Despite growing up near the shores of Lake Michigan in northwest Indiana, I have never cared for salmon fishing. While in high school, my friends eagerly spent all of their extra cash and time pursuing what we all generally referred as “silver fish,” while I headed inland to fish for practically anything else.
My aversion to salmon fishing had nothing to do with the challenge or fight they offered.
My disinterest was partly because I considered salmon fishing a rich man’s sport, requiring a big boat most of the year. More than that, however, I always considered salmon to be one of the most awful tasting fresh water fish to swim the earth.
Given my very open apathy toward salmon and salmon fishing, my brother wasn’t surprised a couple weeks ago when I initially declined a king and silver salmon fishing trip.
The trip, however, was set for the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, so I listened.
He swore both the adventure and the fish would be quite different than the experience I grew up avoiding, despite the fact that we would be targeting the same kings and silvers that inhabit the Great lakes.
After a little persuasion, I agreed to go, but not for the salmon. My hope was that I might catch an errant shark while my brother hauled in a couple stinky, mostly inedible salmon.
Pulling away from the marina in LaPush, Wash., it was clear the experience would be different than the thousands of salmon outings I had attended on the Great Lakes.
Sea lions and rotting kelp dominated the marina, which was surrounded by picturesque rock islands covered with massive spruce trees.
Uncharacteristically, the Pacific Ocean was dead calm when we left. It remained calm the entire day, shrouded in fog.
The fog lingered as our captain ran the boat 11 miles out toward the open seas. When he reached 200 feet of water, he cut the engine and declared it was time to fish.
Though I’m no Great Lakes captain, I do know the most productive way to fish for salmon. Or so I thought.
Instead of preparing downriggers, planer boards, flat lines and dipsey divers to troll as I assumed, our captain broke out 14 dozen frozen herring and started baiting-up.
Instead of trolling, we were going to mooch for salmon.
“I already like this better than Great Lakes salmon fishing,” I told my brother.
Unlike trolling, mooching requires a fisherman to take an active role in fishing. So, instead of sitting and watching for a release, we grabbed a rod, skewered a herring and dropped it over the side.
When cut and hooked correctly, dead herring helicopter down the water column, following the several-ounce weight in front of it. As the bait falls or is being cranked up, salmon attack.
It takes a while to get a feel for the bite when mooching, even from a 20-pound king salmon, and requires patience since some fish hit at the bait several times before taking it.
The active nature and requisite “feel” for the bite makes mooching a lot more fun than trolling.
Washington allows each licensed fisherman two salmon if they are kings or silvers, but by noon we had caught and released dozens, with a few pinks and humpies thrown in.
Not being one to pass up a chance to make a liar out of me, my brother threw one of the silver salmon filets on the grill as soon as we got back to our cabin in the Olympic National Forest.
Unlike every salmon I have eaten from Lake Michigan, the filet was delicious. It completely lacked the oily, fishy taste of similar sized silver salmon from any of the Great Lakes.
Though I have never found anyone who can explain why the same fish tastes different depending on whether it was caught in the Pacific Ocean or the Great Lakes, it likely has something to do with the taste of the water it lives in.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that ocean fish spend their life marinating in salt water.
Because they taste better and are more fun to catch, I am hooked on ocean salmon fishing. I’ll still chase Indiana salmon every once in a while, but will never again try to choke one down knowing what they are supposed to taste like.