Trip Report: 11 days in Neah Bay. Not entirely FF. Pic heavy.

Nick Clayton

WFF Supporter
I just returned from a rather epic fishing trip to Neah Bay and thought I'd provide a full report.

The trip began on Tue, May 12th when my brother Gavin, my best friend Dan, and myself headed west in 2 trucks pulling my boat, and Dan's travel trailer. Our destination was Dan's parents house about halfway between Sekiu and Neah Bay. The goal was to fish the 4 scheduled halibut days, (Thur/Sat and then the following Thur/Sat), while focusing on lings and rockfish during the non hali days. This was to be a mix of gear and fly fishing, with the ultimate intent of putting some delicious white meat in the freezer for the next year.

We left Kitsap area at approximately 3 PM on the 12th, and made our way west. We stopped at Walmart in Port Angeles for some last minute supplies, and then were quickly outside of town headed for Neah. With no major issues we arrived at Dan's parents place at approximately 8 PM and proceeded to set up camp. Arriving at this house is always a highlight for me. Their place is directly on the beach, and is truly a fisherman's paradise. Sitting on the deck watching whales, eagles, jumping fish, marine traffic etc. is such a wonderful way to spend an evening. Dan's mother and step dad are incredible, salt of the earth people who are incredibly fun to hang out with as well.

After getting everything set up, and making sure the boat and all our gear was ready we headed to bed. Naturally I couldn't sleep as the thought of hard fighting rockfish and lingcod attacking flies was enough to keep me far too pumped up to sleep. After what seemed like an eternity I finally heard the familiar beeping of my alarm clock we quickly woke, gathered our gear and headed to the launch to start 11 straight days of fishing madness.

Day 1 (5/13) We launched at daybreak and headed west towards Tatoosh. The plan was to fish some deep water spots for ling cod, since this was still an option up until the halibut opener, and then play with the rockfish. This was also to be a bit of a shake down day, hopefully getting us back into the swing of fishing together before halibut fishing opened the next day. Weather was good, water was good, and fishing was good. We picked up a few smaller lings, and caught rockfish all day long. When fishing, my brother and Dan would gear fish, and I'd fly fish when I wasn't running the boat. It took us a while to get back in the swing of things but after some small hiccups we were able to hook and land about a bazillion rockfish, and found a couple lings wanting to play. Lings were caught on bait and jigs, and the rockfish were caught on a variety of lures and flies. After a long day on the water we took out about 7 PM and headed back to camp.

Day 2 (5/14) We woke at 3 am knowing that the halibut opener would create an absolute mad house at the launch, and we were not disappointed. If you've never seen Neah Bay on a halibut opener, I highly recommend it. It is absolute organized chaos. A lawn chair and a cooler of beer at the launch would provide endless entertainment.
After a launch wait of about an hour or so we were on the water running towards the halibut grounds. Water conditions were good and before long we were dropping 24 ounces of lead, spreader bars, and large baits/plastic squids in about 290' of water along a nice slope. Dan quickly got sick and started chumming, and within little time I was hooked up to a 35 lb halibut. Fighting these large fish on super heavy gear is a far cry from the fly fishing I am used to, but its an awful lot of fun in its own way. Its also a lot of work!! After gaffing that first fish, it didn't take long till I was hooked up again, this time to a slightly smaller 25 pounder. After another tough battle he joined the first fish in the box.
Shortly after, in rather unorthodox method, Gavin put the final fish in the box for our boat limit. This one a 37 lb fish that he did not know he had hooked until I instructed him to reel in to reset our drift. When he reeled in he discovered he had a fish on when he got it close. Not the standard method, but effective nonetheless. Amazing that someone could hook a 37 lb fish and not even know it. lol
So we had a boat limit of halibut by 9 am, spent the rest of the day picking up a couple nice lings on gear, and caught a metric ton of rockfish.

Day 3 (5/15) was spent playing with rockfish. We spent the first couple hours of the day searching for concentrations of fish, only picking up a fish here and a fish there when we finally found a thick concentration and then it was game on. We spent many hours catching hard fighting rockfish on nearly every cast. I was fishing flies, and my brother and Dan were fishing gear as usual. Gear was effective, but flies were FAR out producing even Dan's favorite rockfish lures. Gavin was beginning to take notice, and was starting to get the itch to try fly fishing. After watching me hook and land 10 fish on 10 consecutive casts, he finally asked to give the fly rod a shot. Well it turns out my brother is a natural. He caught a fat rockfish his first cast, and never looked back. Fish and fish after fish fell victim to Gavin tossing a chartreuse/white clouser on my 10 wt. He had a blast.

