Length, Power, Action!August 1, 2022
Snake River Dam RemovalAugust 4, 2022
Chasing Crazy-Ass Coho
Coho are one of the most sought after salmon in the Pacific Northwest and with last year’s near record return and this fall’s predicted return to be even better anglers will have plenty to catch. Washington waters are predicted to get back 2,118,361 with 1,575,790 being hatchery origin and Oregon is expecting over a million coho in 2022. Catching these fish often means heading to the ocean where seasons will run well into September. For the saltwater angler the coho bite can be a bit chaotic with the fish running in large schools and being active biters when the conditions are right. They can also be a bit frustrating if you are not using the right gear or fishing the right presentation.
Silver salmon like to swim fast and attack their prey. Known for their topwater action coho tend to be close to the surface. This makes for a great fishery because you are not constantly trying to work the bottom and worry about losing a downrigger ball unlike when chasing after chinook that are on a sand lance bite. When it comes to catching coho there are few things you can do to increase your catch rates.
Lose the Bait to Catch More Fish
It might seem like using a fresh anchovy or a perfectly plug cut herring would lead to more fish but rigging these baits takes time. When you get into the schools of coho the action can be fast which means you will catch more fish if you can keep your gear in the water longer. Same with getting it back into the water faster. Anyone who has rigged an anchovy hood knows that you need to set it correctly and that takes valuable time.
Spoons are one of the more popular lures because they are simple and are always working even if you miss a bite. But sometimes spoons don’t draw the fish to strike. Give tube flies a try, a technique often used by Great Lakes salmon fishermen. In the same vein, fly anglers use similar flies while fishing for coho along the shoreline. The ocean angler can take advantage of these lightweight lures that mimic baitfish. One of the best things about a tube fly is that they can be fished behind a dodger or a flasher or all alone and since they have low drag. Moreover, they are lightweight and tend to have an erratic action that coho can’t resist. Bechhold and Sons make a unique flasher with offset holes that add extra action. They have paired up with Rapture Trolling Flies, a Great Lakes company, and offer a combo set that when matched together are ready to fish. If you already tie your own flies you can pick up a tube fly adapter and tie your own pretty easily.
Add Flash and Movement to Your Squids
When rigging a squid skirt with an insert or a tube fly to be fished behind a dodger or flasher be sure to use a short and stout leader. Try using 30- or even 40-pound test as the stiff leader will give the lure more action. The idea is to get the lure to move in an erratic motion and the dodger looks like a feeding salmon with the lure being a wounded baitfish. It creates the “bite now” instinct of the feeding coho and tricking it into thinking the other salmon, which is the dodger, missed the baitfish and now it’s there for a free meal.
Using an insert into a hootchie or squid skirt adds attraction and can turn on a bite. The past few years I have been using the Luhr Jensen Flash Fly inserts and putting them into a squid skirt. By doing this you can make several different combinations of colors to attract the fish or add some extra UV flash for those cloudy days.
Try Using An Artificial Wounded
Lures that mimic a wounded baitfish are the SpinFish by Yakima Bait Company and Brad’s Super Bait Cut Plug. Each of these lures are made of hard plastic and have a hollow cavity inside where you can stuff them with scent or minced up baitfish such as anchovies or herring. For these lures, use a longer leader with a bead chain swivel in the middle since the lure provides the rotating and spinning action that creates that stimulates a coho to bite.
Scent Is Crucial
When using artificial lures such as spoons, squid skirts, and the hollow cavity lures scent is crucial. Unlike when you use a real baitfish that releases oils into the water, an artificial lure needs scent. The cavity lures like the SpinFish offer a way to fill them with various baits to create a scent trail. One common bait is to mix canned tuna fish with your favorite scents. Because the lure holds the minced up bait one of the better scent mediums to use is one of the many water soluble scents. When the scent leaks out of the lure it mixes with the water and stays at the same depth as the lure creating a large scent trail for the fish.
Oil based scents such as the various super sauces, gels and oils hold scent well and last a long time but the scent won’t mix well with water. This means when it is washed off the scent trail starts to float. Water soluble oils wash off of lures and squid skirts too quickly which it is recommended to use oil-based scents for these lures. It won’t gum-up or ruin the action of a tube fly. Just be sure to apply frequently. Knowing which scent to use is more than just the baitfish it is made from but also which ones are best to stay on the lures you are fishing.
Downsize the Dodgers and Flashers
The idea behind using a dodger or flasher is to create a feeding salmon scenario as well as add action to your lure. Since you are fishing for coho be sure to match the dodger and flasher to the size of the fish. Most use the standard 11-inch flasher but in reality the 8-inch flasher is a better choice. Instead of the attacking salmon looking like a chinook with the larger flasher, the 8-inch flasher or dodger reflects light more to the natural size of a coho. It is also less drag and that means you can fight the fish better.
