Calling All Crabbers

This is the start of the change that we have been waiting for.  We now have the opportunity to let the commission know that we as recreational crabbers want change and we want it now.  While in my opinion Option A of the Puget Sound Dungeness Crab Fishery Alternatives doesn't go far enough, it is a great start and a dramatic change in the way that crabbing will be managed going forward.  While the tribes will still get their 50%, we now have the opportunity to have set seasons without having to worry about crabbing to a quota.  In the past we have had to split the non-tribal 50% with the commercials and they have recieved the lion's share, 2/3 or even more on some years.  This despite the fact that recreatinal crabbing accounts for over 50% of the economic value of crabbing. 

No better NW treat than a cooler full of Dungeness Crab.

What Option A will do is allow us to crab to a set season of July-Labor Day, 5 days a week including both weekend days and then have a set season from October-December 7 days a week.  We would also still have a 5 crab bag limit.  This is a far cry from the seasons we have now that are based on quotas and limited to 4 days a week and one day on the weekend.  In the past we only got a winter season if there was enough quota left but if we can get Option A passed we wil ahve the winter season regardless.  The commission meets on August 6-7 to decide so please take the time to email the commission and make your voice heard.  They can be reached at My letter is below, feel free to borrow or copy and paste from it.

I would like to encourage the Commission to adopt Option A with regards to the Puget Sound Dungeness Crab Fishery Alternatives.  The Puget Sound recreational crab fishery is a very popular activity among the recreational community and shared by both fisherman and non-fisherman alike.  This popularity leads to over 50% of the Net Economic Value of crabbing being derived from the recreational community.  Unfortunately, when allocating the resource, the state has favored the commercials.   In my opinion the Commission needs to correct the inequity that has existed when it comes to allocation of the State’s crab resources.  As we are all aware, the tribes are given 50% of the harvest and this provides the non-crabbing public access to this resource.  The other 50% is currently split 2/3 commercial to 1/3 recreational.  This inequity leads to around 10% of the total allowable catch in some years for recreational crabbers even though we generate over 50% of the economic value.  As a start, the commission can move towards reducing this inequity by adopting Option A.

Thank You,
Rob Tobeck

Plugging a King…And a ‘Butt to Boot!

Plugs are cool.

Salmon plugs, steelhead plugs, bass plugs, cedar plugs for tuna, plugs with teeth marks… you know what I mean.

When you have to use flashers off of the Cannon Downriggers to provoke a strike, so be it but it is such a pleasure to play a fish with nothing between you but tight Trilene…
Don't get me wrong, the advent of sliding flashers such as Jim's Breakaway's by Q Cove and the various rotating in-line attractors are a vast improvement over their water-bagging brethren, but a direct line to a hot chinook is the real deal.

So, once we started finding large whole herring in the stomachs of our catch and hearing about a few plug caught fish we put two and two together: Plug bite time!
After being out of town on business for the Selective Chinook opener in Puget Sound's Marine Areas 9 and 10, I felt that I had a little ground to make up on this fishery.

The 2010 edition of this much anticipated, close-to-home opportunity had been nothing short of smoking hot and not many anglers expected the early, torrid pace to continue. In fact the mid-week action had slowed to the point of shifting most fishermen into "search mode" changing up spots and gear types to keep producing husky hatchery kings.

Sunday morning dawned to find my old friend Kevin Gogan and a guest of his aboard "Big Red" skipping toward Possession bar.  On a trip earlier in the week it was strictly flasher gear with hoochies, Kingfisher Spoons or Silver Horde's newest offering the "Ace Hi" fly and Kevin wondered why we were switching up after such a successful outing:

"Goin' old school on 'em Nelly? I haven't seen you fish plugs in a long time."

"Well," I answered, "when we get the word from All Star Charters that plugs might be the deal…we fish plugs!"

Everything was taking a whack at the plastic that day! Check out this sand dab that bit the plug and in turn was "doggied"! This also answed the question on our reports page "What's eating these fish?". 

Kevin Gogan mugs while his guest Mike handles yet another hot king! 

Even the halibut got into the "plastic act" as this 30 pound 'butt joins the party. Gogan wanted to invite "Mr. Butt" to dinner and I almost had a 3XL mutiny on my hands when I let him go!

