Each year I have the opportunity to spend several days chasing Coho with my parents in the Strait of Juan de Fuca adjacent to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. While the primary purpose of this annual trip is to keep salmon on my grill the rest of the year, a few years ago we began to pursue another species as well. It is a well known fact that real men arise at the crack of ten, sometimes the Coho are only feeding closer to dawn. When this happens you had better be up and underway when running lights are required. Pre-dawn marina departures of vessels of all shapes and sizes contributes to the charm of small fishing towns and Sekiu is no exception. If the bite is early and the typical limit on Coho is two fish per angler per day, you may very well find yourself back at the dock before breakfast. The Olympic Peninsula is full of things to do once the salmon are caught, filleted out, vacuum sealed, and frozen. One could venture out to Cape Flattery, the most Northwest point in the continental United States. Visit the crystal blue water of Lake Crescent, or just hike around in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Once these things are done, as most anglers are apt to do, it usually returns to some kind of fishing.
Near Neah Bay there are hours of entertainment to be had catching strong fighting and great tasting fish. Using an ultralight spinning rod and a small plastic tail jig a person can burn an entire day catching Black Sea Bass near the kelp beds. These fish typically range from 2-4 pounds, put up a great fight, and are simply a blast to catch. The catch limit is pretty high (check the regulations if you go) and they taste great. We would position the boat near the kelp bed and allow the boat to drift with the wind and/or tide along side of the bed casting into the channels between the branches of the kelp. These fish tend to school so when you catch one, there are sure to be more. Anyone that has spent a couple of hours filleting out a mess of crappie knows that it takes about the same amount of time to clean a small fish as it does a larger fish so it is definitely worthwhile to put the smaller fish back to grow up a bit and keep the larger fish. However, if you want to take it to the next level, you can keep a few smaller bass to be used as live bait for Ling Cod, a bottom dwelling beast from another age. Ling is a great eating fish and they fight really hard as well.
One year as I was packing for this trip, it occurred to me how much fun it might be to catch black bass on a fly rod. My four piece five weight was summarily tossed into my bag along with a couple of Clouser minnows. When we arrived at the kelp beds I went forward to fish off the bow since fly casting from the rear of a Grady White would preclude anyone else being able to fish. Being on the bow, I was higher than I was in the stern and could clearly see deeper into the water. This also allowed me to more accurately place my fly between the branches of the kelp and see its descent into the darkness below. I was using a sinking line to get the relatively weightless fly into the fishes realm. No sooner had the fly dropped below the first kelp petals than a strong two pound bass darted from the cover of the kelp and took the fly with an aggressiveness that shocked me. I set the hook and the fight was on. Since I am unaware of a method to quantify laughter, suffice it to say that I laughed a lot while catching these fish.
After a good fight the fish tired and I was able to bring it closer to the boat. The smaller fish I was able to hoist from the water using the line, but the bigger fish presented a problem. Since I was balancing on the bow of the boat and the net was at the stern, I had to lead the larger fish along side of the boat to be netted by Captain Jeff. I soon found that the deeper my fly went, the bigger the fish that ate it. Several times while the fly was sinking, a smaller bass would dart out from the kelp and follow the fly only to be chased off by a much larger fish from the depths below. It is a good day when fish are literally fighting over your fly. This type of fishing allows for one of the things that makes fly fishing so great, the ability to see the fish take your fly. Allowing this revelation to sink in, I decided to fish with streamers more often on my home waters.
While all four of us were catching fish, the fly rod was consistently taking the larger fish. Hooking and landing a four pound Black Sea bass on a five weight fly rod makes an impression on one’s soul and brings a smile to my face even years later.