Fishing at Deception Pass

An Outdoor View

It’s sometimes fun and always interesting to fish where most everything is outside the scope of your experience. For me, fishing for silver salmon at Deception Pass on Sunday was such a place.


To start with, my wife and I are wintering in Washington, so we had to buy fishing licenses, one of the costs of being snowbirds. I’m an Alaskan resident, so it cost me $123.55 for a combination freshwater-saltwater license, which includes all fish and shellfish, as well as a Vehicle Access Pass that allows free parking at state boat launches. Sue is a Washington resident, so her combination license cost $54.25. When we return to Alaska next spring, my fishing license will be free, but her’s will cost $145, plus $100 for a king salmon stamp.

In other words, Alaska charges nonresidents twice as much for the same product. It’s interesting to note that Alaska still has healthy runs of king salmon. In Washington, kings have been scarce for years.

At 7 a.m. on Sunday, Sue and I met my son, Vic, and his son, Derek, at the Coronet Bay boat launch at 7 a.m.. As the sky lightened in the east, we loaded up and got under way in his 21-foot, outboard-powered boat.

This time of year, fog isn’t uncommon in the Puget Sound area. It enveloped our boat as soon as we left the dock. Vic ran the motor at just above idle speed for the entire trip to the pass, about a mile. The fog thinned on the outside of the pass, which was good, because several boats were already there, and more came later. Trolling among them would’ve been dicey in fog.

The sun rose into a blue sky, but the here-again, gone-again fog had us wishing we’d worn more layers. What’s more, we discovered that none of us knew how to rig a herring for trolling. I knew how years ago, when I had my own boat, but I’d forgotten. For years, I’ve been fishing on charter boats, where the mate baits your hook, or fishing with a buddy who was better at rigging a herring than I ever was. Anyhow, we trolled with herring. Suffice it to say that our presentations were less than perfect.

In Puget Sound, barbless, single-point hooks are the only legal kind for salmon fishing, so I had to pinch our barbs closed. I’m guessing, but I think this regulation is a conservation measure. Releasing immature salmon is apparently easier on the fish when the hooks are barbless.

Fishing at Deception Pass is like fishing in a large river, only different. Most large rivers don’t rise and fall several feet twice a day, let alone change direction while doing so. The every-changing eddies and currents constantly push at your boat, moving it counter to where you want it to go. It’s similar to back-bouncing for Kenai kings at Big Eddy or Beaver Creek, where changing currents and heavy boat traffic make fishing a challenge.

One big difference between fishing the Kenai and fishing Deception Pass is the scarcity of charter boats at the pass. Vic said there were a couple there the previous weekend, but we saw none Sunday. Without the “pros” there, the fishing was less determined than if they’d been there.

Everyone was having a good time. When boats came within an oar’s length of each other, no hackles rose. By noon, a dozen bank fishermen were fishing, casting in the general direction of the 20 or so boats. Skippers avoided conflict by skirting the “combat zone,” where the splashes of spoons and jigs struck the water like bullets.

We had expected to hit the peak of the silver run. However, as the day progressed, we adjusted our expectations. In six hours of fishing, the four of us had caught three silvers, seven sculpins and one crab. Most boats around us did no better. Surprising to me, we didn’t catch a single rockfish. In the 1950s, those were plentiful along the shoreline of the sound. Now there is no open season for rockfish, and lingcod fishing has been sharply restricted.

Fishing at Deception Pass on a nice day as we did was a real pleasure. There was the emerald-green water flowing between sheer cliffs. There was the forested shoreline and the impressive bridge. Best of all, I spent some quality time with my son and grandson. I look forward to doing it again, and soon. Next time, I’ll know how to rig herring.


Les Palmer can be reached at


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