We kept five dandy chinook on Sunday and released two more.  It's a shame that big guys make nice kings look small. Kevin (in the middle) is 6'8"…

Bayside Marine's cleaning station is a very handy, well designed place when the bite is on outside of Everett!

This selective chinook opportunity is goin' off right now! Don't miss out and we will see you out on the water!!!

Robbo and I were fishing, I don’t know what Nelly was doing……

As most of you already know, we are having the first annual Outdoor Line Billfish Bonanza in March of 2011.  This past March we had flew down to do a little fishing and set things up for next year.  On the second day of fishing, Nelly wanted to stay behind saying that he had set his "own thing" up.  Robbo and I had no problem with this as we figured it would just mean more fish for us.  Later that night as I was enjoying a premium cigar, I decided to walk on down to the dock and look at some of the boats.  While I was down there I spotted some guys laughing it up and having a good time.  I went over to see what the commotion was and noticed that they were going through some pictures.  Naturally I figured they were looking at some fishing pictures so I asked if I could see.  Well, they weren't looking at fishing pictures at all but pictures of a different sort and low and behold there was one of my buddy Nelly.  I asked if I could have it and they obliged.  I was thinking that I could protect him by keeping this picture locked up and never letting it get out so that is what I did. I had all but forgotten about the incriminating picture until I was set up on the show a few weeks ago.  Even still, I really didn't know what  to do with the picture.  That's when it hit me, if I was to blow it up to a 3ft by 4ft banner and present it to his buddies at the fire department they might have some ideas and so I did. 

King Fever


By Ray Gombiski. Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, Chinook, Tyee, Nookers, Springs and any other nickname they have been given, but we all recognize them as the KING!

The top of the Salmon hierarchy has arrived in Puget Sound. The King has got every local fisherman’s attention with limit-fishing and excellent opportunity. For me, one trip was all it took, I now have KING FEVER!

Friday afternoon the reports started coming in. Kingston has fish, Jeff Head has fish, and Possession, it’s on fire! Friday night I spooled up the reels and got the boat ready for what was sure to be a multiple fish day. It had that feeling we all get when we were kids and opening day of Trout season was tomorrow. I think I slept about 3 hours before I beat the alarm and got out of bed around 2:30am. My excitement was building and my enthusiasm got me to the boat launch at 3:45am.   

After a short run to Possession we dropped the Ace High Fly to 100’. The bait is on the surface and at 4:30am there were hardly any other fishermen at the spot yet. A half hour goes by and nothing. At 5:00am we start to see some boats show up. The guy next to me hooks up immediately. Now its 5:40 and I still have not had a bite. 

I’m beginning to start second guessing my gear, depth, decision to fish this spot and just about everything else in my control. Just before I begin to make changes a king blows my rod off the clip and at that very second all confidence was restored. This fish was hot and it peeled line for a good fifty seconds before slowing down.

As I got it to the boat I noticed that the adipose fin was not totally clipped. Not wanting to take a chance with the law, I released that fish and put the gear right back down.  This time I was brimming with confidence and again the guy next to me hooks a fish. I’m watching him fight his fish and bango, another fish on! 

For the next two hours I was in the greatest Puget Sound King bite I had been in since I was twelve years old.  At one point I had fish on before my buddies could even get their riggers down. Seven fish to the net and two hours later we had reached our limit for the day.  We kept six hatchery Kings and released two wild Kings.   I sat back in my chair and thought to my self, did that really happen? Hell yes!!

The ride back to the ramp was full of high fives and smiles. It was 8:30am and the famed Puget Sound king salmon had just given me the fever. At the ramp it was all smiles as two other boats were pulling in with there limits, as well.

For the rest of the summer I will be trying to match that morning bite. I will use that same Ace High Fly, launch at the same ramp at the same time and hope that I will come into another bite like the Possession bite in July of 2010. For now the King remains King, and I will strive to keep up with him for the rest of the summer.

Executive Power Creating Another Buracratic Mess for Recreational Fisherman

 Recreational fisherman were just delt another layer of buracratic non-sense to deal with when it comes to defending our rights and access to the resources on the water.  This is just another example of a minority gaining control over a majority by being well organized and staying after it.  If we as recreational fisherman have the staying power of some of these organizations we can turn the momentum of resticted access and opportunity.  Wouldn't it be nice if we were the ones setting a conservation minded agenda that is pro recreational fisherman?

