King Salmon and the Resurrection Bay Blackmouth Derby
Trolling in the San Juan Islands during the Resurrection Blackmouth Salmon Derby.
What did you do last weekend? Were you out on the water? Cleaning up from the holidays?
I couldn't wait any longer and I went fishing. After a 10 day absence from wetting a line, and many things I needed to do, well a buddy and fellow Alaskan fishing guide asked if I wanted to fish the Resurrection Bay Blackmouth Derby in the San Juan Islands here in Washington State. Of course I dropped all responsibilities and said yes to fishing it with him and his Uncle Mike.
"I'm not sure any of the words from the speaker up front were heard because of all the fish lies being told amongst the crowd."
Friday night was the captain’s meeting where a bunch of loud dudes talked incessantly. The chatter was all about tales of the past and anticipation of the next two days ahead chasing blackmouth, which are immature king salmon that stick around in local waters feeding on any baitfish that moves rather than venturing out in the big ol' Pacific Ocean like most of the other salmon do. I'm not sure any of the words from the speaker up front were heard because of all the fish lies being told amongst the crowd.
On Saturday, the first day of the derby the docks at the Cap Sante Marina in Anacortes were bustling with people hauling gear, food and of course beer to their boats. The shotgun start had people zooming out every which way towards the fishing grounds they thought were most promising.
Cameron, Mike and I decided to try a new area to all of us based on advice and a fishing report from earlier in the week given by a salty dude we call Captain Denny. He knows the waters in the San Juan Islands as good as anyone and even has some spots logged in his brain others don't fish.
Fifteen minutes from the dock we were at the first fishing spot. A gravel bar running from 45 to 80 feet deep surrounded by deep water on all sides around it and a strong current the tide pushed across it. That current collects bait on the bar, which then pulls in the hungry salmon foraging for anything to feed their bellies.
"Within 5 minutes of my set-up going down on the down rigger to 10 feet off bottom, wham, my rod slammed down and popped up off of the release."
We dropped our lines down using 3 different types of terminal tackle. The Scotty downriggers took our bait and lures deep towards the bottom where we could see the bait on the Lowrance screen.
I chose a Gibbs flasher and a Silver Horde Coho Killer spoon in the "Herring Aide" color pattern. It was the right choice as within 5 minutes of my set-up going down on the down rigger to 10 feet off bottom, wham, my rod slammed down and popped up off of the release.
While fighting the little king Mike said "geez, this is better than a normal blackmouth." Typically, you have to wade through dinkers to find a fish somewhat over the 22 inch minimum size. These are feeders that fill our freezers with tasty dinners. (And anything over 25 inches is pretty admirable; these are the big kings of summer or fall)
The fish put up a pretty surprising fight and I said, "hey, we got a tussler here, boys." Next thing you know Cameron netted the fish for me and since there was an adipose fin missing he bonked it on the head. We snapped the courtesy pic of it worthy of posting on social media because you know, that’s how it goes these days.
We did admire the thickness of the fish compared to its overall length. A decent sized sturdy fish that was built like that kid in high school playing linebacker that ran all over the football field smacking and tackling everyone and having his name called for making the tackle on every other play. After going into the fish box we debated the weight. Not big but maybe 7 pounds, maybe 8, maybe even 8.5 pounds.
We went 3 for 4 that day on blackmouth and the "herring aid" Silver Horde Coho Killer proved to be the offering the fish wanted.
We came to the dock a bit early for the weigh in on Saturday and although we were not on the leader board we did find out that first linebacker of a fish was 9.2 pounds. A worthy blackmouth on any day.
Cameron and Brita have a beer and check out the online leaderboard to see who has the biggest fish so far.
After the weigh in we did what any good fishing buddies do, we went to the local bar, The Wheelhouse, and had pizza and beer while glancing up at the football game on tv and strategizing for the next day’s happenings. Cameron's wife Brita met us there where we shared stories of the day’s events and the past summer fishing up in Alaska. This is the fishing life, the life we want. This is our fix.
Sunday came and we set out with our plan to fish where most of the big fish, the leaderboard fish came from. A spot we had driven by many times on the way to our normal fishing grounds but had never really pounded ourselves.
I'd tell ya the name but ya know, we don't want everyone hitting that spot. There was about 7 boats working the area and massive amounts of bait. We saw lots of fish on the screen but could not get them to bite. A large low pressure system that had blown through early Sunday morning before we hit the water with 50 plus mile an hour winds knocking out power in the region and really made the barometer drop and turned the normally bitey fish into picky feeders that we just couldn't get to take what we presented them.
We actually caught nothing on that 2nd day of the derby but we had fun, BS'ing, trying different things, watching the orcas swim by. All good stuff.
"This was the perfect weekend to start off the New Year. And by the time I got home Sunday I was tired and just needed a bed."
Luckily a few folks did catch some nice fish on Sunday, including the top two winning fish, a 16.5 pounder and an impressive 18.54 pound blackmouth caught by Darren Small, a very good fisherman who found his big fish far from where we were. That is a pretty awesome winter blackmouth he caught winning him $10k.
After the weigh-in we went to the Elk's Club in Anacortes where the awards were and to grub on good warm food and of course suck down a few drinks. We talked with old fishing buddies, friends and met new ones for the next couple of hours while the prizes were awarded. Our wives hung out with us and put up with our exaggerated fish stories. Luckily we never got a bite the 2nd day so we did not have any new stories to tell about the one that got away.
This was the perfect weekend to start off the New Year. And by the time I got home Sunday I was tired and just needed a bed.