Anglers off Mercer Island - 1988
Sockeye anglers fishing off Mercer Island during the 1988 season.

Sockeye Fishing Articles from The Seattle Times

Forget lures!
(by Brad O'Connor, August 1988, reprinted courtesy of The Seattle Times)

"I was skeptical until I used it to catch Lake Washington sockeye", said Jay Rusling after he and a partner drew 19 strikes and boated 11 sockeye on it last Tuesday and returned to the lake Thursday, each scoring six-fish limits. "It's so unbelievable that I had to look in the freezer in the first day to make sure I hadn't been dreaming."

By now, however, Tony Novotny is a true believer. You'd be too, if you had caught 40 sockeye on it.

The "it" is the lake's newest, hottest sockeye lure.

Correction: It's neither new, nor is it, in the conventional sense, a lure.

A lure appendage, yes.

But an appendage without a body.

Novotny, a biologist who recently retired from the National Marine Fisheries Service, knew commercial trollers have caught thousands of sockeye and pink on it, so he decided to try it out in the lake.

"I would catch fish while guys in boats alongside were not. I'd show them what I was using, and they'd just shake their heads in disbelief."

But to some, seeing was believing enough to try it, and it worked for them, too, said Novotney.

"I'm 52 and I've been fishing since I was old enough to hold a pole in my hands." said Rusling, of Bellevue. "But I don't think I have experienced anything in my life that has puzzled me so much. It is just plain weird, but I have to say it is the most exciting thing that has happened in sockeye fishing."

What, then, is this non-lure lure?

Two clues: You can buy it for a small fraction of the $3.25 or so you'd pay for a U-20 Flatfish or other popular and proven sockeye lures. You already may have a dozen or more rattling around your tackle box.

It is -- now, hold your hat! -- a plain, ordinary 3/0 or 4/0 single hook, just like what you use for salmon leaders, except the hook is blue, red or black.

Preposterous? Not at all, if you think a moment about the eating habits of sockeye. They are planktonic feeders with a diet consisting almost entirely of small marine organisms, such as shrimp and insects.

To the sockeye, a flourescent orange U-20 Flatfish probably resembles nothing more than a flourescent orange U-20 Flatfish. A sockeye gloms onto a U-20 not out of love, but anger. The U-20 is an irritant, an intruder.

But at depths of 50-90 feet, the dark hooks must resemble shrimp or insects, therefore triggering a feeding instinct.

Novotny combines his bare, black hook with a 14-16-inch leader and a No. 1 or 0 dodger fished about 20 feet off a downrigger ball.

Rusling, who also fishes off a downrigger, chose a No. 1 Les Davis Abe & Al flasher with a 16-inch, 30-pound test leader. But a crescent sinker, with about 48 inches of line from sinker to dodger or flasher, works just as well.

A word of warning. The Department of Fisheries defines a bare hook combined with a flasher or a dodger as a lure and the law says a non-buoyant lure used to fish salmon north of the Evergreen Bridge must be fished with a single, barbless hook. So, crimp down the barb.

Ordinary fish hooks double sockeye catch
(by Brad O'Connor, August 1988, reprinted courtesy of The Seattle Times)

Single black, blue or red hooks have become the instant rage with the Lake Washington sockeye fishing crowd.

Since first mention of the hooks was made in the is Outdoor Notebook last Sunday, the colored 3/0 or 4/0 hooks have become the hottest-selling items in Seattle-area tackle shops and sporting-goods stores, dealers say.

The Department of Fisheries says both angler success and angler turnout have more than double since Sunday.

"This is really amazing," said Lonnie Crumley, the department's fish-checker supervisor. "We're seeing lots of boats with two or three people with 12 to 18 fish and our boat counts more than doubled from Monday to Tuesday."

Indeed, many who've turned to the simple hook -- which is fished without any garnishment 16 inches off a chrome dodger or Abe & Al flasher -- say they have had little trouble catching their six-fish limits.

West Seattle's Marty Ure, who for years caught almost all his sockeye on the venerable U-20 Flatfish, fished the single hook for the first time Sunday. He and his partners boated 18 sockeye. Four in Earl Colvin's boat took 24 the day before.

"When we got back to the ramp, a couple of guys asked me how we did and as casually as I could, I said we got 18 fish," said Ure. "They refused to believe it until they saw the fish.

"But the clincher was when we told them we'd caught them all on bare hooks. They just shook their heads. I am sure they thought we were lying."

Ure said the simple hook setup will force major revision of the Lake Washington Sockeye Angling Handbook.

"With the U-20, I learned to avoid fishing through the middle of a sockeye school because the aggressive fish usually were off alone or at the edges of the schools, but with the hook, I can troll right through a school and catch fish."