Articles and Photos by J. Goerg
The call came in with very few hours to spare. “Cancel everything on your calendar.” We’re headed to La Push!”
I hung up, gave out a Yee-Haaa, and started on my packing list.
This is a trip that we had been trying to coordinate for the past two seasons. The “we” being TRN contributor Jim Tuggle (Tug), mutual friend Jay Webster and myself. I couldn’t remember if I had ever fished the sculptured rock formations of La Push nearshore but if I had, it was long ago in my teens and a different lifetime…one that belonged to my high school days in Port Angeles maybe.
The target was set for rockfish with no expectations (or fishing gear) for other species, even though salmon season was open. Fill a shelf in the freezer with delicate white-meat-skillet-frying breaded fillets. I’m all in.
Don’t get me wrong on this, in my opinion some of the best rockin’ & reelin’ for rockfish and lings is out of Ilwaco and better done by charter due, in part, to the attitude of the river’s bar. These charters know where to go and how to do it for a price that is very reasonable. (Check out our March and May issue for details with Pacific Salmon Charters (800-831-2695.)
The La Push boat launch is located on the Quileute Indian Reservation, coast Washington State, quite a way south of the famed Neah Bay and one hell of a long way north from the Westport, Ocean Shores and Ilwaco fisheries. From Highway 101 in Forks it is about 16 miles of good highway on #110. How far is it from our liftoff in Tumwater, WA? Too many miles to count and it really didn’t matter.
“We’ve got good tides and little mid-day wind. Be here at 6:30” Tug said. “A few minutes early will be fine!”
The alarm was set for 4:30 but my packing was done and most of it was in my rig. A few layers of extra clothes, emergency rain coat, a good jigging rod, half a ton of bullet-headed lead jigs and a zipper-locking plastic bag full of rubberized plastic curly tails and Grand Slam Bucktails to thread on the big-hooked riggings. Two jars of Smelly Jelly, two fillet knives, Worksharp field sharpener. The two ounce lead jigs work great in shallow water but if the wind blows and the drift is hard then bigger jigs are needed, but they may be harder to fish. The jigs and curly tails are available at most tackle and sporting goods stores.
My six-pack cooler was filled with beverages and candy bars. The timer was set on the coffee pot with the insulated mug standing next to it at attention. Turn out the lights!
A cooler of large black seabass calls for a freezer full of delicate and delicious white-meat fillets.
4:30 came early but better than not at all. With good traffic it is just under 40-minutes from my driveway to Tugs. With bad traffic the drive can take hours so I wanted to be ahead of the game. The fast-food joint in Lacey opened at 6:00 and I was there waiting for the bell to chime. First order placed of the day means freshest order of the day and I soon left with a bag full of six croissants stuffed with sausage, ham, plastic cheese and rubber eggs. Instant fisherman’s breakfast the way I looked at it. Black coffee was a good wash-down.
As I pulled around the corner and up to the driveway, maybe two minutes late, there was Tug and his neighbor Bob, leaning on the hood of the Suburban and drumming their fingers. Where the heck was Jay? Tug explained that Jay had been bitten by the summer-cold bug and was down for the count.
I met Bob a few years ago when he joined Tug with a bunch of our friends and TRN readers at our annual Baja fishing extravaganza. A good guy to fish with and I was happy he was joining us, plus he could help me keep Tug in line. I still missed not having Jay with us though. I have a hunch he may have been playing hooky and could be over to the eastern side of the state shooting coyotes and eating rattlesnakes. That’s the way he is.
Rubber hit the road and the croissauages were passed out along with a healthy dose of jokes, insults, praises and a few lies…fishing lies. It was almost like sitting around the campfire at fish camp, but different. Soon the telephone posts looked like a picket fence and we were sandwiched between loaded logging trucks northbound on 101. The only interruption was a cougar that was brave enough to cross the road with a Suburban and Alumaweld bearing down on him. Big cat.
The La Push marina is well protected from the potential bite of the Pacific and the launch is very respectable. Operated by the Quileute Port Authority, the daily fee is $15 (penalty for not paying is $250 per day – ouch!) We were alone at the ramp both days for put-in and take-out. There were only three other trailered rigs in the parking area.
A fish checker asked if we planned to fish for salmon and we explained our reasoning for white meat fillets. He smiled and said, “Good call. The salmon just aren’t showing yet.”
As we stuck the nose of Tug’s 22-foot Alumaweld Intruder into the Pacific and the brutally beautiful rock formations near shore, we were met with flat water and the sun was just breaking through. Totally not expected but fully appreciated. Within a ten-minute run behind rock island pinnacles and breaking surf, we set up our first drift between two breaks of white water near the kelp beds.
Wham, wham, slam! Bob and Tug had fish on and I had the bottom. Live and learn as the bottom structure here is unforgiving. We were in water that changed in the blink of an eye from 20-feet deep to just over 50-feet deep and back again within a few feet, and often that depended on what side of the boat you were fishing from. The underwater pinnacles were a reflection of the above water structures…vertical and vicious.
