Not for Summer Only: Winter Fishing in Anacortes
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing,” says Captain Brett Rosson. Rosson, of Highliner Charters, is one of a handful of Anacortes charter fishermen who will tell you that some of the best fishing happens during the winter months (winter fishing season runs through mid-April), and that some of the best fishing in the Pacific Northwest is just off the shores of Fidalgo Island.
“A lot of people are surprised to learn we offer year-round fishing,” Rosson says. “Truth is, a good winter day can be clear and calm. And on a good day in January or February, our boat will bring home up to four Blackmouths (juvenile King salmon), in the 7- to 12-pound range.”
Jolly Mon Charters and Catchmore Charters are available at the local Marinas on the Island. Once aboard the boat your just a short distance to Rosario Strait and the San Juan Islands. Clients are asked to show up at the marina with food, drink—and warm clothing, including rain gear and soft-soled shoes. Forgot some gear? need a meal for the boat? No worries it’s available for purchase in Anacortes. Don’t forget a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen—even in winter. The rest – boat, tackle, equipment, and any needed expertise – come with the charter package.
A single-day fishing license starts at around $12, and is required for every onboard passenger age 15 or older. Washington State fishing licenses, good for the year, can be purchased at Ace Hardware in Anacortes.
Highliner charters leave the dock at first light, pulling into Burrows bay as the sun rises behind snow-covered Mt. Baker, often washing the surrounding islands in a glow of pink and gold. Herons crouch watchfully on the rocks at the water’s edge and cormorants stand guard on harbor pilings as the boat makes its way toward open water.
Charter boats come in a variety of sizes and types. Rosson’s is a 26-foot aluminum boat with an enclosed cabin, heat, and an enclosed head (toilet). “We get a lot of families,” Rosson says. “Dads and moms, sons and daughters. The ladies really appreciate the enclosed head.”
The objective, of course, is fish, and on a good day there can be more line action than in peak season. Some of the richest winter fishing grounds in the Northwest can be found within a 20-minute radius of the marina. Still, winter fishing usually means younger (smaller) fish in the 7-12-pound range; “keepers” must be hatchery fish. Charters last about eight hours, or until the group’s catch limit is achieved.
“Skill is important,” says Rosson, who welcomes both beginners and experienced fishermen—and women. “But I always emphasize that there’s an element of chance involved, too (remember, it’s called a ‘sport’). We do get skunked from time to time.”
Fish or no, winter fishing charters include memorable water and island vistas and wildlife sightings! Seals, sea lions, harbor porpoises, bald eagles and other raptors, and a huge variety of sea birds are common. Bringing along your camera, binoculars, and a good bird ID book can add greatly to time on the water—and stories to tell at the end of the day.
“We stay away from windy days,” Rosson cautions, “but aside from that, a clear and calm winter day on the water is hard to beat
The waters of the San Juan’s and the Pacific Northwest are a fisherman’s paradise, having attracted sport and commercial fishing families since the 1800s. Many local charter skippers grew up with a rod in their hand and fishing the local waters.
“We do what we do because we live and breathe fishing,” Rosson admits. These men pride themselves on knowing the cycles, the habits, and the haunts of the sleek and feisty creatures they pursue—and in sharing that excitement with others.
Says Rosson, “Nine times out of ten, a Pacific Northwest charter skipper is the kind of person who likes to put a smile on other people’s faces. We can’t guarantee fish on every trip, but we can guarantee a fantastic memory.”
Ice Fishing in Anacortes? Could be.
The closest thing you’ll find to ice fishing in the Anacortes area is winter fly fishing at Pass Lake on the Fidalgo Island side of Deception Pass State Park. This renowned catch-and-release-only lake is open year ’round, with a no-motor policy that guarantees a clean, quiet environment.
A recent entry from fisherman/blogger Zane Wyll reported: “I got up this morning and it was a beautiful winter day. The sun was out and the air was calm—seemed like the perfect day to head to Pass Lake and get some fishing in. I arrived at the lake around 9 a.m. and had the place to myself for the first hour and a half. I was fishing a green sparkle bugger and having no luck so I switched to a large black Zuddler cone head. On my second cast to the bank I hooked something large and it took me straight to the bottom. I gave the fish some line and some patience and it came unwrapped. After another five minutes I had a 19-inch brown to hand.”
For supplies and local information, visit Ace Hardware, located off R Ave in Anacortes. The shop offers rods, reels, flies, bait, tools, books, information, and more.
originally written January 26, 2012 – updated December 27, 2016