Below is a press release from The Recreational Fishing Alliance.

 Executive Order Circumvents Tired Old Democratic Process
(7/20/1010) Washington, DC – President Barack Obama used his presidential privilege on July 19 to circumvent the legislative process, signing a new ocean protection law that's vastly similar to legislation which has languished in Congress for nearly a decade.  While environmental groups are hailing it a momentous day for America's oceans, the Recreational Fishing Alliance (RFA) said these are sad times for our democratic process. 
"Rep. Sam Farr of California has been pushing this ideological hogwash through the House for nearly 10 years, but every time his doomsday bill gets debated in Committee it is tossed out for being utter nonsense and a bureaucratic nightmare," said RFA Executive Director, Jim Donofrio.  "Our President appears to be infatuated with nonsense and bureaucracy, and once again proves that his authority to rule is more powerful than the legislative process alone, signing his name to decrees as if he were king."
The San Jose Mercury News in Congressman Farr's home district said the new policy secures Farr's longtime vision for the creation of a National Ocean Council to coordinate the many layers of state and federal regulation on such matters as offshore drilling, shipping and fishing. "At a time when science knows the oceans are dying and several politicians have known it, there's never been a crisis to drive policy, until now," said Farr, a California democrat who the San Jose Mercury News cites has tried unsuccessfully to win a similar oceans conservation plan through legislation known as Oceans 21. "This is giant step forward," Farr said of the presidential order, calling the decree the "clean water and air acts for the ocean."
Oceans 21 failed to gain Congressional support because of its ability to restrict access to public resources while creating a new bureaucratic hierarchy with unprecedented power to regulate fisheries and implement ocean zoning without oversight or public input. The RFA has been at the forefront of exposing Oceans 21 for the farce that it is, and they've been a leader in preventing its passage through legislative channels. On June 18, 2009, the RFA was the only national recreational fishing organization asked to testify before Congress in opposition of the bill.
"We claimed all along that this Ocean Policy Task Force was being orchestrated as Oceans 21 legislation from the very beginning, with the expectation of the environmental groups that it get passed by royal decree," said Donofrio.  "For Mr. Farr to resort to such hyperbole by claiming our oceans are dying in order to get folks to swallow his ideological pill is disingenuous at best."
The threat of a pending presidential order that would restrict recreational fishing set off a media firestorm in March when a national opinion piece in ESPN warned that efforts of the Obama Administration's Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force and its involvement in implementing a policy of "marine spatial planning" could ultimately effect the management of and public access to the nation's natural public resources.  In response, Donofrio said at the time that he was unnerved by glaring similarities of the presidential plan and Rep. Farr's H.R. 21, the Ocean Conservation, Education, and National Strategy for the 21st Century Act.  "This appears to be an attempt by the Executive branch to circumvent the established legislative process and enact policy that failed as legislation 5 years in a row," Donofrio said at the time, adding RFA still believes enacting laws through Executive order and proclamation sets a dangerous precedence.
"Not only does this new National Ocean Council threaten to override our current federal fisheries management process, it threatens the integrity of our regional fishing councils and creates an overarching bureaucracy which could summarily dismiss all input from stakeholders," Donofrio said.  "Our current fisheries management process might need some adjustment, but this presidential decree just sets up such an incredible bureaucratic infrastructure that Americans could find it very hard to find opportunities to fish in the future, particular in terms of coastal access," Donofrio said. 
Reports say the new National Ocean Council is being co-chaired by John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the Council for Environmental Quality. The council also will include the secretaries of all Cabinet-level federal agencies and representatives of other federal environmental and economic agencies, which will oversee planning done by nine regional bodies.  The RFA said more government appointments from the top down will ensure that local stakeholders can expect to get less input in the future.  
"Mr. Obama has made it very clear that he and his administration know better than we do," said Donofrio.  "It's sad to watch a guy like Congressman Farr step up and embrace the arbitrary process of executive privilege as opposed to the democratic process of review and debate in the House.  Clearly it's a win for the California Democrat who wrote an ill-conceived law which had no support from the public, none from the stakeholders and no support from fellow legislators on the Committee, yet he still got his law passed by sovereign declaration," Donofrio said. "Doesn't that just speak volumes about our current political climate in Washington?"
To learn more about the presidential order, visit
To read the RFA's response to the media firestorm surrounding the ESPN piece, Is Recreational Fishing Being Banned at

