When most people think of saltwater fly fishing their minds drift to tropical climates and fish species such as tarpon and bonefish. While the Pacific Northwest lacks the hot weather and the typical saltwater gamefish, it more than makes up for it with outstanding fly fishing and spectacular scenery.
I have spent some time fishing in warmer climates, but I always want to return back to Washington State. Whether it’s casting along the beaches of Hood Canal for sea-run cutthroat or fighting the swells and currents casting flies for coho salmon in the Pacific Ocean, I cannot get enough of the saltwater fly fishing opportunities available right here.
Much of my summer is spent fly fishing the Pacific Ocean for salmon and bottomfish. Bottomfishing is targeting fish such as rockfish and lingcod. This is fishing right up near the rugged rocks and shorelines that line the Northern coast of Washington. The fishing is often fast and furious. Once you find the schools of black rockfish, you will catch them one after another. They are aggressive, and can even be caught on poppers occasionally. While fishing along the coast, you will see sea lions, seals, tons of birds, and possibly a whale.
The other primary saltwater fly fishing target in the Pacific Ocean is the coho salmon. Neah Bay is located in a perfect place to intercept millions of salmon as they return to rivers from Oregon, British Columbia, and Washington. The strong currents concentrate the fish as they feed on baitfish and shrimp. This is incredible saltwater fly fishing, with 10-30 fish days possible. Most coho salmon run between 4-6 pounds, but fish in the high teens are landed every year. Casting baitfish patterns on sinking lines is the primary way to catch salmon, but fishing on the surface is becoming more popular. Pink salmon are also available every other year, and they only add to the fun.
The offshore fishery requires a sturdy boat and some experience, but Washington State also offers great saltwater fly fishing right around the Seattle metro area. Stretching from Bellingham to Olympia, Puget Sound is a large protected body of water. Draining into Puget Sound are numerous rivers and creeks. These watersheds produce annual runs of coho, pink, and chum salmon that are available to not only anglers with boats, but can be caught from shore. Along with the salmon, Puget Sound and Hood Canal offer outstanding habitat for the sea-run cutthroat trout. This native trout moves into the saltwater to feed. Casting flies along the beaches is a popular fishery for these trout.
The cutthroats are like ghosts as they cruise along the beaches. The beaches I like to fish typically are rocky or have large amounts of oysters. This habitat supports the feed, such as sculpins, baitfish and shrimp that cutthroat love to eat. Fishing surface patterns such as Gurglers is becoming much more popular, and is a great way to search for fish. The cutthroat will often show themselves boiling at the dry, and then switching to a subsurface baitfish pattern will result in a solid hookup.
If you are traveling through the Pacific Northwest, you might want to remember that where there is saltwater, there is saltwater fly fishing.