My favorite time of the year has arrived and it all points to a silver lining in Puget Sound along with rolling out the red carpet for fall kings.

These crowning moments for fall kings had my son Tegan and I, Nate and Sue Nehls of Gallatin Gateway, Montana and Mark McCormick of Hayden, Idaho filled with excitement on a late August morning as we left Astoria’s west mooring basin marina with guide Austin Moser, owner of Austin’s Northwest Adventures.

During late summer and fall the Columbia River is deemed one of the best salmon fisheries in our neck of the woods and this trip with one of the top Pacific Northwest guides was no exception.

Not only was the king bite a pedal to the metal affair leading up to our trip but the hatchery coho action was also gaining traction and really ramped up at the end of August and will carry on into September and beyond.

This is based on a robust early- and late-coho forecast of close to 900,000 compared to an actual return of 286,000 in 2018, which is the largest return dating back to 2015.

“I’m looking forward to another great coho year at Buoy 10 especially with the forecast being up quite a bit from last year,” said Austin Moser, owner of Austin’s Northwest Adventures.

The red navigational buoy – known as Buoy 10 – is located just outside of the Port of Ilwaco which marks the western boundary of this nearly 20-mile fishing area upstream to the Tongue Point-Rocky Point boundary above the Astoria-Megler Bridge.

The morning of our trip started off hot with four chinook landed (chinook non-retention began on Aug. 21) on our first pass along the town of Astoria and then turned into a fish caught here and there affair. We didn’t manage to catch any coho but our timing for their arrival was a bit tad on the early side and action should be ramping up big time heading into September.

State fisheries manager indicate if the coho returns come back as forecasted then the current two-hatchery coho daily limit could be increased at some point to three fish.

The gear is simplistic and consists of a weighted diver or drop ball lead sinker of 8- to 14-ounces with a free sliding spreader to a KoneZone or Fish-Flash-type flasher. That is tied to a leader with a whole or cut-plug herring or anchovy. Spinners like a Toman’s Thumper Flex with a blade in red/white or chartreuse attached to a plastic squid or a Brad’s Super Bait Cut Plug lure also get the job done. Trolling off bottom in 20 to 45 feet of water is the name of the game.

Even more key to catching coho is keeping tabs on the tides. The fish will hang further downstream on an outgoing tide and then push further upstream on an incoming tide.

Anglers should refer to the WDFW regulation pamphlet for what you can and can’t keep at Buoy 10 plus what areas are open or closed to fishing.

Follow fall kings up the Columbia

If you don’t have immediate plans to fish the Columbia River there’s still plenty of time to catch “second chance” kings as they migrate about 375 miles upstream to the Vernita-Hanford Reach areas.

“It is very interesting to me how the fish change as they migrate up the Columbia and what they’ll actually bite,” Moser said. “Down at Buoy 10 we’ll catch them on bait but as they move up the river, we catch them on spinners or a Kwikfish or a Brad’s Super Bait. Their attitude changes from feeding to reacting to something that gets put in front of their face.”

Moser says certain colored lures or artificial baits work much better than others and as their eyesight deteriorates, they tend to see colors better like green, red or orange.

The good news was the fish counts at McNary Dam in late August were well ahead of last year’s numbers. Anglers will monitor the fish counts at McNary and once the single-day counts hit around 5,000 to 9,000 it’s time to go! It usually takes about five days for these fish to migrate to lower sections and around 10 days or so to reach the upper stretches.

The Hanford Reach area has one of the most productive late autumn king returns along the entire West Coast. The kings here average 15 to 25 pounds with some pushing 40-plus pounds.

The boat ramp just above Highway 24/Vernita Bridge on Columbia will place you right in front of the “King Hole,” which is a slot about 50 to 60 feet deep. There are other hotspots like the Hog Hole, and Midway Drift and China Bar Drift located above the King Hole.

The Hanford Reach area has good numbers of fish coming back when you look at historical data. The spawning escapement of 60,000 at McNary is usually attained yearly, and they’ve been able to meet their spawning goals for more than a decade.

Moser started fishing Aug. 1 at Buoy 10 and plans to continue running trips through Sept. 15. Then he’ll follow the fish upriver into the Columbia River Gorge and finish up in the Vernita-Hanford Reach area when fishing closes in October.

The Columbia River can be a daunting place to fish – covering 1,243 miles – and those who’d like to get a better understanding may contact Austin Moser at https://www.austinsnorthwestadventures.com/ or email austinsnorthwestadventures@hotmail.com or call 509-668-0298.

Puget Sound coho fisheries are a silver lining this month and beyond

Resident coho salmon – better known as “silvers” for their shiny silvery flanks – made a strong appearance this summer around central Puget Sound and hope is running high their bigger migratory cousins will perform up to that level.

“I’m excited for Puget Sound coho fisheries, and we’re expecting good fishing especially in late August and by the second and third week of September,” said Mark Baltzell, the WDFW Puget Sound salmon manager.

A shining beacon of light points to a Puget Sound coho forecast of 670,159, which is up from 557,149 in 2018 and much higher than 2016 when the coho run hit rock bottom.

Puget Sound anglers haven’t seen a feasible coho fishery since 2014 and 2015 although a glimpse of better days ahead happened in 2018.

There’s something about coho that lure thousands of anglers out on the water in late summer and fall creating a frenzy long line at boat ramps and anglers jammed shoulder-to-shoulder along shorelines and piers.

