David Stalheim is an avid angler who fishes from a Ranger Tugs R-23 by the name of Tokitae. Based out of Bellingham Washington, David spends his time fishing the San Juan Islands, various parts of Puget Sound and the Canadian Gulf Islands.
How did you get into fishing?
I started out fishing as a kid in the Midwest. Many of our family vacations were to lakes in northern Wisconsin or Minnesota. I have lived in Washington State since 1980. When we lived in eastern Washington, I had a 17’ Lund that I’d fish freshwater lakes with my son. We’d fish primarily for rainbow trout. Fishing with him was funny. He’d get bored quick, but once we got our first fish, he’d want to be out there all day. I’m kind of like that now, too.
What got me into saltwater fishing and getting a saltwater boat was a trip to Alaska (Kenai Peninsula) in 2014. We had such a great time out on the water fishing, birding, whale watching and enjoying the scenery. When flying home over the Salish Sea and our home, I realized that we live in paradise but didn’t have access to the saltwater. So, I started exploring getting a boat that could explore the San Juan Islands. My first boat was a 23’ wood dory boat (Clippercraft) made out of Portland, Oregon. It was such a deal! Hah! Anyhow, when I got that boat I started to fish for salmon, lingcod and went crabbing. I started to catch some and got the bug.
What do you fish for?
In my Ranger Tug, I fish for lingcod, halibut and salmon. I also use the boat for crabbing.
What do you enjoy about it?
I think my enjoyment of fishing has evolved over the years. I primarily enjoy just being out on the water. I own seven different boats, from the Ranger Tug to canoes, kayaks and whitewater rafts. Being on the water is a big part of it. This year, I started to enjoy the sport of catching fish—figuring out the best times and tides to fish, what to use for lures, etc. Of course, I very much enjoy eating the fish that I catch.
Who do you usually go with?
At first, my son would fish with me, but now he is living in other areas (hopefully temporary!). My wife does not like to fish, but she does love to eat fish, so she has been very supportive of my obsession. So, most of my trips are solo. The primary reason that my trips are solo is that I almost always go out for at least one night, if not more. The joy of having the Ranger Tug is to enjoy an evening and morning on the water. If I wanted just a boat to fish out of, I would have gotten something else. But, the R-23 is a bit too tight to share the bunk with some of my buddies! So, unless I can convince my wife to go out fishing, or until my son moves home, I am often fishing solo.
What does your dream fishing trip look like, where would it take place and what species would you be chasing?
I think my dream fishing trip is somewhere up in Canada—west side by Bamfield or Tofino or some of the other inlets, or the east side of Vancouver Island before heading into Desolation Sound. I can imagine being up there for 2-4 weeks fishing for King salmon, hopefully hooking into a Tyee (30 pounds and up), while also enjoying cruising through the area.
Are there any features or modifications on your boat that you’ve found invaluable as an angler?
I ordered my boat with a trolling motor and downrigger mounts. The other thing I did was to build a small station on the starboard side of the cockpit where I keep my downrigger balls, bait scent and other fishing tools. The station also has a folding table that I can use to lay out my gear.
Any fight stories come to mind?
The most exciting fish to catch is a King Salmon. When you have a King on the line, you know it. They take the hook and start their run. I have had them swim to the surface and as soon as they see the light, they take off for the bottom. It is thrilling to hook and catch them.
Pink salmon are also fun to catch. They are little fighters that you can watch on the surface, usually showing their fight jumping out of the water – and often throwing the hook! 2021 is a Pink Salmon year with good returns forecasted. For people new to salmon fishing – or for kids, this is a great year to go after some salmon. Target mid- to late-July for pink salmon season to start.
Last year, while halibut fishing, I had something grab my bait and take off. Line was just spooling off my reel. I tried to stop it by tightening the drag and lost whatever it was—but didn’t lose the bait. I never could figure out what could have taken my bait and swam so hard but show no signs of having ever been hooked.
Gear check - What type of:
For all the people in the Seattle area, I highly recommend John’s Sporting Goods out of Everett. You can find them online if out of town. Their website has great fishing, crabbing and shrimp maps, too. If you visit their shop, you will find some of the best knowledge around about saltwater fishing. John also has a book out on Saltwater Fishing, so pick that up while there or in another shop. You can find them on Facebook, too.
I don’t expect you to answer this one, but do you have any secret locations?
Check out 47.34100809949472, -122.22915079001832
Aside from the basics, what is the one piece of gear that you consider your secret weapon?
A net! I left home once without a net and hauling the fish up and over the rail was a challenge! But, as far as secret weapons, I think scents are important. I would add a fair dose of herring bait scent to the lingcod jigs I used successfully this spring. That is why adding herring strips to hootchies for salmon are successful or adding some scent to lures.
What’s the biggest fish you’ve caught?
40” Lingcod is the biggest fish I have caught. Unfortunately, it was too big for the regulations here and it went back into the water.
Once you haul them in, do you have any tricks to cleaning and preserving them?
The first thing I do is bleed the fish. I cut the gills and let them bleed out. I put them in the net and dip them back in the water to get them to pump the blood out. This year I read a piece about how the fish build up lactic acid in their fight to not be caught, and some suggested not bonking them until they bleed out.
The second thing to do is to get your fish on ice. I always have ice on board to put my fish on. I put the fish into a fish bag or into a cooler and make sure they are well covered with ice. For pink salmon, I will often gut them immediately and get them on ice to keep them fresh. I will gut and de-gill my fish if I have it on ice overnight, too.
In general, I will not have my fish on ice for more than one night. Then, I will fillet them and what I don’t eat immediately, I will vacuum pack and freeze them, dating each package and species.
What is your favorite fish to eat and how do you cook/prepare it?
I really enjoy all fish, and each has its unique qualities. I probably favor halibut the most, however.
For preparation, we are starting to experiment more. My go to BBQ routine is to sauté garlic in oil with sea salt and pepper, then add lemon to it. I baste this on to the fish and let is marinate for at least an hour. I then BBQ the fish, flipping it just at the end to finish the fish off. If I have some cedar planks, I BBQ the fish on the planks for a good smoke flavor. For lingcod, we are now enjoying some blackened and beer batter recipes. So good!
Could you share some "fishing words of wisdom?"
You need to spend time on the water. Learn how to use your fish finder to see bait and fish. Learn how to use your GPS to see bottom structure where fish are likely to be.
Pay attention to how tides and currents affect bait and fish locations. I would always be the first out on the water fishing, not really paying attention to the change in tides. Of the 10 lingcod I caught this year, only two were caught before noon (one was at 11:45). While I really enjoy the mornings out on the water, you can get really burned out and not want to fish if you’ve been going since 4:30 a.m. and the bite doesn’t come on until mid-afternoon. Of course, some fish are early or late eaters.
King salmon are known to be very early or very late. Look for Kings where the tide changes are early in the morning so that you can fish before and after the tide change as the sun comes up.
Experiment with different tackle; if your depth finder appears to be showing fish but you’re not getting any strikes, change out your tackle or flasher and try something different. Try different depths.
Special thanks to David Stalheim for contributing to the Ranger Tugs Journal.
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