Trip Report: Fishing for Sekiu Salmon
Dr. John Woods 04.21.15
In the great northwestern state of Washington, salmon fishing is king. One of the best places to do it is up on the far reaches of the Olympic Peninsula in a tiny little fishing hamlet town named Sekiu (pronounced like See-Koo).
Sekiu is perched on the edge of Clallam Bay, overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Even if you don’t fish, going there makes for a neat destination trip.
Most anglers and tourist types fly into Seattle. From there you go south on the famous congested highway I-5 to Olympia, the state capitol. From “Oly” as locals refer to it in addition to the regional beer by that name made over in Tumwater, take Highway 101 up along the coast through Shelton, Port Townsend, Sequim, Port Angeles, then to Sekiu. Note that from Port Angeles the highway to take to Sekiu is 112.
The other route through Aberdeen is a good one, too, as it goes up the western ocean coastline for some fantastic pull out views of the Pacific Ocean surf. The Olympic National Forest is absolutely beautiful, with huge spruce timber and the rain forest smell of wood and moss. Stop often.
There are many spots to stop along either route to take in beautiful views, grab some lunch, or just pull over to rest for a spell. There used to be a great little roadside restaurant in Quilcene that offered a homemade oyster stew that was to die for. Port Townsend is another quaint town that is definitely worthy of an overnight stay to explore the area.
In this day and age it is so simple to gather current information on travel aspects to anywhere. Just Google the Sekiu Chamber of Commerce and you will find up-to-date information on lodging, RV Parks, bed and breakfast locations, restaurants, motels, and other recreational information of interest.
You will find a section on fishing along with listings for charters, marinas, and other fishing related season information and what to fish for in the area. Salmon, of course, are the big draw, but there are also seasons for halibut, lingcod, and rockfish. The five species of salmon found in the Strait are the Chinook or kings, Coho-silvers, the Pink (also called the “Humpies”), the Chum or dogfish, and the Sockeye or red salmon.
My Sekiu Trip
The last time I stayed in Sekiu, my brother and I stayed in a bed and breakfast right on the main drag in town. We had the whole upstairs studio apartment to ourselves and a huge outside deck-porch overlooking the bay. We did our own cooking (including some of the fresh salmon we caught) on a grill out back. The facility was clean, very comfortable, and only a few short miles to the marina and fishing.
One of the more popular resort lodges on the Sekiu point is called Van Riper’s, where we stayed in the RV Park on this last trip. It is a resort with motel but also offers RV parking right on site. You can check them out at www.vanripersresort.com. This is a full service operation from housing to supplies to fishing right in one convenient location. Many anglers will want to bring their own boat as we did, but boats and fishing gear can be obtained at Van Riper’s Resort. They also sell state fishing licenses in the office.
When you fish the Strait of Juan de Fuca, it is a good thing to know what you are doing. My brother had fished the area many times and had a real head start on everything needed and how to do it. Even then, it is tricky fishing at best given the currents, depths, and other boat traffic coming and going all the time every day.
The marinas located in Sekiu are first class and designed for fishermen. Backing the boat down the ramp and tying off were no problem. The area is beautiful, lying in a sort of wind protected cove. Looking out toward the Strait it appears endless like the ocean, though on clear days you can easily see the coast of Canada to the north.
Once you throttle out clear of the wind buffeting cliffs, then it can get interesting. The Juan de Fuca is a major seagoing shipping channel because it terminates at Seattle. It is quite common to see freighters coming by a couple hundred yards away stacked with 18-wheeler container units coming in from all over the Far East. Other fishing vessels and even Navy ships can pass, including nuclear submarines that harbor at a base near Seattle. There can be lots of traffic on the de Fuca.
Next, given this strait ebbs and flows with the tides of the ocean, there is quite a current moving from time to time. If the wind kicks up, then you are subject to being bounced around by some pretty hefty waves. To say the least, fishing this body of water takes a competent boat operator. One day we fished in ten foot waves, which proved a mistake.
For salmon fishing, my brother had his boat equipped with downriggers and a kicker motor mounted off to the side of the main outboard engine. Downriggers are best described as semi-automatic fishing pole holders. Regular saltwater fishing gear can be used with the heavy lines clamped to the downrigger cables and weight to get the lure and flasher down to salmon depths of 60-100+ feet.
At the end of the cable is a big lead ball the size of a softball that carries the bait deep to the fish. On the bait end can be all kinds of salmon lures of varying colors along with a “flasher,” which is an aluminum fin that spins in the water attracting the attention of the fish. The pole is set in the downrigger. When the fish bites and takes the hook, the line will pop off the downrigger cable clamp set up. Then the angler grabs the pole and starting cranking. Hooks are barbless, so that results in a lot of lost fish.
It is a lot easier to do than it sounds. However, keeping two downriggers going at once can be a chore. As my brother worked the downriggers, I held mast at the steering wheel, keeping the boat going forward at a slow speed as with trolling. When both downriggers pop at the same time, then the fun starts. This happened many times.
One trick to note when fishing salmon here is the rules about the clipped fins on the fish. Some fish are native and some are hatchery fish. Depending on the current fishing regulations, you have to check each fish to see if it is “clipped” as those are the only ones you can keep. Don’t get caught keeping a salmon without a clipped off fin.
Kenny and I fished for three days on the Strait and we each caught fish, but on this trip either it was the wrong species of salmon allowed at the time or none had clipped fins. These regulations are crazy to say the least, but it is what it is. Many others fishing during the time caught great fish, so don’t be deterred by our bad luck.
Back at the marina they have cleaning tables right there on the dock for filleting out your salmon catch with the waste parts going right in the water to feed other wildlife creatures.
When the grill gets red hot, lay on a couple filets doused with pepper, salt, garlic powder, and lemon. Cook for 3-7 minutes depending on the thickness, flip, and cook until the red meat flakes. Add a Caesar salad, garlic bread, and cold beers. What a DE-light.
All in all given the beauty of the area, the scenery, mountains, huge evergreen forests, the drive around the Olympic Peninsula, and the fishing, this has to be one trip every fisherman should add to their list. I highly recommend Van Riper’s Resort and the Juan de Fuca.