Limited time, Cost of Fuel and The Bubble

Limited time, Cost of Fuel and The Bubble By Randy Castello

Now that crabbing is open in MA 8-2, does a salmon and crab feed sound good? If so, a quick trip to target chinook at the Tulalip Terminal Area Fishery, otherwise known as “The Bubble,” should be on your list. The Bubble? Yes, a great idea, and a solid choice! Fishing the Bubble doesn’t require an all-day time commitment or much fuel. It is a short run from Everett and fishes best in the early morning, so you can fish it and then head back home to mow the lawn before anybody knows you were gone.

As a bonus, drop a crab pot or two on the way out! A limit of Dungeness crab is pretty much guaranteed. If you do decide to chase crusty bottom dwellers while fishing the Bubble, I strongly suggest using the cheap folding traps- and don’t be too attached to them. The mouth of the Snohomish is great crabbing and many boats participate in the fishery each year. Unfortunately, several pots disappear or get picked from on any given day. Maybe some people don’t recognize their own floats, get confused, and grab the wrong pots. The same people may not even know that picking a pot that is not theirs is illegal and very un-sportsmanlike. Either way, just be aware that you will not be hovering around your pots, and stuff happens. Use cheap pots, and if they disappear or come up with the door open (with nothing but chicken bones in the bait cage), don’t let it ruin your morning. Instead, turn it into a fish story: “a huge octopus busted open the trap door and released all my crab!”

Anyway, back to the Bubble. Plan to arrive early: typically, the fish go suicidal at first light. It’s not uncommon to start the day out with an immediate double. Basically, get your gear down, and before you pour your coffee, it’s go-time. These fish are typically 12-18 pounds, with an occasional 20 plus to keep things interesting. It is not a technical fishery. An 11” flasher, a spoon, and some sort of fish scent is all that is needed. 

My Bubble game plan is to start by the marker at the southern entrance to the Tulalip Bay (Mission Point), then work the 60-90’ line up to the point just north of Hermosa Point, do a 180 and head south, sticking to 90-120’ of water, then repeat. Typically, I chase meter marks at 40-60’ while trolling at 2.8-3.0 mph. Most of our Bubble fish are caught first thing in the morning with the gear running at around 50’. Keep your eyes glued to the meter, you’ll be fishing for suspended fish and should be adjusting your downriggers to intercept the meter marks.

I rig my chinook gear on 42” of 30# fluorocarbon leader. I have found that the 11” lighted flashers have a solid advantage in the Bubble fishery, but standard flashers still catch a lot of fish. Bring an assortment of spoons, but Cookies and Cream is a day in, day out producer. Regarding scents, there are many to choose from and everybody has their favorite. For the Bubble fishery, Smelly Jelly Pro Guide Formula UV Anchovy is hands down the most productive scent on my boat. If you have a crimper, you could try making a longer set of downrigger releases. Although I have a few guesses, I’m not sure why they seem to increase our overall hook up ratio. If anything, the longer releases make for an awesome takedown.

The Bubble fishery tends to hold up well into mid-August and, if it remains open, holds some very nice fish into September. The Bubble is a bit of a combat fishery. There may be both tribal net fishermen and crabbers, as well as other recreational fishermen. Be alert and courteous while enjoying your time at the Bubble. I know that seeing an active net fishery can be frustrating, but remember that these fish originated at the Tulalip hatchery. While most of our north sound salmon fisheries are closed, the Bubble produces quality fish from the opener on. Having this fishery available is a gift. This year it has been especially productive, and it should hold up that way throughout the season. 

Here are a few closing thoughts and tidbits of advice. Number one, try to be on-station early. By “early”, I’m talking “running the downriggers down in the in the dark” early. That said, be safe on your way out to the Bubble. If you’re not comfortable running in the dark, just launch early and then wait for just enough light to be comfortable. The other thing to note here is the ongoing tribal crab fishery. If you do decide to run in the dark, post a watch that is solely responsible for spotting crab pot floats. The run between the mouth of the Snohomish River to the Bubble will likely be carpet bombed with crab pot floats.

Familiarize yourself with the WDFW Tulalip Terminal Area Salmon Fishery definition. There is plenty of area to fish but there are hard boundaries that are enforced. 

I carry 2 nets for most fisheries, and when fishing the Bubble, having 2 nets is especially important. That crack of dawn bite can be intense, with doubles common and a triple possible. Although you can scoop and roll a fish out of the net quickly, having the second net ready to go is great insurance.

Who knows why, but the area around the Bubble must be a breeding ground for lion’s mane jellyfish. You will encounter them while fishing the Bubble. They are an inconvenience, but, if you’re prepared, you’ll be back in business on no time. Carry a roll of paper towels and a spray bottle of white vinegar diluted with saltwater. You’ll recognize an encounter with a jellyfish pretty fast. Either your rod or downrigger cable will slowly load up, then snap back to normal. When it happens, check your gear. A salmon will not be interested in a flasher and spoon covered with venomous goo. With time being so important, typically I have a clean rig ready to snap on and drop back down while I clean the fouled gear. A dry paper towel does wonders to help clean the jellyfish tentacles and goo off your gear. The vinegar helps to deactivate the jellyfish venom. Clean, rinse, and re-scent your gear and you’re back in business. Depending on your sensitivity, don’t touch your eyes or more private areas after handling jellyfish gear. Good practice is to spray your hands with the diluted vinegar, rub them together, and rinse them off as soon as possible. 

One last tip, the waters around Hat Island and the south end of Camano Island frequently host gray whales, minke whales, and orcas. Take the time to loop around the west side of Hat Island on your way in and be on the lookout for spouts. 

With the cost of fuel these days, fishing the Bubble is a cost-effective way to get your chinook fix, due to its close proximity to the ramp. Add a possible limit of crab and maybe a little whale watching, and a trip to the Bubble should be on your must do list.