Until this past month the only water type I had fished for coho salmon in the saltwater was offshore. A few weeks ago that changed. I was fishing a rocky point surrounded by kelp. I started by fishing the edges of the kelp and the rips that formed just offshore of the point. I was having decent success but almost all of the fish were small chinook salmon and I wanted to find some of the approximately one million coho returning to Puget Sound in 2011.
The bait was concentrated inside the thick kelp beds. As I was paddling through the kelp heading back to the launch I noticed big swirls deep within the kelp bed. I stopped the kayak and formulated a plan to go after those fish. I quickly realized that I couldn't fish a sinking line or weighted fly because I would be snagging kelp fronds on every cast. I came to the conclusion that the only way to fish this area was with a floating line and a popper. I rushed to switch out my sinking head to a floating head and a gurgler was plucked from the fly box. I paddled into position and started to drift through the kelp.
I started casting. What is different about casting in the kelp from casting in offshore rips is that accuracy really matters. If your cast is off target you will be tangled in the kelp. As I drifted I aimed for the clean pockets between the kelp. It wasn't long before the first coho started following and swirling at the fly. When fishing poppers for salmon the one thing you learn quickly is that for every five to ten boils or follows you will have one solid hookup. Sometimes the hookup rate is better but not often.
It seemed like every two or three openings in the kelp resulted in at least a swirl on the fly. Soon a coho came for the fly and there was weight. What followed was an amazing display. The fish was instantly in the air. Not once, but four times the salmon came out of the water while at the same time wrapping the leader around numerous clumps of kelp. The fly eventually pulled loose while I attempted to untangle the fish. I continued to fish and rose numerous other salmon. I hooked three other salmon that day and all of them put on amazing aerial displays along with hard runs into and around the kelp. Amazingly I was able to land two of them. Looking back I could not remember a group of hotter fighting coho salmon in my years of experience fishing offshore.
Of course, since that day I have returned to that location many times attempting to recreate that tide change. The best I have done since is have four rises and two fish on. But in keeping with the first day of fishing the kelp beds each fish hooked displayed the same great fighting ability.
This morning I returned after a bit of a drought at this location. The recent windy weather hasn't helped but the fishing seems to have really slowed down. This morning dawned very chilly with a brisk wind. I paddled out and tried fishing the outer rips for a bit before coming back in to the kelp. The wind was blowing a little stronger than I would have liked so I paddled up on top of the thickest clump of kelp I could find and just sat and observed the water for awhile. I was convinced that the wind would likely die down at some point so I spent about an hour enjoying the sights. It is amazing what you see fishing out of a quiet and slow watercraft. Earlier in the morning a family of river otters was feeding out in the kelp. The seabirds were dive bombing the abundant schools of herring swarming the area. Herons were perched motionless on the floating mats of kelp waiting to ambush any bait that swam too close. A large number of turkey vultures circled a thermal just inland.
Soon enough the wind did start to diminish ever so slightly. I decided to take advantage of it and start fishing the kelp. Casting the gurgler to open targets resulted in nothing on the first drift. I paddled back and started a little closer in to the rocks. After about ten casts I saw a fish charge at the fly. The slash came from the side. The salmon missed but I kept the fly moving and he came at it again and missed. I continued the retrieve with little hope the fish would come back for a third time. Luckily I was wrong and the third time was the charm as the line came tight to a coho salmon. After a couple surface head shakes the fish bolted. He was on the reel instantly and instead of running underneath the surface I could see his back out of the water the entire time he was running away from me. It was as if I had hooked him in a foot of water instead of the twenty foot depths he swam in. Eventually the running stopped and immediately the line went slack. I will never know if he started running back towards the kayak or if the hook pulled out but the fish was gone. I eventually got the fly untangled from a piece of kelp the salmon wrapped the line on and started fishing again.
That was my only fish of the day but it was a memorable one. I think I have a new favorite place to catch coho salmon in the saltwater. I really enjoy fishing deep within the kelp. Not only for the challenge of the casting but the extra fight the salmon seem to have when they have to battle from deep within the kelp forests.