Day 4 (5/16) This was the second halibut day of the season, and since it was Saturday it was busier than Thursday. We sat through close to a 2 hour line at the launch, but still managed to be on the halibut grounds at first light. Unlike the previous halibut day, however, this one was filled with nothing but struggles. The big tides made staying on the bottom in 300' of water next to impossible. The swell was very large, with a confused chop on top of it. This made for extremely tough fishing. We stuck it out most of the day, but were unable to land any halibut. We did boat 3 pacific cod, a couple smaller lings, and finished the day once again casting to schools of aggressive rockfish. Rockfish are always a great fall back to any fishing at Neah Bay. Once we had enough of getting our butts kicked by the big swell and heavy currents, it didn't take long to find enough rockfish to keep us occupied for the rest of the day. Once again flies far outperformed Dan's lures, and Dan is no slouch when it comes to harassing rockfish!

Day 5 (5/17)
Today Gavin decided to stay on shore and rest up, so Dan and I headed out to play for a few hours. The water was flatter than the day before, but was still not perfect, so we opted to stay inside and just fish for rockfish. We worked a few areas around Wadah Island, finding a fish or two here and there, until I pushed the boat up right near this rocky wall/point, and we started casting into the frothy water where waves were breaking against the rocks. At this point I instantly started hooking fish on clousers. Dan, however, couldn't buy a strike. At one point I had fish on 12 consecutive casts, during which time Dan didn't get so much as a follow. I think he was starting to become intrigued with fly fishing at this point. We played with the rockfish until the early afternoon, with my flies taking a boat limit of black rockfish for a planned fish fry that night. When we got back to the dock we were feeling lazy. We had heard of Ralph, the legendary Neah Bay fish filleter, but had never used his services. We decided to wait in line to have him fillet/skin our rockfish. The line was long, but it was worth it. We watched closely as he ran through all 12 of our fish in 4.5 minutes. It was an impressive display to say the least. We filmed him in action with my GoPro and that evening re watched the video several times, both Dan and I learning some new filleting techniques for the efforts. At 50 cents a bass, that was 6 dollars well spent.

Day 6 and 7 ( 5/18-5/19)
Forum member and friend Eric, (Emmcauley on the forum) drove out and met us at the dock early Monday morning, (5/18), to fish with us for 2 days. On the first day the 4 of us got in the boat and ran out to some spots near Tatoosh. We hooked a few rockfish as we went, but nothing too exciting. After working through the slot at Tatoosh, we turned and headed south down the coast aways, stopping to make a couple casts at likely looking rockfish water. After about our 6th stop, we found them. And boy did we ever! This was Eric's first time playing with these fish, and I'm not sure that my words describing the action in any way prepared him for the madness that followed. To say that we caught fish would be a ridiculous understatement. We caught a LOT of fish. More than I could even guess at. With 4 of us on the boat it was a little tight, so we just rotated out fishing 2 at a time. Mostly Dan and I ran the boat and let Eric and Gavin throw flies at the rockfish. The action was absolutely insane. We were fishing near rocks in about 25' of water, with a hump that came up to about 12'. The rockfish were just stacked up on this little hump, and we spent the entire rest of the day drifting over it and catching more fish than I could begin to count. Eric was absolutely deadly on those rockfish. I can't even begin to guess at how many consecutive casts he hooked fish. It was ridiculous. At one point I instructed everyone to get their line in so I could reposition the boat, and I'll never forget Eric fast stripping his line, hooking ANOTHER fish and then laughing out loud saying "Jesus Christ, I can't even get my damn fly out of the water without hooking a fish!!!" After putting some nice fish in the cooler to take home to his family, Eric rigged up a floating line and a popper to see if he could get a rockfish to come to the surface, but although we saw a few fish busting the surface he just couldn't entice one. We finally decided to call it a day, headed back to camp where we cleaned/processed fish, then built a nice fire on the beach.
The routine when we would get back to camp would be to take whatever fish we had down to the beach where there was a stainless steel fish cleaning table set up. We'd fillet our catch, and deposit the carcasses along the waterline, where they would be eaten by the many eagles that live in the area. Each evening we'd be treated to a great show as these huge birds would dive down and attack the gut piles right on the beach in front of us. It was fantastic. After watching this for a spell, Eric had the brilliant idea of setting up his GoPro in front of one of the gut piles to try to capture the eagles on film, but despite his best efforts and mine throughout the rest of the week, we were unable to get any cool shots.
The next day Dan had to run home to Olympia for a doctors appointment, so Gavin, Eric and I headed out to play with the rockfish again. For the second straight day the fog was socked in pretty tight, so it limited our options somewhat. We ended up deciding to stay in close to Wadah instead of burning a ton of fuel to run out into the fog. It was slow going for an hour or two as I worked the boat through my favorite areas without much success. It wasn't until I pushed the boat right up to the same point where Dan and I had had success on Sunday that we finally found them. From there it was game on, with Gavin and Eric catching fish after fish, often doubled up. After a few hours Eric once again rigged up his floating line and popper, and this time was rewarded with a great visual on his first cast as a bass came flying out of the water to try to eat his twitched popper. No hookup, but it was sure cool to see. Eric had a long drive back home ahead of him, so we were off the water fairly early. We did spend some time watching and filming a grey whale as it was feeding in some kelp right up near Wadah island. In spite of the fog limiting our options, and not really getting after the lings while he was up, I was glad Eric was able to experience some epic rockfish action.

