Fishing In The San Juans

Puget Sound

By Jim Kahal

Photo of view of Friday Harbor from San Juan IslandView of Friday Harbor from San Juan Island.

We come from different walks of life — a retired Navy man, an insurance agent, a dentist, and a salesman in the animal-feed business. Years may pass between the times we all get together, but when we do, we pick right back up where we left off, our lives woven together by friendship and a deep love of the outdoors and the open water. Old surfers never die, folks say, their boards just get longer, and so it is with us. This year, we banded together on a chartered 36-foot Grand Banks to fish and explore the San Juan Islands.

Photo of a 1972 Grand BanksOur comfortable 1972 Grand Banks.

Our adventure began in the town of Anacortes, Washington, where we were checked out on the boat, then set off for uninhabited Sucia Island, 22 miles away. A Washington state park, Sucia has moorings in both Echo and Shallow bays. We anchored in Echo, took the dinghy ashore, spent the day hiking, then took the boat around to moor in Shallow Bay, which faces west — a perfect place to enjoy the sunset. In the calm protection of the bay, we reflected on our first day of cruising, marveling at the awesome beauty around us, when someone mentioned that Shallow Bay reminded him of the movie "Shallow Hal" and we recited all the dumb movies we've each sat through in our lives. These are things guys do with no TV or Internet access. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that it's one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid together. Well, we found all kinds of things to laugh about, well into the night.

Photo of Ralph Kahal working on ling-cod rigs in the cabin of our trawlerRalph working on ling-cod rigs in the cabin of our trawler.

Day two started with a mission: to find, catch, and eat some of the San Juan Islands' tastiest fish, ling cod. We looked for some rocky structure and a reasonable depth to fish. Ralph made custom rigs that allowed you to bounce the weight along the bottom to attract these curious fish. We anchored somewhere around Flat Top Island and Gull Rock, and had reached our cod limit in two hours. Thrilled, we puttered to beautiful Roche Harbor, once a lime-producing town owned by the Tacoma and Roche Harbor Lime Company, and spent the night docked in the guest slip area with a great view of the bay and beautiful town. The historic hotel near the slips has a great happy hour for tired boaters. We feasted on ling cod and enjoyed the daily Color Guard removal of the flags. What a day! The next morning we rented kayaks and went for a long paddle, paying close attention to the tidal charts so we wouldn't have to fight the current of the changing tides.

Photo of Jim and John with our ling-cod catchJim and John with our ling-cod catch.

After Roche Harbor, we chugged toward Lopez Island, with its shallow approach, and again paid close attention to the tide chart before heading in. The harbor offers nice guest slips and a great restaurant at the marina. We went biking, visited local wineries, and as we cycled around the island, everyone who passed us in a car waved to us. The people of Lopez were extremely welcoming. Quite different from the freeways of Southern California! The marina bar had a great menu and a pool table. We had dinner, fed the jukebox around 20 bucks to play two hours of classic rock, and started playing pool. Mark and I destroyed John and Ralph in several games of eight ball. It's amazing how our competitive spirits rise when we're together. After several hours, the bartender politely asked us to leave by turning off the lights.

We left Lopez and headed for Friday Harbor, again studying the tides before leaving. We found out why it's recommended to leave at high tide — we left on the ebb and came within a foot of the bottom, according to our depth sounder. That excitement behind us, we headed for beautiful Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. We took a side trip to zip-line in the trees of San Juan — a beautiful course through a protected forest. It was fun, but I wouldn't recommend it if you have a fear of heights.

Photo of the guys ready to ziplineThe boys, ready to zipline through the rich evergreen forest.

How quickly our trip was coming to an end. For two hours, we meandered back to Anacortes, our starting point, the mood onboard reflective. We promised each other we'd get together and do this again, as soon as we could. But you know how it is. Family commitments, work, and life get in the way of such hopes and plans. The best any of us can do is hold on to this moment — four friends bound by our shared youth, our love and respect for one another, our passion for the water, and now our memories of five spectacular days in the San Juans. 

Longtime BoatUS member Jim Kahal, a dentist in Laguna Hills, California, enjoys boating out of Dana Point Harbor.

— Published: December 2014

Did You Know?

Only 80 miles north of Seattle, yet a world away, Washington's fabled San Juan Islands create one of the most spectacular boating destinations in the country. Many established chartering companies offer power and sailboats to explore the 450-island archipelago, located in the protected waters east of Vancouver Island.


BoatUS Magazine Is A Benefit Of BoatUS Membership

Membership Also Provides:

  • Subscription to the print version of BoatUS Magazine
  • 4% back on purchases from West Marine stores or online at
  • Discounts on fuel, transient slips, repairs and more at over 1,000 businesses
  • Deals on cruises, charters, car rentals, hotel stays and more ...
  • All For Only $24 A Year!

Join Today!