Deep beneath the swirling currents of a north Pacific rip tide, a salmon lies, waiting for his next meal. The mature chinook is a voracious eating machine, intent upon loading up on calories. Twenty feet above, a sparkling chrome flasher trailing a plastic hoochie, passes by. That’s not food. He’s not remotely interested. Next, a red and white wooden plug zigzags overhead. He follows it a few feet. His fins begin to quiver. Suddenly, he turns away. Intuition tells him something is amiss. Then, he spies the one thing that always triggers his feeding instincts – a single herring, struggling to maintain it’s equilibrium in the current. The big chinook flares his gills, lunges, and inhales the hapless herring.
This scenario is replayed countless times a year from northern California to Alaska. Astute salmon anglers who have studied their prey know that nothing rings a salmon’s dinner bell better than a falling, fluttering bait or lure. Top salmon anglers focus on the two key ingredients for successfully tricking salmon – location and presentation. If you can find the salmon and present your lure or bait in a way that imitates a struggling baitfish, success is virtually assured.
Where baitfish congregate, salmon will follow flvto. The key to finding salmon is to understand where the baitfish will be found at each stage of the tide. Baitfish are at the mercy of the tides. They are swept along with the current and will congregate wherever the tides dictate. The lee side of underwater pinnacles, ledges, and ridges are ideal places to look for baitfish and their accompanying salmon groupies. Salmon love to lay in the mellow currents behind the underwater structure. From their “soft” water lair, salmon watch for baitfish sweeping past in the nearby fast water.
To make an intelligent guess as to where the baitfish will be, pay careful attention to the direction of the tide flow about underwater structures. For example, you may note that the current is flowing parallel to the shoreline. In that case, look for a point or underwater ridge that obstructs the current flow. Baitfish will pile up against the obstruction. Salmon will be there to pick off the stragglers.
Possession Point in Puget Sound serves as a classic illustration. The point is the underwater extension of Whidby Island. Along the edge of this underwater plateau, the depth drops precipitously from 90 feet to 600 feet. On outgoing tides, anglers fish the down current side of the point where salmon await baitfish that are swept off the plateau into the deeper water. On incoming tides, anglers fish the opposite side of the point to work over schools of baitfish that are pushed against the underwater ridge.
Tide rips are another prime baitfish congregating area. The strong current pushes bait along like commuters on a freeway. Salmon work the edges of this baitfish freeway, picking off stragglers or rushing into the bait school to snap up a mouthful of bait.
To achieve the perfect presentation to tempt a salmon attack, try and visualize what your bait is doing. Imagine a crippled baitfish swimming erratically, struggling to stay on course, then falling in a tortured, twisting spiral. Your job is to present your lure or bait in a convincing pantomime of this drama.
There are three top techniques for taking salmon – jigging, trolling and live bait fishing. Each can be adapted to increase your strikes by working hard to imitate the death throes of a crippled baitfish.
Jigging is a deadly tactic that many salmon anglers seldom try. This is the simplest technique to master, and it provides a very realistic imitation of a falling baitfish. All you need to master this effective style of salmon angling is a decent depth finder, a selection of metal jigs that match the size, shape, and color of the natural bait, a medium-heavy jigging rod, such as the Lamiglas Puget Jigger and a good quality baitcasting reel.
This technique is based upon the axiom that salmon will be wherever the bait is. Rather than troll aimlessly, the jigging crowd stows the fishing rod until they find the bait. Any decent depth finder lets you see the bottom and suspended bait balls while you cruise at speed of up to 30 knots. With one eye on the depth finder, the cruise until the screen shows a major bait ball. When the screen goes black from all the bait, you know you are in the right neighborhood. Salmon will be beneath the bait or on the up current side of the bait.
Stop when you are directly above the salmon, or where you think they should be. (On occasion salmon will be present even when you can’t see them on the screen.) Drop your jig through the bait, keeping just enough tension on the reel to avoid a backlash. When a salmon grabs a falling jig, you often don’t feel any sort of strike. But you will notice that the line has gone slack. The instant you feel any slack, strike hard. It doesn’t take a salmon long to figure out that there are damn few calories in a lead jig!
Expert jiggers make no more than five unsuccessful drops through a bait ball before moving on. If salmon are present, you will usually have a hook up on the first three drops. Not every bait ball has a pack of marauding salmon trailing them. If you don’t find fish, stow your rod, fire up the motor and go searching for the next bait ball.
In areas where live bait angling is popular, many top rods start their day with a visit to the bait dock. Most guides and serious salmon anglers use reciprocating pumps to keep fresh seawater flowing through their bait tanks. The more casual anglers simply rig an ice chest with an overflow pipe fitted near the top. Fresh seawater is dipped into the tank before the herring are added.
The usual rig for fishing live bait consists of a mooching rod, a level wind reel, a swivel, a slip sinker, and a two-hook harness. On the hook, herring will usually stay frisky for twenty minutes or more if you hook them gently and are careful not to drag them through the water too fast. Your bait must be lively.
