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Originally published June 29, 2013 at 8:53 PM | Page modified July 13, 2013 at 1:50 PM

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Water colors: Fishing the spectrum in the Pacific Northwest

What makes the Pacific Northwest a fishing nirvana is the wide variety of colorful fish.

Seattle Times staff

The colors of summer are the most vivid of all the fishing seasons.

Everything from the Puget Sound's emerald green water, to the shimmering blue water off the coast, and the brightly-colored hues shining off the myriad lakes and rivers in the state.

But what makes the Pacific Northwest a fishing nirvana is the wide variety of colorful fish.

The red male (sockeye) salmon transforms from a shiny silver color to a red and green when spawning in fall.

Pink salmon are silver with very large dark spots on their body. Then in rivers at spawning time, a male morphs quickly, forming a large hump on its back, and turns red, yellow and green. Females turn an olive-green color.

Silver (coho) salmon shine bright, but as they migrate into rivers to spawn, a male turns bright red and green, while a female turns bronze with red and purple areas.

Brown trout are a rich golden color. The yellow perch is a vibrant yellow/brass color. A rainbow trout — the name speaks for itself.

Whatever color suits your fancy, summer is the peak time to get out on the water and catch them.


Where: Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound.

Dates: Late July through September.

Tips: Think pink when fishing for pinks. Troll slow using an eight-inch white dodger and a 16-to-18 inch leader trailed by a mini pink plastic squid "hootchies."

Bank anglers can cast pink lead jigs like Point Wilson Darts or Buzz Bombs. Others will cast a cork-type bobber or float with a small cut-plug herring or pink jigs underneath. Once you catch a pink, be sure to bleed them and put them on ice immediately to keep the meat from breaking down and getting mushy.

Facts: More than 6.2 million pinks (5.9 million in 2011) are expected to flood into the Strait and Puget Sound. Add a pink forecast for British Columbia's Fraser River totaling more than 8.9 million, and you'll be blushing with good times.

Pinks, which mainly return during odd-numbered years, are the smallest of the salmon species — averaging three to five pounds — and are relatively easy to catch from a shoreline or boat.


Where: Puget Sound and Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Dates: July to October.

Tips: Troll a cut-plug herring with a three-to-five ounce banana weight. With downriggers use a chrome flasher with lures, like a Coho Killer or plastic-type squids commonly referred to as "hootchies." Liquid or jelly scent like anise, shrimp or herring will also entice fish.

Troll in an erratic pattern going quick then slowing down, moving your bait or lure up and down in the water column and changing the direction of the boat. Many fish are caught when the boat is making a sharp turn.

Coho can also be caught from shorelines using jigs, cut-plug herring or with colorful flies imitating a herring or candlefish or weighted or unweighted clouser minnows.

Facts: Puget Sound forecast is 882,134 coho (732,363 in 2012). Smaller resident coho, two to six pounds, can be found in central Puget Sound and the Strait when it opens July 1. The bigger migrating coho, ranging from eight to 20-plus pounds, show up by late August through early fall.


Where: Baker Lake.

Dates: July 12 to Sept. 2.

Tips: A chrome 00 dodger with bare red or black hooks attached to a piece of coonstriped shrimp works best. Downriggers aren't necessary, and a four-to-six ounce banana lead weight will do the job. A key is to troll very slow.

Facts: Sockeye can weigh 10 pounds, but most are four to eight pounds. This run has seen tough times, and in the early 1980s, returns plummeted, falling to just 99 fish in 1985. Last summer an all-time high of 48,014 sockeye returned (forecast was 35,326).

Revival came from improved hatchery and net-pen rearing practices. The forecast this summer is 21,557, and is a product of the 207,000 smolts that out-migrated two years ago.


Where: Mineral Lake and Cedar River.

Dates: Mineral open until Sept. 30; Cedar open until Aug. 31.

Tips: At Mineral Lake try dough baits or worms from shore. Troll pop gear trailed on a leader with a worm or salmon eggs.

In the Cedar (open for catch and release only) try small caddis and mayflies, nymphs, baitfish or stoneflies or streamer patterns on stimulators.

Facts: The trout grow in excess of 14 pounds, but what is breathtaking at Mineral is the views of Mount Rainer. It was planted in April with 36,687 rainbows and 4,000 browns, and has a boat ramp, resort, large pier, boat rentals, cabins, and RV sites.

The Cedar is the main tributary that feeds into Lake Washington at Renton. It was closed for a decade before reopening in 2004 under strict rules. Although set in an urban area, it is clearly a fly-fishing gem.


Where: Pass Lake near Deception Pass.

Dates: Open year-round.

Tips: Brown trout are known to be finicky biters, and the hardest to catch among the trout family. They usually feed on insects and larvae, but will also dine on small fish. Match your flies up to the hatch.

Facts: It is known as a trophy fly-fishing, catch-and-release only lake with a lime green tinted colored water. Brown trout average 12 to 18 inches, and are known to grow to more than 20 pounds.


Where: Lake Washington.

Dates: August to October, but open year-round.

Tips: Yellow perch will hit just about anything, including a chunk of their own species. Other baits are worms, maggots or small jigs. Perch tend to school right along underwater cover like weeds and milfoil so fish just outside those areas.

Good places are Leschi, Seward Park, Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island, Madison Park, Yarrow Bay in Kirkland, Kenmore, Mount Baker, Webster Point and Juanita Bay.

Facts: Yellow perch are one of the most prolific fish species in this huge 21,500-acre urban watershed. Most average six to eight inches, with a few 12 to 14 inches.

View the full illustrated page.

Reporting by Mark Yuasa, graphics and illustration by Whitney Stensrud

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Yellow perch are an introduced species that eat baby salmon. Catch as many as you can! MORE

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