Some simple rules to boost your coho catch rate are pushing the trolling speed up to 3.0 to 3.5 mph; staying on top of coho schools; focusing your time out in the shipping lanes, along rip tides and the edge of a current; and surveying birds feeding on krill and baitfish schools.

You’ll find most coho within the top 50 feet of the water column but as the sun rises be sure to drop your lines as deep as 80 to 150 feet. Also stagger your gear at different depths until you hook the first fish.

Many marine areas are currently open for coho but check the WDFW pamphlet or website (https://wdfw.wa.gov/) for details on where you can fish.

Places to seek out silvers are Sekiu to Port Townsend; westside of Whidbey Island; Point No Point; Possession Bar; Edmonds Marina to Golden Gardens; Jefferson Head; Meadow Point to West Point near Shilshole Bay; Shipwreck south of Mukilteo; and Des Moines to Tacoma.

Shore-bound anglers will find success from Fort Casey to Bush and Lagoon points; Lincoln Park in West Seattle; Point No Point; Marrowstone Island; and the many piers, docks and shorelines from Edmonds to Tacoma.

Puget Sound coho historical data

2003: 501,032 hatchery, 530,087 wild and 1,031,119 total; 2004: 508,425, 609,179 and 1,117,604; 2005: 461,341, 509,490 and 970,831; 2006: 548,466, 414,760 and 963,226; 2007: 338,268, 294,885 and 633,153; 2008: 330,800, 283,747 and 614,547; 2009: 338,968, 243,495 and 582,463; 2010: 314,004, 299,926 and 613,930; 2011: 375,607, 617,926 and 993,533; 2012: 367,241, 379,213 and 746,454; 2013: 417,226, 464,908 and 882,134; 2014: 432,299, 440,549 and 872,848; 2015: 421,626, 470,229 and 891,855; 2016: 168,585, 87,539 and 256,124; 2017: 300,713, 294,360 and 595,073; 2018: 307,975, 249,174 and 557,149; and 2019: 416,319, 293,980 and 710,299.

Total average: 2003 to 2019 is 385,229 hatchery, 381,379 wild and 766,608 combined. 5-year average: 323,044, 279,056 and 602,100. 10-year average: 352,160, 359,780 and 711,940.

Strange fish showing up off the coast in late summer including a pending state record bluefin tuna

Fish not normally seen along our coast like blue fin tuna, white croakers, striped marlin, mackerel and thresher, blue and Mako sharks have been showing up this summer.

“We’ve seen a bunch of blue fin tuna caught off the coast and I’d say probably 20 or so have been landed by anglers,” said Larry Phillips, the WDFW Region 6 Director. “In most years it’s just a couple fish caught and in some years none.”

Phillips confirmed a 90-plus pound Pacific blue fin tuna was caught Aug. 12 off Ilwaco and if verified it would shatter the current state record of 39.20 pounds caught by Sam Ellinger on Sept. 28, 2014.

Fisheries experts say fish commonly found in the southern Pacific Ocean are riding the warmer water currents off the Washington and Oregon coast.

“These fish commonly found off the central and northern California coast have expanded their range,” Phillips said. “There must be a connection and pathway with these unusually warm water temperatures.”

Albacore tuna chasers were finding plenty of action within 25 to 35 miles offshore off Westport and Ilwaco since late July. A beach angler near Westport recently caught six white croakers, and mahi-mahi, striped marlin, mackerel and Mako sharks have appeared in catches.

Phillips landed the biggest blue shark he’s ever seen while halibut fishing off Ilwaco in May. Phillips’ friend caught a thresher shark trolling for coho at Westport in late July.

“I’m wondering what the future looks like for the coast relative to these fish species that we don’t see very often,” Phillips said. “We know every year we’ll see something but what’s happening now is unprecedented.”

NW Salmon Derby Series culminates with two highly popular coho derbies

Turnout and catches have been fantastic this summer, and attention now shifts to the final events – the Edmonds PSA Coho Derby on Sept. 7 and Everett Coho Derby on Sept. 21-22 where a drawing for the grand prize boat will happen at the awards ceremony.

The grand prize $75,000 Weldcraft 202 Rebel Hardtop boat from Renaissance Marine Group in Clarkston is powered with a Yamaha 200hp and 9.9hp trolling motor on an EZ-loader galvanized trailer. It is rigged with Burnewiin accessories; Scotty downriggers; Raymarine Electronics; a custom WhoDat Tower; and a Dual Electronics stereo.

Other sponsors include Silver Horde Lures; Master Marine and Tom-n-Jerry’s; Harbor Marine; Salmon & Steelhead Journal; NW Sportsman Magazine; The Reel News; Sportco and Outdoor Emporium; and Prism Graphics.

The boat is trailered with a 2019 Chevrolet Silverado – not part of the grand prize giveaway – courtesy of sponsors Northwest Chevrolet and Burien Chevrolet.

Anglers can also start looking at 2020 with dates finalized for Resurrection Salmon Derby on Feb. 1-2; Friday Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 6-8; and Roche Harbor Salmon Classic on Feb. 13-15. Details: http://www.nwsalmonderbyseries.com/.

There’s nothing better than fall fishing so be sure to hop on the boat or head to the nearest shoreline and hook yourself into the excitement. I’ll see you on the water!