The best weighing system for live bait fishing is around lead fitted with a hollow plastic center tube. The mainline is inserted through the lead which slides freely on the line. A swivel below the lead acts as a stopper. For added control in placement of the lead, some guides force a toothpick between the line and the center of the lead. This allows placement of the lead as much as twenty feet from the bait giving the bait maximum freedom to roam and attract the attention of a salmon.
The top hook is placed through the clear membrane just in front of the herring’s eye. It’s important to keep this hook clear of the herring’s lower jaw so it can breathe naturally. The back hook is slipped just beneath the skin near the dorsal fin.
Typically when a salmon inhales a live bait, he immediately swims toward the surface. The rod tip, relieved of the pull of the sinker, will suddenly spring up. Now the fun begins. Reel like a madman until you catch up to the fish. If you are fast enough, you will soon feel substantial resistance. Set the hook and brace yourself. If you aren’t fast enough on the uptake, or if Lady Luck isn’t on your side, you will never catch up to the surface seeking salmon. Check your bait and try again.
Trolling for salmon has become the standard approach used by most west coast anglers. This is true in part because it often works well and in part because it’s the lazy man’s way to fish. Many salmon anglers make the mistake of randomly trolling without thinking about where the bait will be, and without varying their course or trolling speed.
Wherever salmon roam, they key on various baits at different times of the year. Typically, salmon pursue the most prevalent bait they can find. The salmon’s favorite source of calories is herring, anchovies or candlefish. To consistently hook salmon, you need to find which food source the salmon are exploiting, then do your best to “match the hatch.”
It should be obvious that an anchovy would be the best bait to use when salmon in your area are keying on anchovies. Yet it’s amazing how many anglers stubbornly stick with herring even when they know the salmon are feeding on anchovies.
If you have herring for bait, it’s a simple matter to cut fillets and to shape them into a profile that resembles an anchovy. It may not be the real McGilla but it’s usually close enough to trick feeding salmon. Those who have anchovies available will find that a plastic bait holder clip will give their anchovies an alluring roll, and it will keep them on the hook for a long time.
When the salmon are keying on herring, you have many ways to match the hatch. Fresh or live herring is always preferable to frozen bait, but well cared for frozen herring will do the job almost as well.
Herring dunkers have a choice of whole herring, cut plug herring, or herring strips. To decide which will work best, you need to know what size herring the fish are chomping. If the local herring are three inches long, it makes no sense to fish a whole, eight-inch herring. If you can’t find a bait that is very nearly the size your salmon is exploiting, you need to cut your bait to match the hatch
For example, you can make cut-plug baits to match the size of the real thing by beginning your cut nearer or farther from the head as necessary. If your bait is considerably larger than the real thing, you may have to cut fillets and trim them down to the appropriate size.
Salmon can be extraordinarily fussy biters. You can fish bait or lure that is the right size, color, and shape and still not get so much as a hard stare if you don’t work to make your bait do a convincing imitation of a crippled baitfish.
Two tricks will help you refine you’re trolling to consistently trick the salmon into striking. Both involve varying your speed to cause your bait to act like a baitfish in trouble.
You can give your bait a more appealing action by constantly turning and by shifting the motor into neutral at random intervals. Every time you make a turn, the lure on the inside radius will slow, while the outside lure speeds up. Take note of which rod draws the most strikes, then adjust your speed accordingly.
An excellent way to vary your trolling speed is to flip the motor in neutral for thirty seconds every few minutes. This technique will draw strikes when nothing else works. As your bait falls through the water column, you are covering every depth. Strikes often come when you flip the motor back in gear. Salmon will follow the bait down, then strike when it begins speeding up and moving toward the surface.
No matter which method of fishing you prefer, remember to think about where the bait should be and remember you are trying to make your presentation look exactly like myhrconnection a wounded minnow that the big bully salmon just can’t ignore.
Serious conservation measures of the past few years appear to be paying off. Last year B.C. eliminated the sport and commercial season for much of the chinook fishery. Alaska did the same. Sport anglers can look forward to good to excellent chinook fishing. Coho stocks are in great shape in Alaska. Unfortunately, many B.C. coho stocks are seriously depleted. Look for reduced bag limits and emergency closures in B.C., especially in the Straits of Georgia.
Coho stocks are severely depressed on the entire coast. If any coho season is allowed, it will be very restricted. The final decision on Washington’s coastal coho season will depend upon whether or not British Columbia agrees to restrict the commercial catch of Washington bound coho. Puget Sound anglers will have a season similar to that in the past few years. The chinook picture is a bit brighter. A significant sport chinook fishery will be allowed. The newly appointed game commission has dictated that recreational anglers be given primary consideration when establishing quotas and seasons. This is very good news for Washington sports anglers.
Wild coho stocks are in serious trouble in Oregon. If any coho fishing is allowed, it will be restricted to near the mouth of the Columbia where significant returns of hatchery origin fish are expected. Chinook angling will be allowed along the entire coast. The central coast will have expanded angling opportunities compared to recent years. The north and south coast areas will have restricted seasons, but fisheries experts expect a more liberal season than last year.