Day 8 (5/20) We took this day off fishing and instead slept in, took a trip to Forks to get a few things, saw a heard of elk, and just relaxed. It was nice to play catchup after the last week of hard fishing.

Day 9 (5/21) Today was scheduled to be our 3rd halibut day, but the night before it was determined by the state that with the halibut quota near full, that they would close Thursday as a halibut day and reopen it the following Saturday, which had better tides and better weather. We were disappointed to lose a halibut day, but we quickly adjusted plans and made a plan to fish Marine Area 5, (Sekiu), for halibut this day instead, since it was open. None of us had fished Sekiu for halibut before, so we didn't know what to expect, but we figured it was worth a shot. The launch line was much quicker at Sekiu due to the 4 launches at Olsens resort, and we made the short run to our starting point in flat water. Shortly after the fog moved in and never really went away. We fished hard till about 4 pm, but all we had for our efforts was one nice ling, and another pacific cod. There were a lot of boats out fishing but we didn't see a single halibut landed, and only heard chatter of a few on the radio. Sounded like it was slow for everyone. I will say that the new owners of Olsens resort have done a fantastic job improving the place. Much cleaner, nicer facilities, improved docks, and new fuel pumps. I look forward to fishing out of there for silvers this summer.

Day 10 (5/22) Today we decided to make another run down along the coast to the area that had been giving us such fantastic rockfish action, and we weren't let down. Today Dan decided he wanted to try fly fishing, so after we got down to our honey hole I got him set up with an 8 wt and T14, while Gavin used a 10 wt with T17. After a minute of showing Dan the basics, he picked it right up and was hot and heavy into catching rockfish in no time flat. And he caught a LOT of rockfish. So many he was blown away. Dan pretty much grew up in Neah Bay, and has fished rockfish most of his life. Well one day of fly fishing and he's already talking about picking up a setup. Dan knows how to catch the hell out of rockfish, but when he was using lures and we were using flies the flies easily out fished the lures by sometimes a 10-1 margin or better. It was impressive really. As usual any fly I tied on was a huge success with the rockfish, but chartreuse/white clousers reigned supreme. Chris Bellows is 100% spot on. There is NOTHING that out fishes a chartreuse/white clouser out there. Nothing. After catching fish till our arms were sore, we were off the water by early afternoon to rest up for our final halibut day.