About Recreational Fishing Alliance
The Recreational Fishing Alliance is a national, grassroots political action organization representing recreational fishermen and the recreational fishing industry on marine fisheries issues. The RFA Mission is to safeguard the rights of saltwater anglers, protect marine, boat and tackle industry jobs, and ensure the long-term sustainability of our Nation's saltwater fisheries. For more information, call 888-JOIN-RFA or visit


Youth Pheasant Hunting Weekend

Pheasant hunting free weekend scheduled for youth 15 and younger.

On Saturday and Sunday, September 25 & 27 Joint Base Lewis McChord and Pheasants Forever will be hosting the annual Youth Pheasant Hunt. Saturday’s hunt begins at 7:00 AM and Sunday’s hunt starts at 8:00 AM.

The Youth Hunt is free of charge and open to all hunters, age 15 and younger. The hunt will be held in one of the Ft Lewis training areas which are used as pheasant release sites during the normal season. The exact location will be determined prior to the hunt.

The hunt will be closely regulated for safety and sportsmanship. Volunteers from Pheasants Forever Chapter 257 and the Western Wa. Pheasant Release Program will provide trained bird dogs to hunt with the kids who participate. Pheasants Forever will also be providing a free lunch for all participants from 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM

The volunteers from Pheasants Forever and the Pheasant Release Program hope to interest as many young people as possible in the sport of pheasant hunting. This event is an unusual opportunity for young people to learn about hunting safety, the importance of quality pheasant habitat and good sportsmanship.

All hunters will need a valid Washington State hunting license and pheasant harvest report card. Information on licensing, including hunter education or deferral is available from Wa. Dept. of Fish and Wildlife at 360 902 2200.

In addition to the state’s requirements, all hunters must be registered with the Ft. Lewis hunter-registration program which is run by the Northwest Adventure Center. Information on registration requirements is available by calling the Adventure Center at 253 967 8260.

For further information please contact Bill Ostrander at 253 847 3979 or Ken Leise at 253 224 6432.

Pairing Wine With Seafood

Whether cooking at home or ordering at a restaurant, these hints from a bunch of the Northwest’s most knowledgeable wine aficionados will point you in the right direction the next time you’re enjoying a seafood dinner or trying to impress company.

David Johnstone of the Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland, Oregon usually selects a pinot gris with salmon. David says, “I look for a wine with a lot of body that doesn’t overpower the flavor of the fish. That said, I tend to stay away from heavy reds, as they can sometimes have a metallic flavor that overpowers the salmon.”

When it comes to halibut or whitefish he suggests a rich chardonnay or perhaps a pinot gris that accentuates the silky smooth flavor of white fish. In addition, he recommends selecting a white wine that has an oaked flavor, giving it a more complex taste that further enhances the smoothness of the fish. Beringer Reserve Chardonnay is a white wine he likes that is aged in oak, but there are many others.

In addition to complementing seafood, an inexpensive sauvignon blanc or pinot gris also makes an excellent base for cooking clams and mussels. Add chopped fresh garlic, onions, sea salt, butter, and parsley to your wine base to produce a succulent nectar for dipping some sourdough bread after the clams have been devoured.

Another Northwest wine expert, Tom Macarone, resides in the heart of wine country in Walla Walla, Washington, where he operates the popular T. Macarones Restaurant and Wine Bar. Growing up in Walla Walla, Tom has seen its recent transformation from a sleepy farm town into a regional mecca for wine enthusiasts.  

Tom looked to a specific wine from Walla Walla Vintners, the 2005 Sanjiovese as his top choice for salmon and especially smoked salmon. He specified the 2006 Waterbrook Sauvignon Blanc and the 2006 DaMa Chardonnay as his top choices for halibut and other white fish.  

“I like a drier and more crisp white than a sweet white wine to retain the flavor of the fish and keep the pallet cleansed. A white wine should complement the fish and not overpower it,” says Tom.

Tim O’Brien, the sommelier (wine expert) at Salty’s Restaurant on Alki in Seattle is anxiously awaiting the arrival of this year’s Copper River king salmon. The super high fat content of the highly prized king salmon is best matched with a pinot noir.

