A recent post on Doug Rose's great blog (Doug Rose Fly Fishing Blog) got me reminiscing about fly fishing out at Swiftsure Bank.
I've been thinking about what made Swiftsure so special for me. As I look back I don't think it was solely about numbers of fish. One can find large numbers of salmon much closer to port and without the pounding the kidneys took from the long run straight into the swells made steeper by the strong currents draining Puget Sound.
What made Swiftsure such a special place was the total package, which started with the base of the food chain. The tiny krill is the base of the food chain out there and created the sights and sounds that made the fishing so wonderful. There were many days where the krill were non-existent and the fishing was excellent drifting around blind casting flies. While fun, those days were missing the total Swiftsure package.
The total package began with the krill but needed other ingredients to make an exceptional day. You needed to find the krill and there were really two ways to find them, birds or whales. Both required keen eyesight to spot on days with good visibility. Foggy days are common offshore and finding them with no visual cues made discovering them even better. I remember watching the depthfinder as one approaches the bank. The depth slowly shallows to around 300 feet and the search begins. The engine is shut off and I stepped outside the cabin to listen. One could barely see twenty feet ahead but sound travels far. The squawking of shearwaters was the primary sound I was trying to hear, but the other sound to find the krill were the humpback whales that shared the krill with the birds and salmon. Often the first stop yielded sound and a direction to follow but usually it took multiple stops to finally find the krill.
Once you are next to the large areas of krill on the surface you get a bit caught up in the visual feast of thick layers of krill, hundreds of seabirds sitting on the surface feeding, humpback whales working the krill, and last but not least coho salmon boiling on the surface.
The fishing was not always fast and furious because the salmon were keyed in on small krill and often were just swimming through the clouds of krill with their mouths open. They were not chasing individual krill. I still remember the days we waited for the sky to lighten up and the massive areas of krill to shrink as most of the krill moved vertically to deeper water. The smaller amount of krill seemed to be worked by the same large number of coho salmon and the fishing became much easier as the fish were more likely to chase anything that looked like food. It was a fascinating place to experiment with presentation, retrieve speed, and surface patterns.
My fishing exploration of the place took years as I learned a little bit more every trip out there. The days of making the run to find nothing often were better learning experiences because you never learn the wrong times to fish a spot unless you go when the tides and currents are not in your favor.