Off the Radar by Randy Castello

With improving ocean conditions, the Puget Sound 2022 fall coho season could be the best in recent history. 666,648 coho are forecasted to return to the Puget Sound basin. With a few exceptions our local coho fisheries (Marine Area 5-13) will open August 16th. Following is a quick breakdown of our inside coho fisheries. Make sure to review the WDFW Fish Washington App, WDFW Washington Sports Fishing Rules pamphlet and the emergency (https://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/emergency-rules) for current daily limits and emergency closures.

MA 5 8/16-9/28 Hatchery Only

MA 6 8/16-9/28 Hatchery Only

Dungeness Bay fishery 10/1-10/31 Hatchery Only

MA 7 8/16-8/30 Hatchery Only

Bellingham Bay 8/16-9/30 Hatchery and Wild 

MA 8-1 8/1-10/1 Hatchery and Wild

MA 8-2 South and West of the Line Defined by the Mukilteo and Clinton Ferry Docks 8/13-9/19 Hatchery Only

MA 9 8/16-9/25 Hatchery Only

MA 10 Through 10/31 Hatchery and Wild

The Sinclair Inlet Fishery Through 9/30 Hatchery and Wild

MA 11 Through 10/31 Hatchery and Wild

MA 12 North Through 10/31 Hatchery and Wild

MA 12 South Through 11/30 Hatchery and Wild

MA 13 Year-round Hatchery Only


What, somebody said coho? Break out the gear, check the trailer lights and move the garbage cans out of the way. It’s time to go fishing. I think that more than any other Western Washington fishery, our local coho opportunity is an eagerly anticipated family event. Where there are many commonly known “stock” coho fisheries, this article will focus on a few of our out of the way opportunities. 

Although areas like Eagle Point off San Juan Island, Point No Point, Possession Bar, the Edmonds Oil Docks, Meadowdale Point, Jeff Head, Kingston, Des Moines, Three Tree Point, Point Robinson, and the Slag Pile off Point Defiance are all solid coho fisheries, they can get crowded. Are there other coho opportunities? The answer is affirmative, and even better, finding off the radar coho is pretty rewarding.

For me, pulling up on a spot and being the only boat in sight is magical. A quick look at the meter confirming there is bait and individual coho on the prowl gets my old ticker going. In general, coho are a very worthy opponent. Being on a school of them without another boat in sight could be the highlight of your summer. 

Finding off the radar coho starts at home. Sit down with a digital chart, preferably one that will give you current arrows, and develop your game plan. Your game plan should include a few layers of back up plans. If you use your phone, screenshot the areas you want to fish. In doing your research, consider the tides and how they will be flowing or interacting with adjacent structure or opposing tidal flows.

A few examples to get you started: 

Eagle Point on the south side of San Juan Island is an option. Most people set up along the pronounced rips just off Eagle Point. The reality is that those rips will concentrate bait much further offshore than you would expect. At the surface, the current break is very subtle, but at depth the current forms a hard wall trapping bait that the coho are feeding on. 

Double Bluff is another sleeper and rarely has more than a few boats on it. I really like Double Bluff; on the right day you can fish the general area and never have to fire up the main and go on the hunt. Depending on the tides you can drag gear, mooch cut-plug herring, and even fish jigs. On the flood tide you want to fish the rips south of the bluff, and on the ebb, fish from the buoy north. You will need to keep an eye on the fish finder, but many of the early season coho will be suspended in less than 150’ of water. If you’re not seeing anything on the meter, move around. More than any other place on the Sound, there will be coho holding somewhere at Double Bluff.

Another out of the way and often overlooked coho spot is Partridge Bank. That said, Partridge bank is one of my go-to coho spots. Depending on the given tide series, it typically fishes well on any tide. Fish along the edge of the shipping lane on the west side of the bank. A couple things to note regarding the Partridge Bank fishery: sometimes there is a big swell that fractures as it approaches the bank. The resulting chop can be unpredictable and you need to be alert to changing sea conditions. Secondly, you may stray into the shipping lane so keep your radio on and give any passing ships the right of way. Consider setting your VHF up on Tri-Watch, monitor 16, 13 (Bridge to Bridge, commercial traffic) and a floating channel. I have mine on 22 but many recreational boaters monitor channel 68.

The previous three examples are just a few of the areas to find off the radar coho. Again, sit down with some form of chart and current table and do your homework. There are many other locations in MA 5-11 where you won’t be necessarily be chasing coho with a fleet of like-minded friends. Look for points, underwater structure, and areas where opposing currents will concentrate bait and you’ll find coho. 

Now that you have identified your coho hidey-hole, what’s next? The coho drill on my boat is pretty basic. Although I have a couple jigging and/or mooching rods ready to go it’s mostly a trolling show. I pull 11” flashers and flies, hoochies or spoons. Coho Killers, Silver Horde 3.5” Kingfisher Lite spoons and Gibbs G-Force spoons are my go-to spoon offering. I run 36” of 30# fluorocarbon between the flasher and the spoon. Regarding color; you can’t go wrong with any combination of green or chartreuse but a Purple Haze flasher and a clear hoochie with a green insert can be deadly. Always head out with an assortment of flies, hoochies, or spoons and cycle through gear until you find the magic combination for the day. Also, use scent on your spoons. Try a sticky Bloody Tuna, Herring, or Anchovy goo and re-scent often. Add a salted herring strip to the leading hook on all your flies and hoochies.  

At the butt-crack of dawn, fast trolling cut plug herring in the top 30’ of water is a solid option, but after first light it will be a downrigger show. Use 12 pound or heavier downrigger weights and troll 3.5 to 4 mph. At the speed you’ll be trolling for coho it is likely that you will not see your downrigger balls on the meter and remember that with the blowback you will need additional cable out for a given depth. Especially for coho, I chase meter marks, so keep an eye on the meter. Be ready for action, we have had every rod on the boat go off at once when trolling for early AM coho. Have a game plan, net ready, and a bleed bucket to assure that your silvery opponent makes its way into the fish box in the best possible condition.

Good luck and remember that our fall coho fishery is an ideal family fishery. They are relatively easy to find, usually hungry, and have some serious shoulders. As a last thought, I want to address the weather. I work 5 to 6 days a week on the water. While in the San Juans today I encountered a significant squall line of thunderstorms. Basically, the weather went from summer boating weather to “what the heck” in minutes. It was windy, pouring and very dark. Then the thunder was relentless and deafening. Since I had not hit send for the article yet, I figured that a quick note about coho weather was in order.

Coho season falls while our summer boating weather is transitioning to an unsettled weather pattern. Most of the time the pond will be very pleasant. Be aware of and prepared for changing conditions. If the forecast is questionable, don’t go, or at least proceed with caution. A 15-mph wind against a running tide can be uncomfortable or even dangerous. Know the limits of both your boat and crew, then always error on the cautious side.