Successful blackmouth fishing in Puget Sound begins with understanding the body of water that you are fishing.
Puget Sound is not a lake or a bay or even the ocean, it is it’s own unique body of water that more closely resembles a river than anything else. A very special river that changes direction at every tidal movement and winter blackmouth will relate their position in the river accordingly.
So how do you find winter blackmouth in Puget Sound? Don’t look for the blackmouth but rather look for what attracts the blackmouth.
In the many years I have fished Puget Sound I have found that Puget Sound blackmouth relate to three things, structure, current and food.
We have all heard the line, “Find the bait-find the fish.” It sounds so easy but so many anglers ignore this simple advice in locating blackmouth. Blackmouth salmon are voracious feeders and will also be looking for sand lance (candlefish) or herring.
The sand lance, which are also known locally as “candlefish,” because pioneers used to dry them and make candles out of them due to their high oil content are an ecologically important forage fish throughout Puget Sound where they school in many bays, banks and inlets. Sand lance are important food for young salmon who crave the high oil content; 35% of juvenile salmon diets are composed of sand lance and blackmouth salmon depend on sand lance for 60% of their diet. Sand lance spawning occurs at high tide in shallow water on sand-gravel beaches. Sand lance will also use sandy beaches for spawning. Knowing when and where this food source is will directly reflect on locating blackmouth.
Herring can be located at resting spots that are dictated by the current. As in river fishing, bait will be pushed into the lee of a current flow behind points, islands and land masses. The same is true in Puget Sound, knowing the position of the tide will allow you to find the best location to find baitfish.
Herring are very capable of moving in and out of Puget Sound at any time. If you know favorable areas that have current of 1.2 knots of less you have a better chance of locating herring schools feeding on plankton that collect in the lee of the current flow.
Examples of outgoing current fisheries are Pt Defiance in the south sound and Point No Point in the north sound. The bait gets pushed in behind the land mass as the current in Puget Sound runs back out. Examples of incoming current fisheries would be Pt Dalco in the south across from Pt. Defiance and Double Bluff in the north located across from Point No Point.
Daily current charts are readily available in print or most modern marine electronics GPS programs for most of Puget Sound.
The third factor for finding resident chinook is structure. If I had to choose between the three, structure would be my last choice; I would target baitfish and current locations first.
Over the years I have noticed that when the bait moves out of an area most of the schools of blackmouth will follow the fish. Hence if the great fishing reports are coming from the San Juan’s Islands most likely the bait has moved north and the bulk of the fish with it. It’s not unusual for blackmouth to migrate out to the ocean off the coast or Vancouver Island following the bait.
However there are exceptions and this is where structure comes into play. For whatever reason there are some blackmouth who will not leave the local area and follow the bait migration. These fish left behind tend to be long and skinny but extremely aggressive and will take a lure or bait at first opportunity. These fish will be found along underwater drop offs, ledges and on or around ridges or humps on the bottom breaking current flow.
I divide feeding blackmouth feeding behavior into two categories. Light plays a factor on locating resident chinook, as they don’t like it. While they may be near the surface at dawn feeding on herring they will go deep as soon as it starts to lighten up. Once the sun is up you will be fishing 90-120 ft just off the bottom. Later in the day you may be fishing at well over 200 ft trying to locate these fish near bottom.
The other category is the prime feeding times. As I mentioned before blackmouth like to do their feeding where the bait is. They 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 or lack of current movement. You may have heard that the best fishing for blackmouth is one to two hours before or after a tide change. Really its right before or right after a current change as that’s when the water goes slack and the fish will expend the least energy finding baitfish.
So that’s my take on blackmouth fishing. Next in Part (2) I’ll cover tackle and productive techniques for harvesting winter blackmouth.
Capt John Keizer