Camping At Deception Pass

It’s still a bit early, but coho boats have begun to gather in an eddy just below the Deception Pass Bridge. They’re fishing cutplug herring behind dodgers and 2-ounce banana weights, pointing their bows towards the ocean from whence the silver salmon are returning to Northwest Washington’s Skagit River.

I was there yesterday between high and low tides (couldn’t get the family out of camp any sooner), hurling Buzz Bombs from cool, tree-shaded North Beach, and while nothing was biting for me, I saw at least three salmon hooked by the boaters. One was a dandy; it flew out of the water several feet, a shimmering bolt, then somehow spit the baited hook.

My wife, two sons and I were camped at the pass for a nice five-day, end-of-summer getaway. It got damp on Saturday night, but before and after, it was a fine vacation in the rain shadow of the Olympics, visible just across the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Besides fishing, there’s all sorts of fun things for moms and dads with young’ns in tow to do in the area — hike up to Goose Rock bald and see the glacial grooves in the rock, have a barbecue on West Beach, skip rocks into the amazingly mellow (during our stay) eastern end of the straits, check out the spidery arms of an 850-year-old Douglas fir in the sand dunes, tour the big guns down at Fort Casey, pick the last raspberries and blueberries of the season at area farms, try and identify the fighter jets (River called them “flighter jets”) coming and going from the Navy field (I think yesterday was Wargame Wednesday or something) and, of course, cling tightly to kids’ hands as you walk the bridge over the foaming rips.

My favorite moment of the trip was hanging out at the northern overlook on Mt. Erie on sunny Tuesday afternoon, gazing towards the San Juans and picking out the shapes of Mt. Constitution and Turtleback Mountain. A hawk glided in to a dead tree in front of us before scaring the bejeezus out of a squirrel in another Doug fir. Nobody else came by, it was just Amy, Kiran then River and I for an hour.

Amy enjoyed our hikes, including around Bowman and Lottie Bays and out to Lighthouse Point. She also liked that there were no bugs — our second campout of the summer sans skeeters or bees — practically none here (credit to a very large population of spiders with webs everywhere in the salal) or up at Moran State Park on Orcas, where we stayed over the Fourth.

When we left for Deception Saturday morning, I was a little disappointed that I was able to fit everything into our car — yes, disappointed. If there had been a significant overage I had my mom and her car on standby to come with us, and that way I could have thrown my pontoon boat on our roof rack and trolled for trout at the park’s Cranberry Lake, but it was not to be. We ended up having room to spare, which still troubles me — what did I forget to pack?!?

Without my pontoon, I just brought my fishing gear from back in the days when I was a pier and beach rat — heavy lead. And we would have had coho for dinner Sunday night if I’d ever learned to tie a proper knot. Casting a blue-and-white Buzz Bomb off West Beach, I had a take, saw a silver shape in the surf, then the line went slack. Only a broken knot came back.

If that sounds like a fish story, I’ll tell you another one. The gal renting kayaks, canoes and paddle boats at Cranberry instructed some boys with fly rods to hit the deep hole. That’s where she said German brown trout to 30 pounds lurked; she claimed to have eaten several of them so far this year herself.

The hole is just off the road out to the campgrounds and West Beach, and plunkers gathered there, likely lured by stories of gargantuan browns, but their catch probably consisted mainly of the 5,500 hatchery rainbows WDFW planted this year.The lake was warm and weedy; somewhere I read that the water at the bottom is actually salty.

I was surprised by the number of Canadians at our camp loop; by my count, BC license plates tied and topped Washington cars and trucks on our last two nights. Amy claimed that that’s why the campground was so quiet at night, and that was nice compared to other spots we’ve stayed where our neighbors decided to stay up late and loud.

Yesterday, an older gent at North Beach explained that the Canadians were here because their dollar’s high value compared to ours. He wasn’t so concerned about economics, however. He and a pal were giving the coho boats a pretty solid binocularing. They were considering going out and wanted to know how the fishing was going. It was early yet, he said, but the catch seemed to give them hope.

Meanwhile, it shouldn’t be too hard to talk Amy into camping here again next August — there’s lots still to explore in the area.

Plus 2011 will be a pink year, and this is about the time when the salmon run in hordes through the pass.

By that time River, who is now 3, might just have graduated to his own rod and reel. On this trip, he would run over to help me bring my gear in when it got close to the beach, as well as stand by me and pretend to cast out and reel in with his stick. But I’ll have to be careful — his rod was definitely the hottest of the campout!

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