Whidbey Adventure


Active Member
I think I mentioned in a couple of other posts that I'm trying to learn this whole saltwater thing and that I had a trip planned for Whidbey Island for a little bit. Well, the island adventure has begun. We got to our place in Clinton last Friday.

I've been fly fishing seriously for some 10-12 years now so I know what I'm doing in fresh water. I fish almost exclusively for trout and I rarely get skunked any more, even in new water. But this saltwater thing is brand new. I'm going through the fisherman's lifecycle again. But, since I've got a little general experience, I'm hoping to shorten it up some -- like while I'm here.

Fisherman's Life Cycle

Step 1 -- I just want to catch a fish.

I fished the salt with a fly rod for the first time in, I think, March. Went out 4 or 5 times in the S. Sound with no action. In reality, the first few times was learning how to work the gear. Learning how to cast a shooting-head line. Learning about stripping baskets. Learning how to read the water. So the fact that I wasn't catching fish didn't bother me a whole lot. Still, sure would like to catch a fish.

Finally, after a half dozen trips or so things came together. I finally managed to get into some little SRCs and even a fat rezzy. I went out a couple more times and actually caught fish.

Step 1: check.

Step 2 -- I want to catch lots of fish.

We got to Whidbey Friday night and I got on the water for the first time Sunday morning. Fished from 8 until about noon on an outgoing tide. Tons of baitfish everywhere. I tried several different places early and found a couple of little rezzies. Then I found myself a little point where the current was trapping the baitfish and the salmon were going nuts. I pulled a Shock & Awe through the rip and was pulling in 10-15" silvers one after another for about an hour.

Step 2: check.

Step 3 -- I want to catch a big fish.

Went out tonight at the same place I was Sunday. Fished from about 5 until about 8 on an incoming tide. Weather was quite a bit more blustery and baitfish were not as apparent. I fished up and down the beach for about a half mile. Saw a few fish jumping but the action was quite a bit slower. About 7:00 I caught my one fish of the evening. Damn. A monster coho. I'd say it went 8-10 pounds.

Here's a question. How do you play a fish like that? Do you try to get it on the reel?

Out in the salt, I've got about 100' of line off the reel. I rarely cast it all, but still, it's in the basket. Every once in a while, if I load the rod just right and if I get a little tail wind, I can cast the whole basket with my 6 wt.

When I hooked my first real sea run coho, I probably cast out 70-80' and had stripped into about 50' when he took the clouser. Once I managed to get him solidly hooked up, I had stripped in another 10-15'. So, I probably had about 60' of slack line inside the guides.

The fish didn't run. He fought nicely, but went in and out and around in circles. At no time did he make a run that would have picked up all that slack. I fumbled with the slack and put it on the reel with none of the running line out. I'd say once I got him on the reel I had less than 30' of line out. Incredibly inelegant and amazing that the fish didn't come unbuttoned. In the future, in the same situation I'd probably play the fish off the reel like I do a little 8" cutthroat in the forks. Is that the correct way?

Anyway, I got that fish to hand. Don't know if it's anything I did. Maybe it was an accident.

Step 3: In progess. More work necessary.

Step 4 -- I want to catch lots of big fish.

I'll keep you posted.

BTW, props to Les Johnson and Bruce Ferguson. What did Patton say to Rommel? "I read your book you magnificent bastard(s). I read your book." Definetly flattening out the learning curve.

Jake Bannon

nymphs for steelhead....
Depending how much line you have stripped in I always try to get it on the reel. However if it hits not very far out I would play it on the strip....

whatever keeps the line tight. Now and then I'll even end up playing 6"ers on the reel, or stripping in a big one because they keep running at me faster than I can reel. Just keep the line tight any way you can is my strategy.

Ed Call

Well-Known Member
nb ken, sounds like a great checklist and you are hammering it out. I'm still a yardsale when I catch a fish with line out. I'm getting better though, but now that I'm targeting salmon on the fly I can't wait until I get a BIG one that makes me look like the class clown. So far the small coho and SRC's have been fine with line in hand. Sounds like you are doing great, I'm envious.
Sounds like a great trip. I will be up there next week. I will do just about what you are doing but with chartreuse and white clousers.

I will say that I strip until the fish gets itself on the reel. I'm happy to strip 'em all the way in.
too many people worry about getting the fish on the reel. You will lose more fish trying to get them on the reel than you will making them earn their way to the reel and just stripping line in.
My preference is to get any saltwater fish on the reel ASAP. I have found that some reels are better than others for quickly getting line back in so that you can get a fish on the reel. A good reel in my opinion spins realy free when you put your hand on the spool and flick it. If I give it a good flick i can get it to spin 6 or 7 full turns. After a few good flicks I can bring in a lot of line really fast. As soon as I get a hookup I flick the spool like crazy for a few seconds and before you know it I have that fish right on the reel.

