Some of the most breathtaking scenery can be found in the Pacific Northwest. You don’t have to venture too far from the Seattle city limits to be surrounded by snow capped mountains, fresh air and bountiful water.
Washington State has many islands just off its coastline. To the north is a popular tourist destination, the San Juan Islands where you can catch a ferry and island hop for the weekend. Scattered in and around the San Juan’s are multiple smaller islands; some privately owned and occupied, some untouched and uninhabited, and even one with a history of big game hunting of exotic sheep, deer and birds from around the world.
For the angler, the water surrounding these islands hold a wide variety of salmon, bottom fish, crab, shrimp and other sea creatures. Carefully managed fishing regulations help preserve these fisheries for tribal, commercial and sport anglers. May 1st kicks off a six week long season for Lingcod - a fish respected for its exceptional table-fare over its looks.
I would join four other seasoned kayak anglers for a three day fishing and camping expedition on a private island in the Salish Sea. Our journey would begin with a 90 minute drive from Seattle to the ferry terminal. A small, 22 vehicle capacity ferry would take each of us from the mainland to Lummi Island.
Once we reached Lummi Island, it was a short drive to beach access where our journey would begin. With one look at all of our gear, it looked as if we were staying for a week and not a weekend. We had arranged a “safety boat” that would help us with our 3.5 mile pedal across the Rosario Strait in our Hobie kayaks. The boat would also take the bulk of our camping gear, coolers and food.
While our initial start went incredibly smooth, five minutes into the trip one of my colleagues would deliver the news that his rudder control line snapped on his kayak. Trading paddle strokes for steering, we continued onward across the strait. In the distance we could see Orcas Island which dwarfed the smaller island where we would call home for the next few nights.
While the weather was warm, the waters of the Puget Sound can be deceivingly cold year round. Each of us relying on our Kokatat SuperNova Semi Dry Angler Suit and Leviathan PFD for comfort and safety. An hour long peddle across the strait and navigating through strong currents around islands, we made it to Barnes Island.
We would shuttle gear from our safety boat to shore and up the beach to higher ground from the changing tide.
We set up our tents on a high bluff overlooking Orcas Island. The view was stunning. The rocky beach below would be closer to our fire pit and our lounging area.
We wasted no time tying up gear to hit the afternoon bite. I’d be the first to launch and drop bottom with a heavy jig. My first drop produced a nice looking Lingcod. Still short of the slot sized limit (over 24 inches but under 36 inches) he would get sent back to the bottom.
My four buddies would eventually join me as we lined up on a rocky ledge that dropped off from 25 to 80 feet.
Lingcod will often lay on ledges waiting for food to come to them. Their decorative camouflage color blends in well with the rocky bottom contour. The key was keeping your jigs on the bottom but careful not to snag bottom. The current was swift between islands. At one point it was ripping at over 4 knots. Trying to keep your jig on the bottom while not drifting too far off the ledge was a challenge but with Hobie’s MirageDrive Pedal System we could work our kayaks against the current relatively hands free.
We would each land several Lingcod, Rockfish and Cabezon. We kept one nice Lingcod and a couple of Sand Dab (flounder) for dinner that night. The light of the day was fading, our stomachs growling and with a full day tomorrow we decided to head in to camp.
As we sat around the campfire sharing many laughs, a few beers and some great fried Lingcod, it was hard not to appreciate the scenery around us.
A flock of seven goats entertained us from high on a cliff. We were told they were put on the island long ago to keep vegetation controlled. Large ravens called at us from high in the trees and seemed put off by us occupying this sleepy island. We would leave for them fish scraps along the driftwood scattering the beach. A peace offering for sharing their space.
Day two we decided to explore the island by kayak. This 32 acre island was covered in trees and vegetation with a groomed trail to the private residence on the opposite end.
We would find more fish along ledges and kelp beds close to shore, keeping only what we would eat for dinner that night.
Our third and final day we would wake to strong winds, white caps and ripping currents around the island. Our safety boat was supposed to pick up our belongings but the Coast Guard had already issued a small craft advisory. We would push out our pick up time a couple of hours to see if things changed. Our safety boat coming from Lummi Island said it looked calm looking out over the Rosario Strait. While crossing he would call us saying that there were 4 and 5 foot rollers from the current and wind. A no-go for us pedaling back.
We decided to play it safe and shuttle each kayak by boat back to Lummi Island. Getting stuck in a compromising situation wasn’t the way we wanted to end a fun weekend. Having the right immersion gear for this trip was a must. Having a backup plan on getting back was a necessity.
While the weather was warm, the waters of the Puget Sound can be deceivingly cold year round. Each of us relying on our Kokatat SuperNova Semi Dry Angler Suit and Leviathan PFD for comfort and safety.