Three top gear combos for Puget Sound Blackmouth. by Rob Endsley
Winter blackmouth season is upon us here in Puget Sound and it’s time to talk about a few lethal rigs to catch these immature king salmon. In addition to fishing bait like herring or anchovies, blackmouth are also suckers for spoons and hoochies like the Ace Hi fly. In the winter and early spring months the bait size in Puget Sound is generally a lot smaller than during the summer months and “matching the hatch” can be critical to getting these immature chinook salmon to bite. Small herring, sand lance, and hooligans make up the bulk of the baitfish in the sound during the winter blackmouth season and lure’s and baits should be sized to match what’s on the menu.
Flasher/Ace Hi Needlefish Combo
This is a go-to rig anytime there’s candlefish around and can work well in the summer months also for mature kings. I’m a big fan of Luhr Jensen’s “Green Crush” and “Blue Crush” flashers because they have UV on one side and full glow on the other. No matter the light conditions, these flashers will give you some “pop” down on the deck in the blackmouth zone. And in crowded situations where seemingly everyone is running green flashers the ol’ “Blue Crush” can sucker them into biting. Some other flashers that work great for winter blackmouth are the Bon Chovy, Highliner, and Watermark flashers from Gibbs. Regardless of the color, try to find a flasher with both glow and UV on it that works in any lighting condition and you’ll be set.
Any time I’m fishing Ace Hi’s or hoochies I run a minimum of 50-pound fluorocarbon leader. Fluorocarbon is a lot stiffer than monofilament and the combination of that stiffness and the heavier line transmits a lot of action from the flasher back to the Ace Hi. Running a shorter 30” leader helps the flasher impart action on the hoochie and drives blackmouth into biting. These lures don’t impart their own action so you’ve got to get them shakin’ and bakin’ with a flasher. And I wouldn’t worry too much about spooking fish with the heavier leader. If the 11″ flasher doesn’t spook them, the leader sure as heck isn’t going to.
Top, Winter blackmouth are suckers for small profile hardware in the winter months when baitfish are on the small side.
The Ace Hi Needlefish, (below left), is a great lure for imitating candlefish that appear in certain areas in Puget Sound in the early spring.
Adding scent like Downrigger Dynamite (herring, anchovy or shrimp) gel can help seal the deal on winter blackmouth (below center).
Notice the additional bend on the green splatterback Coho Killer (bottom right).
I tie two 3/0 Mustad Ultrapoint hooks back-to-back and very close together for this rig. Next I’ll run four Silver Horde glow beads as spacers to push the hooks toward the back of the Ace Hi “Needlefish”. I like these particular beads because they’re football shaped and it’s takes fewer of them to get the job done. Plus, they glow for days.
The best needlefish colors I’ve found so far have been green splatterback and blue splatterback. The chartreuse, purple, black, and white Ace Hi “Needlefish” patterns work great also though and my comrades do equally well on those colors. And if you ever get into a situation where there’s squid, the orange splatterback pattern in the standard Ace Hi works as a pretty good mimic. I’ve terrorized the kings in the summer months in Alaska on that pattern when they’re gorging on squid and on occasion it will catch Puget Sound blackmouth when the squid are in.
Flasher/Needlefish Spoon Combo
Tom Nelson and I refer to small profile spoons like the Coho Killer, Wee Gee, and Skinny Gee as “fish detectors”. If there’s fish around, no matter what size they are, they will hit these spoons. Like the needlefish pattern mentioned above, these small spoons do a great job of imitating young-of-the-year candlefish and small winter herring. Don’t let the name of the Coho Killer fool you though. This spoon will flat-out murder winter blackmouth and I’ve crushed big summer chinook on this spoon also. The only drawback to these spoons, if there is one, is that all salmon will hit them. If you find yourself in a shaker-fest bump up the spoon size until the little ones leave you alone.
I run a longer 42″ leader of 30- to 40-pound monofilament for this rig because the spoon has its own action and doesn’t need any help from the flasher. The flasher brings ’em in for a look and the action of the spoon out behind the whirling flasher seals the deal. Monofilament is much more limber than fluorocarbon and lets the spoon dance around freely behind the flasher.
These candlefish-imitating lures work pretty good right out of the package but some minor tweaks to these nasty little lures will turn them into a freak show down on the bottom where the blackmouth live. The first thing you want to do is accentuate the bends in the lure. By increasing the lure’s two bends the Coho Killer, in particular, turns into a blur at trolling speeds and this tweak also makes it switch direction every so often. Needle G’s and Skinny G’s from Gibbs Delta are made of a slightly higher gauge metal and bending them can be difficult. You can still increase the bends a bit in them, however, by using plyers with a towel or rag so the finish isn’t scratched.