With that kind of rock formation it was often hard to figure out the underwater currents but we persevered. We had expected to load up with black seabass near the kelp but that wasn’t the case. Rules get broken sometimes but that isn’t always a bad thing. There are no rules here on the feeding grounds and fish were where we found them, often on the bottom, often suspended for no apparent reason. A smallish bass down deep, a larger bass near the top and the occasional lingcod wherever it wanted to be.
I loved the challenge, jigging for “rocks” in the rocks. This is one of my favorite kinds of fishing and with the untamed water flow it was even more fun. Unless we were running back to the top of the hole there was no time for taking a sip of coffee, bite of sandwich, or even a puff on my pipe. Get serious. Pay attention. Set the hook. Even the slightest “bump” meant a fish or an underwater mountain.
Tug and Bob were using Ugly Stik Tiger rods, 8-foot long medium-light 12-30 pound line #BWD 2200. They have enough backbone for fish fighting but a sensitive enough tip to feel the nudge. For the most part these fish are aggressive biters. My rod of choice was a Lamiglas Salmon Moocher # G 1308-T, 8 ½ feet long with a line weight of 12-30 pounds. Strapped on is an Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 6500C3. All perfect rods for this fishery.
On the swim step Tug has strapped down a large cooler with the plug removed. Once the fish were caught we flopped them in the cooler and immediately bled them out by cutting the gills. The blood would drain back into the ocean as we continued to fish. We all agree that for the best quality of fish on the table, they should be bled-out immediately, be them bluegill or perch to dorado and Mako shark.
After a couple of hours-plus the Pacific wind started to pick up making things a little tougher to hold in a drift pattern. Jay called us to see if were still alive and get a fishing report. We made him jealous.
It had already been a long day and it wasn’t even the cocktail hour yet. Tug cranked up the 150 Yahama and we were back inside the breakwater within 10 minutes.
The marina management has it all figured out for serious anglers, and for us too. Tie up at the gas dock, unload your catch and at the top of the ramp there are about 8-10 cleaning/filleting stations, each with separate running water and plenty of space to work side-by-side. They request that you take the undesirable cuttings with you and dump them in the water away from the main marina area before trailering your boat. Ice is also available there. We bought a 5-gallon bucket of finely shave ice for only $2.00 – well worth it and a bargain at twice the price.
Soon after haul-out we were back in Forks and getting checked into the Town Motel. This is not a luxury destination but it was perfect for the three of us. We had four beds either double or queen-sized, the kitchen had cupboards, lots of counter space and a full-sized refrigerator perfect for keeping fresh fillets and an accompaniment of beverages. Bathroom had a tub/shower and plenty of hot water. The flat screen television was great but navigating through the menu can be challenging for those of us that are somewhat challenged.
Directly to the east of us was a huge grocery store, separate hardware store and a lot of tackle specifically for the regions salt and fresh water angling opportunities. A short walk further there is an assortment of restaurants, many of which open at 6:00 AM for the fishermen and loggers. We had dinner just west of the hotel in a very nice pub that has oversized hamburgers and a variety of the other expected pub-type fare. The beer was cold and served fast.
Then next morning revile came around 4:30 but there really wasn’t a big hurry. The Suburban and boat were parked on the motel property which made for a quick getaway. We stopped at the coffee shop in the grocery store and picked up some breakfast sandwiches and were on our way.
There are so many rock islands just outside of the breakwater to fish for the bass and lings. Turn right. Turn left. Go straight. We decided to go to the next major set of rock islands beyond where we met with success the day before. It took some hunting and casting and loss of more jigs but we found some fish, but not really to our expectations. Soon thereafter we move to Cake Island, so named because it looks like a 4-layer cake in shape with steep walls and a flat top.
One end of the island had an outcrop and while hunting with the Lowrance we found that outcrop extended itself to an underwater ridge with steep sides. The drift was perfect to fish the ridge up one side and down the other while we did our casting and dropping.
An arsenal of lead-headed jigs in assorted sizes with various colored curly-tails are all you need for these La Push rockfish and lingcod.
They say to be ready for the unexpected, and the unexpected is exactly what happened to Tug. Towards the end of one of the drifts just as we were about to run back up to the start, Tug set a hook and it pulled back…really pulled back. Bob and I were scratching our heads and Tug was, well, he was tugging. In that 50-70 feet of water he hammered out a halibut which weighed well in the 50 pound range (even though he remembers it being “much larger.”)
Tug out of breath. Halibut out of season. I reached out to fillet the line. Fun stuff.
There were no bass here at Cake Rock but we loaded up with lings to the limit and then decided to go back to our holes and pinnacles from the day before.
It was an identical repeat as the bass were still holding in the rocks, although there aren’t as many there right now as there were before we started fishing. It’s okay though, we left plenty for you. Is it time for you to go Rockin’ & Reelin’ ?