A freshly caught salmon on the barbecue or a pot heavy with crab or prawns are what fulfills many Northwest boater’s dreams. Add to that discovering a beach full of clams, mussels or tasty oysters and the cruising life doesn’t get much better. Whether you favor Dungeness crab, fresh-caught salmon or lingcod, mussels or oysters, the water of the inside passage is home to an abundance of tasty seafood that is fun to harvest.
Keys to success:
- Knowing the regulations
Cruising Angler – Beneath The Hull Is Mother Nature’s Refrigerator
Fishing for salmon is popular with cruisers throughout the Inside Passage and the big prize for many anglers. The area supports runs of all five species.
Many use downriggers for controlled depth trolling while moving from one destination to another. However, there are other ways to pursue salmon without the cost of downriggers: trolling with planning divers; mooching and jigging.
Divers will take your offering to a depth of 10 to 60-feet when trolling. Mooching is the act of vertical fishing with a weight and bait from a drifting boat. Jigging is done with a weighted lure that is raised and lowered vertically creating the appearance of baitfish.
Find the baitfish, and your odds of success will increase. Baitfish congregate along tide rips and back eddies which form on the down current sides of points and reefs.
In addition to salmon, lingcod, halibut and rockfish are popular fisheries.
In the Northwest, recreational crabbing means Dungeness and red rock crab. Dungeness are larger than rock crab and have a higher to total body weight ratio. Regulations require that all female crabs are released. They can be identified by examining their underside.
Most recreational crabbing takes place in 30 to 150-feet of water. Crab prefer a sandy or cobble bottom with vegetation like eelgrass nearby and in relatively low current flow habitats.
All you need to get started is a baited crab pot attached to a line connected to a surface float. Crab traps come in different shapes and sizes, and pot regulations vary between states and province. Some traps have two entrances while others have four. These entryways are designed so that crabs can get in easily yet find it much harder to get out.
The four entrance model makes more sense because whichever way the trap lands on the bottom there will be one entry in line with the current flow. This is important. If the trap is misaligned, the crabs will find it but not the entry port because the scent trail keeps them on the wrong side of the trap.
The amount of line should allow for a two-to-one scope from the float to the pot. Use a sinking line. Do not use polypropylene line because it floats, becoming a hazard for propellers of passing boats.
Canned cat food, fish carcasses, and uncooked chicken parts all work well as baits.
More than 80 species of shrimp inhabit Pacific coast waters. Only seven species though are regularly captured for consumption by sports harvesters. Spot shrimp (also referred to as prawns or spot prawns) are the largest shrimp and most popular with sports anglers.
Prawns are transitory and may be plentiful in an area one day and scarce the next. Most frequently found at depths of 150 to 300 feet, spot shrimp tend to inhabit rocky drop-offs or hard bottoms with moderate tidal flows.
Equipment consists of a prawn trap and a bait container that is secured to the center of the trap. The trap needs to be heavy enough to not move in the current, prawn will not enter a moving trap. You will also need enough sinking line to fish 300-feet down. All of this gear is secured to a large, highly visible float, marked in accordance with the area’s regulations.
A trap puller like those offered by Scotty’s Hardware or Ace Hardware is a must unless you have really strong arms and back.
Good baits are very oily. Many cruisers mix a bait of seafood-flavored cat food, commercially produced prawn pellets and a liquid shrimp attractor the night before. The oil leaves a potent scent trail which draws the prawns into the trap.
Soak the trap(s) for at least four hours, overnight is even better.
Clams, Mussels, and Oysters
Nothing is quite like finding dinner strolling along the beach. Manila, butter, native littlenecks clams, mussels and Pacific and Olympia oysters are available – all but the mussels and oysters require a little digging, but that’s half the fun.
Some area regulations require all recreationally harvested oysters to be shucked on the beach so the next generation of oysters can reuse the empty shell.
Of the two species of mussels found in the inland waterways of the Northwest, the Foolish mussel is the most commonly used for the table. It grows to a length of about three inches and is found mainly in sheltered waters attached to gravel, boulders, and floats. Mussels are detached, byssus or “beard” removed, scrubbed clean, and the then steamed or cooked like clams.
For the same reasons they are so flavorful, clams, mussels, and oysters are also susceptible to toxins: as filter feeders, they concentrate the elements and compounds that are passed through each step of the food chain. Because of this, it’s important to pay attention to Red Tide and beach closures.
Know Before You Go
Regulations for finfish and invertebrates are complex, vary from area to area, and can change during the season, so check the regulations before you wet a line, drop a pot or stroll the beach.
- Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife – http://wdfw.wa.gov
- Marine Biotoxin Bulletin – https://fortress.wa.gov/doh/eh/portal/odw/si/BiotoxinBulletin.aspx
- Fisheries and Oceans Pacific Region – http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/index-eng.html
- Red Tide and Sanitary – http://www.pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/fm-gp/contamination/biotox/index-eng.html
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game – http://adfg.alaska.gov
~ Deane Hislop