Next you’ll want to remove the hook from the tail of the Coho Killer or Needle G spoon and add a split ring to the rear hook ring. Then add a swivel and a 4/0 or 5/0 Mustad Open Eye Siwash hook to the split ring. I know this seems like a lot of hook but several years of testing has confirmed that the wider gap of these larger hooks greatly increases the hookup ratio on these small spoons. Increasing the bends on these spoons more than compensates for the weight of the larger hook. Additionally, this setup allows a hooked salmon to twist and turn without applying a bunch of torque to the back of the spoon. Coho Killers are exceptionally lightweight, and the addition of the swivel reduces the chance of seriously damaging the spoon every time a fish is hooked.
The top Coho Killer colors for winter blackmouth are Herring Aid, Irish Cream, Cookies and Cream, White Lightning, Mexican Flag, and the Yellow Tail. In the Gibb’s Delta line, the Bon Chovy, Herring Aid, No Bananas, Paddy Wagon, Trap Shack, and the Outfitter color patterns will get bit. The glow and UV patterns work best in the winter months when blackmouth are hugging the bottom in deep water and the chrome plated patterns seem to work better in the summer when salmon are suspended.
This is the same basic setup as above but with a Kingfisher Lite, G Force, or Coyote spoon as the lure choice. Again, smaller is better and generally the 2.5, 3.0, and the 3.5 model spoons will perform well in the winter and spring months with smaller bait around. As I mentioned earlier, I like a flasher that has both glow and UV properties that will have some attracting power at blackmouth depths. Some of the top players are the Bon Chovy and Highliner flashers from Gibbs and of course the Blue and Green Crush flashers from Luhr Jensen. A flasher that’s really been catching a lot of blackmouth the last few years in Puget Sound are the Pro Troll lighted flashers. We were fishing in the Friday Harbor Salmon Classic this past winter and the only rig that we were catching blackmouth on for two straight days was the one with the Pro Troll blinking flasher. Go figure!
The smaller 2.5, 3.0, and 3.5 spoons do a great job of matching the size of small herring and hooligans in the Puget Sound. Small herring abound in the sound itself and hooligans can be plentiful in the San Juan Islands. Hooligans are small smelt that are between 2″ and 4″ long and blackmouth love them.
The Kingfisher Lite spoons that seem to get bit the most are the Herring Aid, Cookies and Cream, Irish Cream, Mexican Flag, Resurrection, and Yellowtail. In the Gibbs Delta spoon lineup the same color patterns used in the needlefish spoons work on the larger-profile spoons, too. There’s two color patterns that we seem to do well on no matter what though, and that’s the Herring Aid and the Yellowtail. I can honestly fish either one of these spoons colors year-round and catch kings on them.
Like the smaller profile spoons like the Coho Killer or the Skinny Gee, the Kingfisher Lite spoon also swims a little better by accentuating the bends. By adding a little more bend to the front and back of the spoon you can really get these spoons to dance around behind a flasher and get bit.
The Attraction of Scent
Adding some scent to your spoons or hoochies seems to help seal the deal and I’m not sure if you can beat the lineup of scents that Pro Cure has. The new Outdoor Line Downrigger Dynamite gel scent is a proven winner for saltwater salmon and includes UV attractant, herring, anchovy, sardine, and bite stimulants in the form of amino acids.
If I’m putting scent on a flasher I will always apply it to the bottom end of the flasher on the glow side. There’s no sense in dulling down the shiny side of the flasher with a bunch of gel. Herring scent is the name of the game in most situations unless I’m trolling around rocky structure that might hold shrimp. In that case I’ll go with a shrimp-based scent like Pro Cure Shrimp/Krill or Shrimp/Anise. On occasion I’ll cut a small herring strip and add it to the top hook of my hoochie or Ace Hi Fly to make it a little more enticing.
A Note on Shakers
These three rigs will catch blackmouth throughout the Puget Sound and that can include undersize blackmouth, as well. If you continue encountering these small blackmouth either leave the area or switch to bigger gear; 4″ spoons, whole herring, and even 4″ and 5″ plugs will greatly reduce the number of shaker encounters. Not only are we responsible for taking care of the resource but you’re not fishing effectively if you’re towing around a small shaker on your gear all day.
Fish any of these rigs near the bottom where there’s bait and blackmouth around and you’ll catch fish. These are time-tested rigs that have filled plenty of punch cards for both myself and my partner on the Outdoor Line radio show Tom Nelson over the years. ssj