By Mike Carey
“Fish Fish Fish”! The port downrigger rod plunged down as the line released from the clip. Almost immediately the rod violently pulsated over and the line clicker on the reel screamed, announcing another solid coho on the other end of the line. My friend Robbie made a mad dash for the rod, slipping as he grabbed it. “Careful Robbie, don’t fall out of the boat!” Robbie is a true angler – any fish is a good fish to him, and this was a good fish. He took control of the rod and called out “nice fish!”, the excitement causing his voice to go up an octave. Slowing the boat down to allow Robbie to play the fish, he worked the bucking coho slowly back to the boat. Several screaming runs later I slipped the net under a beautiful chrome twelve pound hook nose Area 10 coho. September fishing in Puget Sound for coho – and it doesn’t get much better than this!
It has been my good fortune to be blessed with this and more coho memories. Since moving to the Seattle area in 1989 I have learned the fish and fishery and over time I have come to have some success (and my share of skunks). Regardless of the results at day’s end, my Coho Education grew with each season’s passing. For me and Puget Sound anglers August through October is a special time with the promise of another year’s return of one the Pacific Northwest’s most beloved fish, the pacific coho salmon.
My Coho Education started in West Seattle where my wife JoAnn and I bought out first home. My first “boat” was an eight foot sport raft with an 8 horse power motor and a 5 gallon tank of gas. A simple set up but it got me on the water as I began my coho education. Back then it was either mooching, jigging, or trolling with a Deep Six. I slowly learned my craft, and with each fish I caught, and the days I caught nothing, I learned my lessons. Returning to the launch and seeing the successes other anglers had, I would gaze enviously at their catches. “Beautiful fish, do you mind my asking what you caught it on?” Most times the angler was more than happy to share information, sometimes not. Over time I learned, by the grace of anglers willing to share tips, by books, and magazines. The crisp late summer-early fall days, smell of saltwater in the air, anticipation of a successful fishing outing - coho fever had me firmly in its grip.
From the sport raft I graduated to my first “real” boat, a sixteen foot Fiberform runabout with an eighty horse motor. Suddenly I had the ability to venture farther out and in rougher waters. I now had a boat that I could take friends and family out fishing. New locations became my favorite spots to fish – West Point, Four-mile Rock, Shilshole, Jefferson Head and Blake Island, all new areas to explore and learn. With a real fishing boat came more toys to learn and utilize in my coho education. Downriggers – manual – became my newest tool to learn and utilize. I soon joined the “trolling motor cut my cable club” and learned all about hard running tides and not making tight inside turns. Losing expensive downrigger balls was a painful, but seemingly necessary lesson. The high point of fishing out of this boat for coho was fishing off of the San Juans Cattle Point with two of my brothers and getting into some quality coho with only a couple boats around us, and a pod of Orca whales to keep us company. Talk about God’s Country! I loved my fiberform and caught my fair share of coho, but soon enough it was time for the next upgrade.
With two boys in our family, it was time to move up to something bigger and safer. When I saw the “for sale” notice on an eighteen foot Sierra Seaswirl Cuddy Cabin I knew it was the perfect boat for my growing family. And it turned out to be the perfect coho slaying machine as well. No longer were September windy days to force me to return early to the dock. Our new boat sliced through chop and waves in comfort. I now had all of Puget Sound at my call – the crown jewel – Possession Bar – became my favorite destination for fall coho.
For those of you not familiar with “The Bar”, Possession Bar is the crossroads of Puget Sound. Coho stream in and over the bar, feeding on the large schools of baitfish that get caught in its eddies and currents. For a coho it’s like going to a buffet with all your favorite foods. Back in the early to mid-nineties the bar was also choked with boats (which it isn’t anymore). You really needed to understand tides, current, wind, and trolling etiquette to avoid some on the water collisions. I saw a few of those, and many near-misses in September. It was an epic time to fish for coho and many a chrome bright silver made its way across my boat’s gunnel.
I continued to learn and evolve my coho skills each season. One thing I earned is to never think you’ve learned everything you know about a fish and always be open to new tricks and techniques. Talking to other anglers in line to launch your boat is a great way to glean new information and make you a better angler. Not everyone will be open to sharing info, but many are. Rather than ask for specific spots I think it is more productive to learn techniques. Along with asking questions I believe in sharing information you have learned as well. Our sport depends on recruiting new anglers to the fold. Helping to make other anglers successful increases license revenues which means more money dedicated to habitat restoration and hatchery production. (We hope). When we help each other, we help ourselves and hopefully will have a fishery for future generations of anglers in Puget Sound.
As I now fish out of what will likely be my last boat upgrade (a twenty foot Thunderjet) I look back on my evolution as a coho angler with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. I have been blessed to share fishing with friends and family and helped provide some wonderful memories for them. Along the way I have learned and refined my skills. There are many anglers out there far more skilled and knowledgeable than I and that’s OK. We all strive to be the best we can be, right? Even those at the top of their games are always learning and working to improve their skills (or they should be). As you travel on your journey of Coho Education remember it is the journey, not the destination. May your Coho Education be a good one full of lasting memories and friendships gained – and lots of fish!