By Jason Brooks
When it comes to summertime it is hard to beat being out on the water and catching some salmon. From Puget Sound to the Brewster Pool of the Columbia River and all waters in-between there are enough places to fish that you could spend each sun-filled day chasing salmon. But before you hit the water it is best to get everything in working condition and prepare for the fishery you are planning on doing this summer. Here are a few things to think about as well as a couple of techniques that you might not know or remember, to help you catch more fish this summer.
Just after the great toilet paper shortage of 2020 and thinking nothing could get worse, now it seems herring is on short supply. Sure, some might think TP is more important but until you head out to catch a few salmon and realize there is no bait then all of a sudden leaves and an old t-shirt become a solution to the previous crisis but how to extend the herring you do have is a quandary. To increase the use of what herring you do find there are a few things that will extend the life of the bait. The first is to brine the herring in Pro-Cure’s Brine-n-Bite which has bait stimulants and preservatives in it. The brine will extend the life of the herring and brighten any bait. Plug cutting green label herring is a staple for anglers, both on the salt and in our rivers such as the famed Buoy 10 fishery. But if you miss-cut the bait and it just doesn’t roll the way it should that could be a wasted herring. Instead use a bait hood such as the ones that just hit the market by Luhr Jensen. The whole bait hoods are easy to use and give that perfect roll. To extend your baits even further use a herring strip, which is a fillet of one side of the bait, and a cut bait hood, again by Luhr Jensen. This gives the flutter of a wounded baitfish and basically doubles the amount of herring you have.
Spoons are a great alternative to bait. One of the hottest colors around is the “herring aide” which is a green, blue and white combination that looks like a small baitfish. Other colors are cop car (black and white) and moon jelly which is a soft metallic blue. Pro-Cure Super Sauce sticks to spoons very well and last a long time. If you want to add another lure to your summer salmon arsenal try the Mack’s Lure Wiggle Hoochie, which is a rubber squid with a special UV enhanced plastic bill that imparts an erratic action.
Both the spoons and the squid baits should be trolled behind a flasher, where the herring should be trolled behind a dodger. The differences in these two attractors is that the dodger does just that, dodges back and forth and the flasher’s rotate which gives off a lot of action and can tear apart real herring baits.
Hooks are often overlooked as an essential part of gear but if you think about it, you can’t catch a fish without them. At the beginning of each season I switch out the hooks to new ones. This is because over time hooks can dull through the process of corrosion. Salt residue left in the tackle box and humidity can create rust and dull sharpened hooks. Gamakatsu just came out with a new straight eye octopus hook which is perfect for tying mooching rigs and trolling herring or other baits. Where treble hooks are allowed, such as on our rivers while pulling plugs, it is wise to add a stout stainless steel swivel between the lure and the treble hook. The main drawback of trebles is that they can work against themselves as a fish thrashes around. If the hook can spin freely then the fish rarely comes off. In Canada, where it is still legal to use barbless treble hooks in the salt water, we fish them often with anchovies and even herring. Using a small size 4 treble means the fish grabs the bait and the hooks grab hold. Rarely do we ever lose fish. As of this writing the final regulations have yet to be published but if they are legal to use in fisheries like the Brewster Pool and Upper Columbia then maybe think about switching out the hooks to smaller trebles, even on your plugs.
Speaking of plugs and other ways to fish without using bait, Yakima Bait Company’s SpinFish is taking the market by storm. This is because they are versatile and can be fished for several different fisheries. For ocean angling the 4-inch version in silver mimics herring and other baitfish and can be stuffed with a variety of attractants. If you do plug cut herring, keep the head and mash them up to stuff into the cavity of the SpinFish or a Brad’s Super Cut Plug.
Rods and reels are often neglected when they should be inspected and re-spooled. Wash the rods completely in hot soapy water to get any old scents and oils off of them, including fish slime. Fishing line isn’t as expensive as losing the fish after you spent money on a motel, gas, food, and launch fee so it is best to replace the line at the beginning of each season. If you replace the line now it should last you all summer. Years ago I made the switch to braid and spool my reels with either 65-pound or 80-pound Suffix 832. This braid has seven strands of HMPE and one strand of GORE ® which means it floats. The reason why I use this brand is because I can buy it in bulk and put it on all of my reels, including the reels I use for float fishing since it floats and is easy to mend. This saves on money and makes things simple for me to rig up. For rods that will be used on downriggers it is best to put a 30 foot “top shot” of heavy monofilament. Usually 30-pound test is strong enough as the rod takes most of the stress when fighting a fish, but sometimes 40-pound test is preferred. The monofilament clips into the downrigger releases easier and stays put and it also helps with switching out gear and acts as a shock absorber since braid has no stretch to it. At the end of each trip it is wise to cut off the top shot and replace it with new line since this is the section that gets abused, twisted, and nicked the most often.
Back to techniques that you should give a try this summer, and one that you might not think of when it comes to the Columbia and that is “hover fishing”. For Upper Columbia summer chinook fishing look to tributaries such as Crab Creek, the Entiat River, and other areas where cooler water is being flushed into the warm Columbia. Hover fishing is very popular in the lower river at such places like the mouth of the Klickitat and Deschutes rivers but is rarely done upriver. This is mostly because anglers are successful trolling plugs and makes for an easy fishery. But a recent conversation with Shane Magnuson of Upper Columbia Guide Service led to hover fishing and he smiled, winked and nodded when asked about this technique for upper river tributary fisheries where they meet the Columbia. The idea here is to use your sonar and find fish that are resting in the cooler water, usually right at the mouth of the tributary. Then hover over them and drop baits, such as cured salmon roe, prawns and coon stripe shrimp, in front of the salmon. The bite is often light as the fish just open their mouths and suck the bait in and let go if they feel tension. You need to be quick on the hookset and use the right gear.
Another technique that has gone by the wayside the past few years is simply pulling deep diving plugs with a dropper weight. It seems everyone is using the new clamshell type lures stuffed with bait. They work great but years ago we caught a lot of fish pulling banana style plugs such as FlatFish, Kwikfish and Brad’s Killer Fish, all in sizes 14 and 15. Wrapped with a sardine or herring fillet but with bait being short you can use the mesh that is used for tuna balls and roe sacs and secure the canned tuna fish brined with some Bloody Tuna bait oils and some stretchy thread to the plug. Depending on current and how deep you are running a dropper from 2-ounces up to 8-ounces might be needed. This allows you to control the depth of the plug and be sure to put it in the zone that you are marking fish. It is a simple way to catch salmon and very fun. Drop the gear overboard, put the rod in the holder and enjoy the scenery as you troll along. This was a very popular way to fish at the mouth of the White Salmon River years ago, as well as behind Wells Dam and everywhere in-between. Don’t overlook this technique this summer as the herring shortage continues.
Summer salmon fishing will be here before we know it. Now is the time to get the gear prepped, and make those plans to get on the water. If you plan on traveling to a far destination then be sure to make those motel reservations now as they will fill up quickly. Last year saw record fishing license sales and this year it will be no different. Expect company but if you plan now you will increase your success.