Introducing Fishing The Pacific Northwest – Halibut And More!

When someone utters the words “Pacific Northwest”, your mind may automatically fill with coffee, rain, and large scale technology companies.  And while that wouldn’t be incorrect, the intention from this point forward will be to replace those typical thoughts and impressions with an intense introduction to the salty side of things here in the most northwest corner of the continental 48.  There are no shortage of opportunities that lie just below the surface of the water, so after you grab your double coconut mocha Chai latte (quadruple blended of course) and you’ve gotten an appreciation for the rich aviation history at the Museum of Flight, put on those Xtra Tuf boots and don the Grunden bibs to enjoy the REEL RIDE!

Pacific Northwest fishing calendar

On a typical year, you will find saltwater opportunities each and every month.  I say ‘typical’ as current salmon management practices have driven closures of the very popular winter Blackmouth (juvenile resident Chinook salmon) in the San Juan Islands and high dollar Salmon Derbies along with it.  With that aside, there are no shortages of quarry to chase, especially when you add in the shellfish component which I’ll dive into in a bit.  The State is broken up into 13 Marine Areas with their own special set of rules and head scratching regulations.  Pick up two of the Sportfishing Regulation “pamphlets” on your next visit to the local sporting good store, and you’ll have two portable weights for bicep curls and tricep extensions.  I wish I was joking, but having a law degree will help in this arena.  But don’t worry, I’m here to help.  I have been navigating this hot mess of ever changing rules since I was a kid.

Not only can you catch everything from inky cephalopods to line dumping albacore tuna, but everything  is absolutely delectable on the dinner table.  Okay, maybe Sea Cucumbers don’t look appetizing, and that first beating sashimi tuna heart can be a little intimidating. 

washington state seafood

Outside of the unusual characters, though, eating the seafood in the Pacific Northwest will have your inflammation-fighting Omega 3 levels so high, your doctor will wonder how you got so healthy.  In my household, we enjoy a different species each day, that we have harvested from the bountiful waters or lands.  To name a few: Chinook and Coho salmon, halibut, lingcod, seabass, albacore tuna.  And to take it a step further and name the primary shellfish members: Dungeness and red rock crab, spot prawns (shrimp), squid, and a variety of clams and oysters.

Let’s take a look at the calendar and get some trips planned!

PNW lingcod fishing

MARCH – Sekiu  (Marine Area 5) opens up for Chinook salmon and the Coast (Marine Areas 1-4) opens up for lingcod retention along with rockfish.  Check out the specific marine area for any depth or zone restrictions.  Offshore opportunities are limited by some tough marine weather.

washington halibut fishing

APRIL – The always anticipated Halibut fishery opens in the Strait of Juan De Fuca.  The bottom fish opportunity is going strong as the ocean starts to calm down with every passing week.

MAY – Halibut fishing opens in the Coastal Marine Areas (1-4).  Lingcod opens up in the Strait of Juan De Fuca (Marine Areas 5-6) as well as the San Juan Islands (Marine Area 7) and the Puget Sound (Marine Areas 8-13).  The Puget Sound and San Juan shrimp fisheries open up and some openers may be 4 hours, while some will go for weeks or months.

JUNE – Depending on the North of Falcon results for setting salmon seasons, we can start to see some openers towards the end of June for hatchery Chinook salmon.  Salmon fishing will go into early August or when the quota is caught.

albacore tuna in washington

JULY – We welcome our world-class albacore tuna fishery to our coast.  We’ve seen tuna arrive as early as the second week of June but the first and second weeks of July are typical.  Tuna arrive from the mid-Pacific as the warm water migration reaches the Pacific Northwest and fishing is epic as soon as they arrive.  Trolling is a great way to target these early fish as there are a large number of small schools.

July is also when the inner Puget Sound Chinook fishery kicks off.  These are very popular openers and if the fishing is good, they will close before you can blink.

The Puget Sound Dungeness Crab fishery kicks off and it’s hard to beat fresh steamed crab dipped in melted butter.

AUGUST – The tuna fishery is in full effect and the ‘Slide’ is an effective method.  It involves finding the tuna on the troll, hooking 1-3 fish, and then converting to live bait.  Anchovies are the live bait of choice in the Pacific Northwest and they are candy to the tuna.

albacore tuna fishing

SEPTEMBER – Tuna are gathered in large masses and the fishing becomes a ‘Run and Gun’ style game of spotting jumping fish.  On good days, you fill the boat on one school of fish and head in by noon.  They can be harder to find as they are not as spread out, but the schools are considerable.

The Summer Dungeness crab fishery concludes the first week of September.

Our migratory run of squid hits the Puget Sound and offers a great opportunity for the whole family.  You will make quick work of a school once you find them.

Dungeness crab

OCTOBER – We say goodbye to the tuna run but get some consolation prizes. The Winter Dungeness crab fishery (re) opens and Puget Sound resident Coho fishery is typically open at this time.  Razor clam digs start to pop up on the calendar and the squid run is going strong.
NOVEMBER – FEBRUARY – If all is good with the world, we can start to see some of the marine areas open for Winter Chinook fishing in November.  Squidding, crabbing, and clamming are in full effect.  The Winter Puget Sound Dungeness crab fishery concludes at the end of December and the squid spawn is predominantly over in January, coinciding with a reduction in catch rates.  There are always some resident squid in the area but it is most lucrative in that October-January time frame. 

defiance boats

My OPERATION:  I have had the luxury of growing up in the Pacific Northwest and fishing the various saltwater opportunities, starting at a very early age.  To say that I am addicted to saltwater fishing is a gross understatement.  Growing up, I would fish with my parents on the Puget Sound for Chinook and Coho salmon.  As soon as we hit the dock after a day of fishing, I would grab my light tackle and continue to fish until sundown. 

Capt. Tommy Donlin

To me, the ocean is as necessary to my life as oxygen and there is no living without it. 

My brain doesn’t shut off when it comes to planning the next trip, optimizing my operation, or exploring a blue water expedition somewhere in the world.  I run a 29’ Defiance Guadalupe powered by twin 300HP Mercury Verados and outfitted with a full suite of Raymarine electronics.  This setup feeds my obsession and keeps my freezers full. 

So here’s to roaming the Pacific Northwest waters!  Follow along as we dive deep into each fishery and opportunity.  No stone will be left unturned as we cover rigging, tactics, recipes, and more.    May your lines be tight and may you always enjoy the ride!  STAY TUNA’D!

Capt. Tommy Donlin
Capt. Tommy Donlin, the BD Outdoors Pro Staff representative for the Pacific Northwest, has more than 20 years of experience fishing the waters from Sitka, Alaska, to Clarion Island off the coast of Mexico. He chases everything that swims off the Washington coast, including tuna, salmon, lingcod, ha...