I have found that the Ross Evolution and Galvan Torque reels are really good at this.

To each his own, but this has been a really effective technique for me especially when using shooting heads to get the fly way out there followed by stripping it back. You usually end up with quite a bit of line in the basket and this technique really brings it back on reel fast for me. I have tried other reels that don't spin as freely and I will never go back.


Triploid, Humpy & Seaplane Hater
Everyone has their preference on this. Smaller fish, I'll strip in. Bigger fish, I like to get on the reel. I use the same technique Ron described. The reel will pick up line faster doing this then reeling. I use a Ross Canyon 3.

Conrats on your success.
One tip that might help you with line management. Only strip out as much line as you need to for your average cast. If your average cast is 70' to 80', only strip out 70' to 80'. Then you'll have 20 to 30 less feet of line to deal with when you hook up.


Active Member
Great job...you'll learn whatever works that suits the fishing situation and you'll adapt. I was like you having fished primarily trout in fresh water. Something about that salt water action that keeps you coming back. You had a good experience, it took me several outings to eventually catch my first small resident. After that, the bigger came naturally.
Great report Ken, thanks for sharing your ride around the learning curve. :thumb:

Line management is always the issue in fly fishing isn't it. I do what ever makes sense at the time, but generally there are 3 types of fighting responses by Coho: Some Silvers come at you so fast you can't keep up with it by reeling and have to strip like a mad man. These guys are heart attacks, because after rapidly stripping in 30+ ft of line your heart skips a beat that moment when you feel nothing but slack..... the 'awww shit' feeling....., or you get a second adrenaline jump when you feel it come tight again.

The ones I like most go on a screaming bloody ape-shit run for it, jumping and blowing off backing, and put themselves on the reel!

The fish in-between these 2 types, the jumping, spinning / rolling over your leader, head shaking, back and forth runners, I do what most do, and that is I pray I do the right things as needed, don't screw up, and get a little luck to keep it on.


"Chasing Riseforms"
I most usually put them on the reel ASAP also. It will make you feel better. The man was right, you can lose a fish fooling with this, but not if you "keep your head" and watch what the fish is doing while reeling like hell to pick up all that slack line. If you don't get it on your reel, you have a risk of the line tangling when she runs like a bat out of hell! Tight lines! :)


Active Member
getting the fish on the reel is imperative once you start looking for mean big critters. practicing with every fish, no matter the size, gets you in the habit of doing this so once that fish of a life time comes along, you won't be fumbling around.


Active Member
Quick update. Last Wednesday I went back out in the salt for a couple of hours with very little action. Caught a couple of little ones, but didn't see much in the way of baitfish and even less salmon activity. Got out pretty late and the tide was almost all the way in and starting to turn. Was nice to be out though.

I did catch a crab. I cast out one time and ended up with the mother of all tangles. Probably took me 5 minutes to get my running line straightened out. In the meantime, my fly settled to the bottom and stayed there until I finished up. When I started stripping in, I had some weight on the end. Figured it was kelp. Nope, big red crab. Shoulda brought it home for the pot, but I put it back.

This afternoon I took a break from the salt and kicked around Lone Lake from about 3 to 5. Nada. I'm wondering if the lake is turning over or something. Whole lake was full of suspended algae. Tons of birds -- finches I think -- taking something off the surface. Usually, birds mean bugs and bugs mean fish. But I couldn't tell what the birds were eating, and whatever it was, the fish weren't interested. Zero surface action, so I didn't even try that. Trolled around a peacock bugger. Usually a killer when nothing else is working. Saw some damsel flies, so I tried a partridge and green soft hackle.

So, it looks like I was there on the wrong day, during the wrong part of the day, and was probably using the wrong flies. Still, it was nice floating around sipping on a beer. I was the only one on the lake (which probably says something about my wrongness too.)

Low tide tomorrow happens just a few minutes after sunrise. Should be coming in nicely close enough to first light to make it worth getting out there early. I'll be setting my alarm for the first time in a week. Man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.


Active Member
Got out this moring on an incoming tide. Between 6:30 and 7:00 I hooked up on 2 little wigglers and one 7-8 pounder. No problem getting this guy on the reel. Took a clouser 3 or 4 strips after it hit the water and headed north. What a rush. Probably took me 5 minutes to get him to hand. Unimaginably cool. Can't wait to do it again.

Fished until about 10. Caught one more medium-sized coho. Probably 2-3 pounds. Nice enough fish, but not like that other guy. Did give me a chance to work the slack line and get it on the reel while still playing the fish.

Wind picked up pretty good later in the morning. Steady 8-10 mph blow from the south. Fish, both baitfish and salmon, stopped showing themselves on the surface, so between that and the wind, figured I'd call it a day.