“A lot of people will eat salmon with a chardonnay and they leave not liking the taste of the salmon. Chardonnay is best served with halibut or other white fish and a more acidic wine like the pinot noir goes a lot better with the salmon and really brings out the flavor of the fish,” says O’Brien of his years of experience with patrons at Salty’s.  

When I brought up baked halibut O’Brien mentioned that he really likes the combination of a sauvignon blanc with a very basic salt and pepper recipe and a squeeze of fresh lemon after the fish is out of the oven. He likes the smoothness of both, calling it a “win-win”. 

When I asked Richard Kelsey, the sommelier at Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle what his first choice would be for shellfish he didn’t hesitate before he chose the 2008 Muscadet from the Chatuea de l’Hyverniere winery in old world France.

Muscadet is produced in the western Loire Valley in France, an area that in prehistoric times was a marine habitat covered in shellfish. The soil found in this valley is a powdery white color that is rich in calcium from the shells deposited on the ocean floor age’s ago. It’s what makes muscadet the perfect wine for just about any shellfish.  

Like O’Brien he also chose a pinot noir from Oregon’s Willamette Valley to complement any salmon dish. Salmon is rich in flavor and doesn’t overwhelm the lighter of the red wines.

Kelsey’s choice for halibut was a lot more specific and he leaned towards the 2008 Maison Bleue “Notre Vie” Viognier from the Yakima Valley. He explained how the viognier’s have a very delicate flavor that compliments the mild taste of halibut and many of the sauces that go with it.

With four different patron’s ordering separate meals at a table it’s nearly impossible to perfectly match the bottle of wine to each of them. In Kelsey’s own words, “I like to encourage people to experiment with wines and perhaps try something that they haven’t had before. Wine isn’t a “vanilla” experience and adds to the fun of enjoying a great meal with good friends.”

People in the wine industry are just as passionate about their work as us fisherman are about fishing. I recommend introducing yourself to one of these wine aficionados the next time you’re eating out at one of these great Northwest establishments and turn your next “vanilla” meal into an unforgettable experience.

Gotta Love Leftovers!

You have got to love July here in the NW.  Long summer nights, king salmon fishing is on fire, the tuna are showing up just off the coast and dungeness crab are plentiful.  In the case of the dungy, the real thrill of getting a few of these tasty critters is getting them home and sitting down to a nice heaping plate of fresh crab.  What do you do though when you have leftovers?  My wife came up with a suggestion the other night that, after trying it, will make a regular appearence at the Tobeck house.  Kowing how much I love my tuna melts, Sonya decided to make up some crab melts and man were they tasty!

This recipe will make four servings:

  • 2 English Muffins halved.
  • 2 tbsp mayo, we like to use the olive oil mayo as it is half the calories and all the taste and with this recipe every little bit helps.
  • 1/2 small stick of butter, softened.
  • Green onion diced.
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic.
  • 1/2 tbsp Old Bay seasoning.
  • 6-7 ounces of crab meat.
  • 6-7 ounces of sharp cheddar cheese.

Hand mix mayo, butter, onion, garlic, and Old Bay.  Add cheese and crab and continue to mix.  Bake at 350 until cheese melts and then brown under the broiler.  Enjoy!!

One of the great things about living here in the NW is all of our great eating seafood, try this recipe and some of our others listed on the Resource Line under Recipes.

“Selective” Memory: Looking Back At Three Successful, Selective Chinook Seasons!

Selective salmon fisheries: they are the law of the land and our pathway to increased opportunity in our local waters. By my way of thinking, if I get to fish more days in increased areas in prime time?…I’m IN!

Yes, it’s a pain to release those big, wild kings but given the choice between fishing and the ever-increasing “honey-do” list?… Brother, it ain’t even a contest!
We have had this selective opportunity for four years now and a definite pattern is starting to develop. These chinook are prime, mature fish that are aggressive, on the move and still feeding.

What’s the biggest key for our Area 9 & 10 selective chinook opportunity?

 Don’t scratch on the opener!

In other words, you have to move to find the fish and then expect to get bit. Don’t fish “spots”. Instead, target schools of baitfish and concentrations of salmon!
Now, it’s nice when the two coincide like the 2007 opener when Possession Bar on Whidbey Island’s south end held both bait and chinook.