Day 11 (5/23) Our final day. Our last hoorah. One last push at halibut. We woke at 3 am and headed to town. We were greeted by a line at the launch only about 8 trucks long, so we ended up killing some time in the bay before heading out. I had a plan today... I had marked 3 spots on our first halibut day that formed a triangle on my GPS. This area was near the edge of a bank, on a nice slope dropping into deeper water. I wanted to again fish the 280-300' line. We ran out in really nice water, and hit the grounds just a little bit before slack tide. Perfect. It didn't take more than a few minutes after my bait hit the water that I hooked up with an angry 46 lb halibut that turned out to be our largest of the trip. This fish really gave me a workout! A short while later I missed a good take down. I was fishing a 15/0 circle hook on a wire leader under a spreader bar. For some reason I do well with circle hooks and halibut. I got real good at not setting the hook, and instead just letting the fish completely take the offering and run with it. Still, I managed to miss 2 more solid takes before I hooked up again. This fish was around 30 lbs or so, and as I got it to the boat Dan went to gaff it but the fish turned slightly and the gaff barely stuck. When he tried to pull the fish into the boat the gaff pulled, and the fish got PISSED. He ran for the bottom, damn near pulling me over with him. He ran straight down about halfway to the bottom and then all went slack. He managed to straighten the eye out on that 15/0 hook and pull it right off the leader. Sheesh these fish are strong! After losing that fish my hot streak slowed, and things were quiet for a while until Dan hooked up with a 25 lb butt. I think he was afraid of retaliation on my end for the way he crackered off my last fish, as he didn't even give me a chance to gaff it. Before I could get a clean swipe Dan just grabbed the spreader bar and hauled the fish into the boat. 2 down, 1 to go. Things slowed down for a couple hours as the current picked up when finally Gavin hooked up with a little smaller fish. After a short battle I stuck the gaff in a 20 lb halibut, and we were limited again. We also had 5 more nice sized pacific cod. We decided to go pick up a limit of rockfish, which we did in very short order, then called it a day. Today's fish processing took quite a while. It never ceases to amaze me just how much meat you get from a halibut. That 46 lber had some HUGE fillets. I brought my vac sealer and my smaller chest freezer out with us so we were able to fillet, vac pack, and get it right into the freezer. After processing today's haul my freezer is stuffed! We will be great for white meat fish for the year.
Afterwards we cleaned up, packed up, ate dinner and headed home. I arrived at my house last night at about 10 pm, completely exhausted but oh so satisfied.
It was truly a fantastic trip. One we had planned since last year, and one we had all looked forward to. It wasn't without its ups and downs, but overall it went great. My bother Gavin has not done much fishing in his life, so there is a big learning curve there and plenty of novice lessons were learned. But in the end, we fished hard, fished well, caught fish and got home safely. You can't ask for much more than that on a trip to the Pacific Ocean.
Neah Bay is quickly becoming one of my favorite places on earth. I cherish every second I get to spend in that fisherman's paradise. It almost seems like stepping back in time every time I go out there. The world runs at a much slower pace out there it seems.
I can't even begin to consider how many fish we ended up catching, and the amount of fun we had. I was so glad Eric got to come out and join us for a couple days, and he was an awful lot of fun to have on the boat. The weather, overall, was fantastic with not a single day being unfishable. The sights, as usual, were amazing as well. We saw orcas, grey whales, sea otters, eagles, elk, deer and all sorts of other cool stuff.
I am so tired and sore I can barely move around the house today. I have carpel tunnel in both wrists from fishing and cleaning fish, my back and knees are killing me, and I feel like I haven't slept in a month...... And I am one happy SOB!



All loaded up

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The view from where we stayed

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Sunset

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Pickles having fun on the beach

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Rockfish. These fish are so unbelievably strong for their size.

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Lings

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Halibut. These fish are sooooo strong. Lots of work fishing for them though.

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Eric working the rockfish


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Gavin hooked up

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Eagles

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Fish stealer


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Elk

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Came across this guy floating around out near the Whistle Buoy

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The winning fly. This one had 60-80 rockfish under its belt before being retired.

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Rockfish territory

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Tatoosh Lighthouse

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View from the beach fire

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Spent a lot of time at the cleaning table

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The fruits of my labor

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Dipnet

The wanted posters say Tim Hartman
WFF Supporter
Awesome report and great pics, buddy!! Now's the time to pop a cold one, put your feet up and reflect on a successful trip!
 

troutpocket

Active Member
I've been thinking about doing a "foraging" trip again . . .it's been over 10 years since I came home from fishing with a freezer full of fillets. Well done!
 

cabezon

Sculpin Enterprises
WFF Supporter
Hi Nick,
That was a great report. Thank you for taking the time to put it together and sharing it with us.

Steve
 

Beast Mode

Active Member
That does look like a lot of fun (and work) Nick. Glad you all had a safe and very successful trip. Neah Bay is home of the other white meat this time of year.
 

Jeff Dodd

Active Member
Nick
I read the entire report. Thank you for the detailed run down. I have not fished Neah for halibut but sounds fun! Great job running the boat and getting everyone back safe each day.
 

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