Part 1 of a 3 part series on Pacific Northwest albacore tuna fishing – written exclusively for Sportsman’s NewsBy Wayne Harmond Team Tre-Fin
As I began writing this article, I had just received the latest version of the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife’s 2016 quotas and seasons for summer ocean salmon fishing. It’s a good thing that I was already sitting down. In technical terms, it read something like this; Due to an anticipated decline in the numbers of returning Coho (silver) salmon, the states of Washington and Oregon have drastically reduced both the catch quotas and areas for sport fishing for ocean salmon for 2016. In order to further protect this year’s returning Coho, the states have also announced a reduction in the catch quotas for ocean Chinook (King) salmon, even though the summer Chinook returns are expected to be strong. Their reasoning is: when fishing for ocean Chinook, the Coho are still going to be caught “incidentally” – resulting in additional Coho mortality. With ocean salmon fishing scheduled to start July 1st this year, the significantly reduced catch quotas could be met within a few weeks. In less technical terms, let’s just say: “it aint lookin’ too pretty” for Pacific Northwest ocean salmon fishing. All the more reason to ask: Are you “tuna ready?”
For many decades, fishing for albacore tuna in the Pacific Northwest was primarily considered a “commercial fishery”. Now, it is one of the fastest growing sports fishing categories in our region. Every summer (around the middle of June) the offshore commercial fishing fleet will begin to report sightings of “jumpers” heading north. These are the first signs of the coming albacore invasion. For nearly 4 months each year, starting in late June and sometimes lasting into October, massive schools of albacore tuna will come as close as 25 miles off our Pacific Northwest shores. In recent “El Nino” years, along with the albacore, there have also been other pelagic species lured up to our nutrients and bait-rich waters. Catches of yellow-tail, dorado (dolphin fish), yellow fin tuna, blue fin tuna and even rumored sightings of billfish have been reported.
While salmon, steelhead and halibut have traditionally taken center stage (with the mighty Chinook as the previously undisputed “King”); there is nothing in our region that compares to albacore tuna fishing. By around the Fourth of July, large schools of these migratory feeders will show up at our offshore deep water canyons to gorge themselves on baitfish, squid, krill and shrimp. However, if you have your sights set on catching some of these 25lb, football-shaped, silver & dark blue “finned rockets”, you had better get: “tuna ready”. That means; you have to be properly prepared for spending up to 10, 12 or 14 hours on the water, possibly running 35 to 55 miles (or more) offshore, often in “less than calm” seas. You’ll also need to understand that a typical 25 pound albacore tuna can (and will) easily destroy your traditional ocean salmon gear. In addition to the proper tackle, equipment and bait/s, you will also need to know when to go, where to go, how to get there, what to use, what to expect and how to do it safely and effectively.
After you’ve done your homework, and decided that you are still up for the challenge, Mother Nature will ultimately determine when/if you can go (or not). Once you get your chance to successfully locate and catch a few “albies”, you are in for a real treat. Not only are pacific albacore tuna some of the most powerful, fun and exciting fish to catch, they are also one of the best eating fish in the world. Fortunately for us (and you), sport fishing for albacore tuna happens all along the Pacific Northwest coast. From well-known Oregon and Washington fishing ports like: Coos Bay, Newport, Depoe Bay, Garibaldi, Astoria, Chinook, Ilwaco, Westport, LaPush, Neah Bay and even West Vancouver Island. Did I mention that there is currently “no official bag limit” for albacore tuna in Washington and Oregon? Keep in mind, the typical pacific albacore tuna will average about 20lbs - 30lbs each (some can reach upwards of 35-40 lbs.). When you find the schools of fish, and really start catching, you’ll quickly realize that you had better keep track of how many fish you are bringing onboard. Imagine; just 4 anglers catching and keeping just 5 tuna each, weighing approx. 20 to 25 lbs per fish? That adds up to an extra 400 to 500 lbs. of cargo. Plan accordingly.
Along with the growing popularity, it was only natural that albacore tuna fishing tournaments and competitions would emerge. This year alone, there will be at least three (3) IGFA Offshore World Championship qualifying events in Washington and Oregon. The most popular being: The two Oregon Tuna Classic events (the Deep Canyon Challenge in Ilwaco, WA and the OTC Garibaldi, OR) and the Washington Tuna Classic (at Westport, WA). The winners of these competitions will all earn invitations to the prestigious 2017 IGFA Offshore World Championships in Quepos, Costa Rica.
The How and What (strategies/methods and proper gear to use) for catching albacore tuna can get pretty complicated. However, everything starts with having the correct boat and a skilled (and experienced) Captain & crew. Before setting out on a fishing trip that can take you up to 50 miles or more offshore you will need to do your weather, tides, ocean conditions and water temperature “homework”. Generally speaking, you will head west (offshore), running your boat as fast as the ocean and weather will safely permit. Keep running until the surface temperatures reach about 61 – 62 degrees F, and the water color turns from shades of green to stark blue. Once you reach “the zone”, it’s time to get out your trolling gear (heavy duty rods & reels, hand lines, outriggers, surface lures, divers, skirts, clones, plugs, teasers) and constantly be looking for “signs” (diving birds, bait balls, jumpers, temperature breaks, etc.). Catching albacore tuna on the troll is fun in itself. However, if you also have a boat that is equipped with a live bait tank, and are able to secure live anchovies for your day of fishing, you will have an opportunity to partake in one of the fastest-paced sports fishing experiences imaginable. A “wide-open live bait stop” is something you will never forget. It can last a few minutes or if you are very fortunate and the conditions are “just right” it can last half the day and result in putting as many as 10 to 20 tuna (or more) across your deck within an hour. Some of the most popular and effective strategies for catching pacific albacore tuna are: trolling, pitching/jigging iron, casting/retrieving swim baits and live bait (usually anchovies) with rod & reel or live bait fishing with our Tre-Fin sport jack poles. Regardless of which technique or strategy you use, finding the schools of albacore is the key.
In recent years, a number of excellent tools and resources for finding tuna off the pacific coast and for connecting with other offshore anglers have emerged. Some of the most powerful tools (after local knowledge and experience) are; the internet, improved marine electronics/ fish finding technologies/equipment, charter boat operators and fishing clubs/communities/ and social networks. Another place where you can find some of the latest gear to use and some of the very best fishing tackle & equipment is at our local area Sportsman’s Warehouse locations. If you would like to learn even more about fishing for albacore tuna in the Pacific Northwest, please feel free to visit us at www.tre-fin.com or go “on-line” and check out the Sportsman’s Warehouse calendar of events for an upcoming tuna fishing seminar featuring “team Tre-Fin”. There, we have compiled a list of web sites and posted links to several videos that will give you a feel for what to expect as you get yourself; “tuna ready”!
Look for Part 2 of our Pacific Northwest albacore tuna series in next month’s issue of Sportsman’s News.About the author: Wayne Harmond grew up in southwest Washington and began fishing the local Pacific Northwest waters at an early age. His passions for fishing and outdoors adventures led him to living and working in Alaska, Hawaii, the South Pacific and Mexico. He has sport fished for albacore tuna off the Oregon and Washington coast for more than 20 years. When he is not working his “day job”, he is an Executive Producer of several popular travel, fishing and outdoors adventures television shows and a member of Team Tre-Fin (an offshore competition fishing team).