Kevin Gogan and friends look over our '07 opening day limit which took us by surprise by both their size and willingness to bite!!!  

So, in 2008 what did I do?
You’ve got it! I ran right back out to the bar and found:  Nada, zip, zilch…bupkis!

However, I remembered what the Lowrance looked like on the ’07 opener and that was a nice full screen of bait and salmon. So, on the 2008 opener we did not linger, wondering where the bait went. Instead, I got on the horn and found that none of the “Brotherhood” was into fish or marking bait of any kind on Possession but there was bait out on Mid Channel Bank.

“Crank ‘em up boys! We’ve got a bit of run ahead of us.” 
The run out to Port Townsend was punctuated by a knot in my stomach since I didn’t like having to leave the “killing grounds” of a year ago. However, with former NFL first-team All-Smartass Kevin Gogan on board, the verbal abuse was less on the run than it was on the skunk!

Fortunately, when we arrived the chinook were more than cooperative! We hooked fish on every drop of the cannonballs until the fishbox was full. A limit of kings up to 23 pounds by 8:30 in the morning!    

Despite the fact that we pulled a blank on the bar we ended up with a quick limit because we were flexible enough to try a new spot, had faith enough in our electronics to believe that the fish were indeed not there and most importantly we knew the productive potential of this fishery because of our experience from the previous year.

Last year (2009) I dropped the hammer outside the Everett Harbor breakwater and didn't back off until we rounded Marrowstone Point on our way to Midchannel. You can read about that on last year's opener blog "Two Midchannel Mornings".

With only three years of “data” to work with, here’s what I’ve gleaned from our Area 9 opportunity: When we have stronger runs to the north Sound hatcheries on Tulalip Bay, Stillaguamish and Snohomish rivers, Possession will produce good numbers of chinook provided the bar is holding baitfish.

In ’08 and '09, Tulalip Bay and Stilly chinook pulled a no-show and Possession was flat poor.
The solution for me was to move up on the run and hit Mid-Channel, Point No Point and Pilot Point, targeting south Sound kings.

 Area 10 is a bit of a different animal. The majority of chinook entering Puget Sound “turn right” as they come to the eastward end of Admiralty Inlet. It just takes a minute of looking at the chinook forecasts to confirm that there will always be more fish heading for the south Sound than the north. However, less feeding areas and therefore less opportunities to feed as chinook approach their terminal areas results in a rapidly maturing hatchery fish that can be more finicky on the bite than their Area 9 counterparts. Fortunately, the sheer numbers turning the corner at No Point minimizes the maturity factor to some degree and Area 10 flat produces fish. Don’t ignore Kingston, Tyee Shoal, West Point and yes, Jefferson Head as consistent producers of chinook.

What does 2010 have to offer? Brothers and Sisters, that’s anyone’s guess. However, we can take a look at the forecasts and recent events and offer a cautious guess.

First and foremost, there has been a good amount of baitfish in Puget Sound recently and the May shrimp fisheries were punctuated by limit catches of large coonstripe and spot prawns which is a great sign!
Second, the Stillaguamish is not the critically low “driver stock” it was just a year ago and numbers should be up for fish heading to the north Sound in general. Finally, a new Can/Am salmon management agreement resulting in Alaskan and Canadian harvest reductions along with increased oceanic productivity should allow more well-fed chinook unfettered passage to our home waters. 

The bottom line is that due to the current sport-fishing friendly political climate and the willingness of fishermen to honestly participate in selective fisheries we are seeing the tide of decreasing opportunity turn. Don’t let this season pass you by, take a kid fishing and if you can’t be out there every day, let us at the Outdoor Line on ESPN 710 be your eyes and ears on Puget Sound! Good Luck!


Tuna Addiction

By Del Stephens.  I rolled out of bed and made my way outside where my father and grandfather were getting the boat ready. Still groggy and barely awake ,  my brother and I scrambled up into the camper and soon we were off to the coast. We climbed up onto the bed but were too excited to go back to sleep, instead we watched for deer along the highway to the coast. It was always fun to see how many we could count on the two hour ride, from Corvallis to Newport, through the coast range.  In 1969 the highway still had plenty of curves and deer along the road. Once we rolled into Newport we’d drive through the state park overlooking the jetties and to get a look at the offshore conditions.  If the conditions looked favorable we’d launch the boat and soon be a few miles offshore fishing for salmon.