Smaller dodgers and flashers also work really well at the faster trolling speeds. The Sling Blade dodger from Mack’s Lure is a very universal dodger that is designed to work well at fast speeds. Since it is a long teardrop design you can bend it to create a more dramatic dodge or side-to-side action or you can keep it strait and troll it fast. This design also cuts through the water well and allows you to fight the fish and not the dodger even when using the larger 9-inch version. The dodger comes with UV treated colors and offered in various sizes which allows you to change it up to the different sizes of lures you are using.
Troll With Weight Only
Since coho are often found actively feeding near the surface you don’t always need to use downriggers. Instead, trolling with a mooching weight that cuts through the water easily and a simple lure behind can be a way to either add an extra rod out of the back of the boat or not deal with the downriggers altogether. Again, the more you can keep your lines in the water the more fish you will catch.
When rigging this outfit use a longer leader (around 48 inches) with a bead chain swivel in the middle and a lure that imparts action such as the SpinFish or Brad’s Cut Plug. But don’t overlook the tube fly or even the squid skirt with the addition of a Wiggle Hootchie Bill. These small plastic bills from Mack’s Lure are simple to use; just slide it down the leader to the head of the squid skirt and push it into the collar. If using a tube fly then adding a bobber stop knot or rubber bobber stop to the front of the bill will keep it tight to the fly. The Wiggle Hootchie Bill acts much like the bill on a plug but instead of creating a diving motion is moves the lure in a side-to-side and erratic motion. They also come in various colors and are UV treated to add even more visual attraction.
Do It With Downriggers
Coho are known for their acrobatic fights, often coming right up to the surface and jumping but a dodger or flasher can take away from the fight and even become a problem when the fish jumps. The attractor breaks the surface of the water pulling in an opposite direction and sometimes takes the hooks with it.
When using downriggers you can rig it in a way that the dodger or flasher stays with the downrigger ball and you get to fight the fish without any extra drag on the line. To do this either use one of the lures with action or the added Wiggle Hootchie Bill. Then attach it to the downrigger clip above the ball. A short section of chord or very stout mono line such as 50-pound test from the flasher or dodger attached to the downrigger ball works best (set the downrigger clip twice the length of the chord above the ball). This means if you run the dodger or flasher behind the downrigger ball 36 inches then set the downrigger clip 72 inches, or 6 feet, above the downrigger ball. Then run your lure back just a few feet from the clip. This will keep your lure from tangling with the flasher or dodger and yet when the salmon sees the attractor it will look like the baitfish got away and will grab the lure. This works really well with plug-cut herring or an anchovy with a bait hood as well as lures that don’t need the imparted action of a dodger or flasher. One other great trick when using this way of fishing is to use the Scent Flash triangle flasher from Mack’s Lure as these flashers are designed to hold scents inside of them. As the triangle flasher spins it creates a very large scent cone dispersing the scent. When using these you don’t need to use a leader or chord but instead can attach it directly to the downrigger ball which means you can also keep your lure a lot closer to it as well.
Know Where to Fish
Run timing and knowing which fish you are targeting will lead to more fish. Ocean coho are found all along the coastlines from Oregon to Alaska and the feeding fish will often work along the shoreline. Feeding on herring, candlefish, anchovies and various other prey in the kelp beds and protected waters around islands. Look to the rocky breaks often found just offshore and find the coho. Even when out in the open ocean where the fish will form large schools to travel from their feeding grounds to the rivers each fall the fish will still be “shallow”. Not the depth of the water but where they are in the water, meaning closer to the top.
Last September myself and a couple friends found ourselves in the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Vancouver Island and Washington state. Motoring out to 500 feet of water we dropped the gear down 30 feet and immediately began catching coho. We trolled and hooked fish after fish but once the sun came up high into the sky we lost the bite. In reality we lost the fish. Instead of trying to search for the coho we thought the fish simply went deeper but instead of catching coho we began catching chinook. This went on for an hour and I finally noticed a flotilla of boats about a mile to the east. Pulling gear and running back over to where we started that morning we dropped the gear down 30 feet and once again began catching coho.
Fall is prime time for ocean coho but weather and fishing seasons can keep you away from the coho at the height of the run. This is where resident coho fishing can produce a fishery for the avid angler. Puget Sound and the various inlets around Vancouver Island offer coho that don’t head out to far away feeding grounds but instead live “inside.” Starting in May and all through the summer resident coho fishing is really good. Using the same techniques as fall fish the angler can perfect their coho set-ups. Look for points along the shoreline as silvers tend to use them as tide breaks that will harbor baitfish. Where you find resident coho you will also find ocean bound fish once they return. This is where you want to be when the runs start to show up in August and continue to flood in through October.
With a large return of coho predicted for this fall give these tips and tricks a try to catch more silvers. ssj