggers; and a Dual Electronics stereo.  Anglers who enter any of the 20 derbies don’t need to catch a fish to win this beautiful boat and motor package.  Other sponsors include Northwest Chevy Dealers and Burien Chevrolet; Silver Horde and Gold Star Lures; The Reel News; Tom-n-Jerry’s Marine; Master Marine; NW Sportsman Magazine; Outdoor Emporium and Sportco; Harbor Marine; Prism Graphics; Lamiglas Rods; 710 ESPN The Outdoor Line; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; Bayside Marine; Seattle Boat Company; Ray’s Bait Works; and Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine. For details, go to www.NorthwestFishingDerbySeries.com.
I’ll see you on the water soon!