Fast forward about 20 years, same scenario, but this time I was towing my own boat and this would be the start of another chapter in my life, I was about to have my first experience with albacore tuna. When I heard tuna were close to shore and everyone was getting them, I had to try it. I had caught tuna in Mexico but never offshore after them in my own boat.

A three hour drive through the coast range before daylight and a quick stop for tuna feathers, from one of the locals, and we should be running offshore in no time but as luck would have it the best laid plans sometimes get derailed. The local tackle guy was a no show and after waiting for an hour we decided to run offshore and see what we could do. I figured these were predator type fish and some of the plugs I used for Mackinaw Lake Trout should work. The local marina store gave us some coordinates and said “just run to this location and you’ll see the fleet of boats and you should be in the fish”. Could it be that easy..? We were greeted with a smooth glassy ocean and it was a quick twenty miles to the coordinates we were given but it was a lonely ocean with no boats in sight. I scanned the horizon with binoculars, looking for the fleet, when my buddy wanted to know what the fish were that were jumping beside the boat. Amazing, we had found the tuna but the fleet of boats was nowhere to be found so we decided to try our luck and started deploying large mackerel looking plugs.

Wham, the first rod went off before I could even get it in the rod holder .Half way through a blistering run I hear the sound of metal disintegrating right in my hands. The drag was toast and now I had to use my thumb for a drag. A few short runs later and I had the fish up next to the boat, going around and around in what I would eventually come to know as the tuna death spiral. It was wild pandemonium and my buddies white shorts soon turned to pink from the blood bath that ensued. We were using heavy salmon rods which handled the fish fine but the reels were no match for the incredible blistering runs they’d make when they exploded on one of the plugs. We soon had eight nice fat tuna onboard, four reels that were pretty wasted and a cooler that was stuffed, so we decided to stop. Smiling and laughing at what had just happened, we rinsed the boat out and headed back to port. It wasn’t even noon yet and normally you’d think if you missed the first light bite, things would be slow but these silver bullets hit everything we put overboard and of course it was also mid-July and folks around here have a saying I’ve come to know well, “anyone can catch a tuna in July”. So true that day, as we were living proof.

Fast forward another 20 years to last season and you’ll hear many stories of similar experiences from fishermen getting their first taste of this incredible fishery. Throughout the late 1900’s the Chinook Salmon has been king of the saltwater in the pacific northwest but declining runs of Chinook and Coho have left offshore anglers looking for something else to chase. Albacore have been available and harvested by the commercial fishermen for many years and only recently in the last few years have a handful of sport fishermen realized they were out there. Albacore move into the waters off northern California, Oregon and Washington as the summer currents from the south push the warm temperatures above 58 degrees. Typically July 4th signals the start of the season and boats go looking running 40-60 miles offshore. The early part of the season is extraordinary by any standards and is what gets people addicted to the fishery. The singing of line screaming off reels with doubles, triples, and quads is to a tuna fisherman what a hit of cocaine is to a drug addict. Only a tuna fisherman has to wait all winter and spring to get their fix. That first fix of the season is the beginning and the end, the beginning of the offshore tuna season and the end to what wives know of the husbands until late fall when the season comes to end and they sulk back into their semi-normal state.

To say that what has happened to fishermen in the waters of the northwest is a fad, would be a gross understatement. It is the fastest growing fishery on the west coast by any standards.  When you mention albacore on the west coast, most people think of southern California but things are constantly changing in the offshore fisheries and with liberal limits in Oregon and no limits in Washington, there are days when the bite is so hot you could boat 100 fish by noon, that is, if you had the storage and ice capacity. It’s not to uncommon for four anglers to bring home 40 plus fish the first few times until they realize they can’t eat all those fish and  start imposing self limits just to be able to get another chance to run offshore and get another fix.

The albacore fishery off Oregon and Washington is very healthy and has seen a strong increase in the numbers of fish the last 10 years. Recreational anglers, even in spite of the liberal limits, take less than 1% of the overall harvest, leaving commercial boats from Oregon, Washington, California, Canada and Hawaii to take the bulk of the annual harvest.

