Neah Bay is Back Open! Leave a reply
Neah Bay is Back Open!
by Jason Brooks
Neah Bay and the Makah Reservation have been closed since Covid took over the world but this spring anglers got the good news. Neah Bay is back open! With halibut season’s set the tiny town started to see tourist and fisherman and they were welcomed with open arms. Then the North of Falcon meeting came to a close with a big announcement that Marine Area 4 would have a salmon opener in mid-June. Unfortunately I made the mistake of waiting a few weeks to make reservations at the few motels and cabins in Neah Bay. Everything was booked so my son Ryan and I decided to tent it at Hobuck Beach RV park and campground.
Stopping by Big Salmon Resort, which is a “one stop get it all” store and marina, (and the only public boat launch in Neah Bay) I met Mike Lawrence. I was standing at the cash register with a package of black label herring to try some halibut fishing before heading to the salmon grounds as Mike handed me a t-shirt, “Here, hold this up I want to take your picture”. By the end of the day I made the Social Media rounds for Big Salmon with the t-shirt, “Just for the Halibut, We’re Back-Neah Bay 2022”. After heading out of the marina we headed towards the halibut grounds but we were met with big rollers and a strong wind making the sea’s too rough on this day. We did manage to troll along the shoreline and pick up a nice chinook on our way back to the boat slip.
The U.S. Coast Guard was out on patrol and we were boarded by a nice crew. A quick inspection and some encouragement for upcoming days and we were on our way. WDFW fish checkers were quick to meet anglers at the dock, almost hovering over them and often starting their questionnaire before boats even tied up the ropes. A quick survey and they were off to the next boat. Turns out in the first two days of the season anglers caught 12% of the chinook quota (the 2022 chinook Marine Area 4 quota is 6,110).
I admit that before this trip I had only chased halibut and bottom fish up at Neah Bay. Thinking it would take a few days to figure out the chinook and planned for enough days to allow bad weather we hit the ground running. Catching chinook each day with our best day being the last and limiting in less than 2 hours. Ryan and I spent 4 days in Neah Bay chasing salmon and rockfish and watching bald eagles. Bouncing back and forth from salmon to sea bass we were able to fill the ice chest with fresh fish.
If you are heading up to Neah Bay be sure to check the WDFW regulations as they are often updated including reducing the limit from 2 adult fish to 1 but unclipped chinook can still be kept. To find the fish look to the usual spots including trolling along easterly from the green can just outside the harbor to Sail Rock. Keep the boat on the 120 to 140 foot line and be ready.
For us we chose to go west and work bait balls. Every point that juts out from the coastline had boats working the softer water were bait took refuge. But Ryan and I just cruised along, trying to avoid boats and kelp while looking for baitfish.
Once we found a bait ball we dropped the gear and did circles and figure-eights around and through it. Instead of working mid-water we dropped the gear deep to match the bottom of the bait and were rewarded with adult fish. Our idea was to avoid incidental “encounters” as WDFW calls them, and anglers refer to them as “shakers”, sub-legal fish that are released but are counted by the fish checkers. Our system worked as we only had a handful of shakers for the four days we spent fishing.
As for gear it is hard to beat bait. But there are a lot of chinook in the area and bait also means time rigging more gear. During the opening week the weather was typical for Neah Bay with a marine layer misting each morning. The dark and gloomy days meant low light and this means using UV. I rigged up a Gold Star glow hoochie with a Luhr Jensen UV Flash Fly insert tied on stout 40-pound leader and tandem 2/0 Gamakatsu Big River hooks. A white and chartreuse Bechhold & Son’s flasher added to the set up with the idea being the salmon needed to be drawn to the lure which was glowing bright on the overcast day. To be sure we got the fish to bite the hoochie was loaded up with anchovy or herring Pro-Cure Bait Sauce. As much as I tried to match the speed the tides were pretty strong this past week so instead I just kept an eye on the downrigger cable, keeping it as close to 22 ½ degrees as possible. Again, we made circles and figure-eight turns through the bait so our speed varied greatly, but I always tried to keep the cable at an angle to where we knew the gear was working.
Neah Bay is back open! And with the opener being very good it might not be open for long. Limits are already being reduced and though it is slated to be open through September 30th the chinook might not last that long. Good thing an above average coho return is predicted and soon anglers will be switching up to top water gear and acrobatic silvers will be the main target. It is time to head to the most northern tip of the lower 48 and be sure to stop by Big Salmon and say hello to Mike, he might even sell you a t-shirt and take your picture. He is also a good source on where the fish are being caught.
The Outdoor Line Field Editor