Tacoma’s Summer King Action

Salmon fishing sizzles during the heart of summer

Jesy Howard bagged this chinook at Point Defiance on a hoochie tipped with a herring fillet.

There’s something kind of dream-like about an angler fighting a large ocean going chinook. The downrigger release popping and the sound of the reel singing as a summer salmon makes its run into the deep waters of Puget Sound. This dream is about to happen every summer, as it has for many years, for anglers fishing the south Puget Sound, where large runs of hatchery fish will be returning.

The last few years the fish have been averaging 12 to 15 pounds, but that will soon change. The larger summer kings start to show in Late July, making their way back to local river systems and providing plenty of action for salmon anglers.

Starting off the summer, begin watching for fish returning to the Puyallup River in late July through August. With Commencement Bay closed until August 1st, the best chance at intercepting these fish is usually off the Clay Banks and Slag Pile areas near Point Defiance, and over on the south end of Vashon Island near Point Dalco. These fish will move closer to the Puyallup River mouth in August and into Commencement Bay.

At the peak of the Puyallup River king run anglers will also start seeing some of the Nisqually River kings making their way into the south sound. These are some of the best salmon south sound has to offer. They are hard fighting and it’s not at all unusual to see some fish landed each year weighing in over 30 pounds from this fishery.

The fishing will start around the last week of July in the Tacoma area and run through August, with most of the late August action taking place off the green navigation buoy near the mouth of the Nisqually River and McAllister Creek mouths on the Nisqually delta.

August also sees the return of the Chambers Creek run of salmon, located just a little north of the town of Steilacoom, Washington. These cookie cutter kings, as many of the locals refer to them, all look like they came out of a mold, mostly weighing in between 10 and 15 pounds. They stack up in August off the creek mouth, making a hay day for jiggers and moochers.

If you think I’m excited you are absolutely right! These past few years we’ve seen some of the best king salmon fishing I can remember in the south sound and these areas are right in my back yard.



Moochers go light with a medium action steelhead rod and 10 to 12 pound test for main line and an assortment of 2 to 6 ounce sinkers, using the minimum amount of weight needed to reach bottom. Super sharp hooks in size 3/0 to 4/0 work great this time of the year, tying them on long, 6 to 8 foot leaders, and using a ball bearing swivel to prevent line twist. I like to run the 4/0 hook in the top of the cut plug, with the 3/0 hook as a trailer. I’ll use a solid tie and the freshest herring I can find.

There are generally two kinds of bites when fishing this way. The normal bite is the “tap, tap, tap” felt on the bait, where it’s best to feed the fish line until steady pressure is felt, then set the hook hard to drive the hooks home. A good hook set is important, as there’s usually plenty of stretch in the line to account for.

The second take is not so nice! The king will grab the bait, head for the river mouth like a freight train, and it’s “FISH ON! When this happens let the fish run and hope you tied good knots, trying to keep the boat close to the fish so as not to get cut off by anyone else’s line or downriggers. The key to landing big fish is to play them out until they are completely tired and then net them head first.

The best summer mooching depth is in 90 to 120 feet water. The fish will be more shallow early in the morning and deeper as the day gets brighter and the sun comes up.



Downriggers are tops in the south sound and I personally run up to three electric downriggers on my twenty six foot boat. They’re hard to beat for producing fish day in and day out on light tackle and being able to cover lots of water with you’re tackle at a controlled depth is an extremely productive way to fish.

I use ten and a half foot rods and reels loaded with 25 pound main line. My favorite rig for fishing light is a cut plug herring. It’s hard to beat if you’re a light tackle enthusiast like myself.

Hardware also produces fish, however, and a large rotating flasher with a green colored hoochie tied on a 40 inch leader has been a good producer for me over the years. I’ll load the hoochie up with herring or anchovy scent or will often put a herring fillet teaser off of one of the hooks to draw more strikes.

The top spoons lately have been the Silver Horde Sonic Edge and the Kingfisher. Both of these spoons worked very well last year, as did the Silver Horde 6 inch green splatter back plug, or all white, glow in the dark plug. Fish these plugs slowly, just like you would a herring, for the best action on them.


Boat Ramps

Point Defiance Park is the most popular two lane launch in the area. Narrows Marina, just south of the bridge, is one lane launch and is much less crowded than the park launch. Zittels Marina, near Olympia, is close to the Nisqually River delta and has a one-lane ramp and a sling for larger boats. There’s a small ramp in Gig Harbor with a dock and limited parking.

Get out and enjoy this fishery! It’s close to town, easy to get to, and there’s plenty of information out there on fishing these areas. Best of all, you don’t have to travel far to get into some great salmon fishing action.


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