Albacore fishing has quickly become an obsession for many NW anglers.

Tuna addicts as many are referred to start watching online sea surface websites such as waiting for the warm water in northern California to form a solid connection to the warm water off Oregon and Washington, “Tuna Alley” or the “Tuna Highway” as it’s sometimes referred to. Once that has occurred and is within a reasonable distance offshore it’s time to run. Just a few short years ago a reasonable distance to run for most northwest anglers would’ve been 35-40 miles in their pursuit of Halibut but today reasonable is anything within 75 miles.  On occasion the warm water will swing in within 10-15 miles and a few more salmon fishermen will get a taste of what’s it’s like to catch a sports car with a fishing rod and their lives will change forever. Welcome to the dark side and the addiction begins for another tuna newbee. They start looking at blue water tackle online and search for a bigger boat. The need for bigger smoother riding offshore boats has driven many anglers to the east coast for big center consoles with full enclosures, Hydra Sports and Yellowfins are showing up along with an occasional 35-57 foot Bertram, Cabos, Albamarles, Rivieras,Luhrs and other styles not readily known in the northwest. To say “the landscape of the offshore fishing in the pacific northwest is changing” would be putting it lightly.

Chasing this fabulous table fare is not a complicated endeavour. You wait for the warm water to show up, run offshore looking for birds working the surface or locate temperature breaks and chances are you’ll find these longfin bullets.  Places where there are up wellings from sea mounds or dramatic changes in structure are also great places to look.

In between offshore ventures a few of these tuna addicts will get together at a local watering hole and you’ll hear phrases not commonly known to this latitude. Things mentioned like”Daisy chains”,…one might think this would be something your kids would play with or “teasers”,…no ladies, this is not some GQ looking guy that tuna addicts use to attract women to join them for a drink but it’s not a bad idea in some cases. A tuna addict who hasn’t fished for awhile can be a scruffy looking character. In the middle of winter someone will announce a TA meeting. The first time I ask my wife if she wanted to go with me, you should’ve seen the look, I had to explain it was for Tuna Aholics. I told her it’s no big deal, just a few guys getting together to talk about fishing, although we do have a 12 step program and if you really want to be cured, the first thing on the program is don’t go to a TA meeting, it just makes things worse.

This scenario will continue to be played out over and over throughout the month of July and into early August until they ply their tactics and return to port someday with little to show for their effort. The fish are still there but have now changed feeding habits and it’s time to change tactics. This is where the seasoned anglers continue to bring home the bounty while the beginners or tuna newbees, as they are referred to, either learn a new method or troll endlessly in hopes their tactics will still work. Some will go home to pursue other species, while others will still have the need for the fix and will learn to jig iron, pitch swim baits and in some cases get lucky enough to fish live bait.

Some might laugh at us since we are truly novices compared to anglers farther south, who have been catching tuna for years, but it’s still new enough for most that they get excited to hear stories of others catching fish or of another  opportunity to run to the blue water. You have to be pretty hardy to chase these guys because the summer winds on the north Pacific can be brutal and a 4 foot wind chop on a 6 foot swell at 8 seconds apart can test the durability of any good boat as well as the endurance of any seasoned saltwater fisherman. Many a good angler will set on the sidelines and watch the weather forecast, then make plans to call in sick or take a day off from work, should the need arise during the week.

Labor Day weekend is the end for some as their kids are now back in school and fall hunting is pulling them away from the coast. Wives who have gone through a season know what to expect and are breathing a sigh of relief, as the man that resembles their husband starts to focus back on family, school, fall football, work, etc. The kinds of things most normal husbands deal with during the year. Many of them will never fully recover and soon will secretly start counting the days till they can run to the blue water. A few TA meetings to get them through the winter and they’ll have their own stories to share with fellow Tuna Aholics. Life will be good..

Bio…Del Stephens is a Pro Staff angler for Daiwa, Scotty Downriggers, Gamakatsu, Fish Trap Lures, Ballyhood, Garmin, Mustang Survival and is on the VIP programs of many other companies. He operated a charter business for many years but today devotes his time to running the Oregon Tuna Classic Tournament Series of offshore tournaments and overseeing his company, Dura Industries In northwest Portland.