Trolling Seattle’s Puget Sound for Blackmouth
By John Keizer, Salt Patrol
Connected to the ocean, Puget Sound is a massive inland sea that at its beginning marks the northern boundary between Washington State and Canada before turning southward past Seattle-Tacoma all the way to Olympia. And while Puget Sound’s many rivers support salmon that migrate to the ocean and back again years later, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife manipulates the release timing of some hatchery salmon (referred to as Blackmouth) such that they stay within Puget Sound their whole lives.
The name Blackmouth comes from the black gum line that identifies the fish as a chinook salmon. Resident Blackmouth salmon range in size from the just legal 22 inches up to fish nearing the twenty pound mark.
have all heard the line, “Find the bait and you will find the fish.” It sounds so easy but many anglers ignore this simple advice when trying to locate salmon. Blackmouth salmon are voracious feeders and will be constantly on the search for Sand Lance (candlefish) or Herring to fill their bellies. And while food sources are a big draw for Puget Sound Blackmouth, where these salmon might be lurking and when they’re willing to bite has a lot to do with bottom structure and what the current is doing based on the in-and-out flow of daily ocean tides.
The Sand Lance, also known as “candlefish,” because pioneers used them to make candles due to their high oil content is an ecologically important forage fish for salmon throughout Puget Sound. As you might guess the salmon crave the high oil content of these small forage fish. According to recent studies 35% of juvenile salmon diets are composed of Sand Lance and Blackmouth salmon depend on them for 60% of their diet.
Herring tend to linger in resting spots that are dictated by the ever changing current. As in river fishing, the bait and following salmon will be pushed into the lee (downstream) side of a current flow behind points of land and islands. The same is true in Puget Sound, knowing the position of the tide will allow you to find the best locations where baitfish are likely to linger and salmon congregate.
Trolling your gear in combination with a downrigger is in my opinion the best method for consistently catching Blackmouth from Puget Sound. I spend much of the winter fishing season employing this fishing method. So much so that I run three Hi Performance Scotty downriggers onboard my 27 foot “Salt Patrol” North River boat. Being able to cover lots of water with your tackle at a controlled depth is an extremely effective way to fish for Blackmouth salmon in the deep waters of Puget Sound.
For salmon trolling my rod and reel outfits include Shimano Tekota-A 600 line-counter reels matched with a G. Loomis E6X 1265 moderate action rods. The reels are spooled up with 30-pound test monofilament line.
And while we have used many different lures to catch salmon over the years the all-new SpinFish bait-holding plug has been a game changer for us. In addition to its unique vibrating, spinning, wounded-baitfish action the SpinFish features a pull-apart bait chamber design that disperses scent as it’s pulled through the water column.
I was lucky to get to test prototypes of the SpinFish last fall. My first experience with the SpinFish started with targeting winter Blackmouth out of Port Townsend located on the northern part of Puget Sound. To attract salmon to our gear we ran the SpinFish in combination with 11” rotating flashers and medium size Fish Flash.
This combination produced immediate results for Blackmouth up to 15 pounds. The first thing we noticed was that the strikes on the SpinFish were vicious as compared to using just bait. The Blackmouth hit the SpinFish hard, running a bunch of line off the reel before racing to the surface. Several times the rod tip would be in the water and the fish pulling line right from the get go.
To add bait to the SpinFish you just pull apart the lure body and fill with any bait. What we often use is herring or sardine cut bait. But what seems to work best on Puget Sound is canned Chicken of the Sea Tuna packed in oil. We just mixed the canned tuna, making sure to include its natural oil, with Pro-Cure’s Bloody Tuna scent and fill the bait chamber with it.
We rigged our SpinFish 25 to 40 inches behind a Fish Flash or 35 to 45 inches behind our rotating flashers. While SpinFish come pre-rigged from the factory when re-rigging we snelled two 4/0 size Mustad octopus hooks close together using 30 pound Seaguar fluorocarbon leader and add one glow bead above the top hook to act as a bearing for the SpinFish. We then slid the SpinFish down the leader and attached a swivel to the lead end before attaching to our flashers.
The SpinFish can be rigged to spin clockwise or counterclockwise and unlike other bait-holding lures, it needs no rubber bands to keep the lure together. The holes in the SpinFish will disperse the scent into the water and salmon will follow the scent trail back to the lure. Because there is undersize Blackmouth around, we check our gear every 30 minutes or so to make sure we are not pulling around an undersized fish. My routine is to have four or five SpinFish pre-loaded with bait and ready to swap out each time we catch a salmon or conduct a gear check. Blackmouth bite windows are short and you don’t want to waste time rigging tackle when the best bite of the day is happening.
The new SpinFish comes in two sizes, a three inch and a four-inch version. And while we have had the best success using the three incher early in the season, the four inch model will likely be the go-to sizes as the baitfish get larger.
Blackmouth are aggressive feeders and tend to feed when the current is minimal to expend as little energy as possible. That means the best time to catch them is when you’re fishing in the right current flow. You may have heard that the best fishing for salmon is one to two hours before or after a tide change. What we have found is the very best bite is right before or right after the change, when currents are soft.
While trolling I spend a lot of time with my eyes glued to my Lowrance HDS Live sonar screen watching for where bait or salmon are congregating and adjusting my rigger depth accordingly. I often bracket the water column by adding depth on each pass until I hook a fish or locate where the bait and salmon are holding. And while I do change depth based on what my electronics reveal my go-to depth, when all else fails, is to run my SpinFish tight to the bottom.
As you might guess, my early success using this all-new lure has me jazzed up for fishing it more and more. I know how well it works for Puget Sound Blackmouth and got to believe it will work for other fish too.
For more information on the Yakima Bait SpinFish visit: www.yakimabait.com
Capt. John Keizer