Coho Know How!

It's the last day of August, Labor Day weekend looming and it's raining like its autumn already.
While some may lament the end of summer, I'm more bummed over the closing of the best Marine Area 9 & 10 selective chinook season in memory but also looking optimistically forward to autumn angling opportunities.

Robbie Tobeck gets in a stance to bonk this double on silvers! 

One look at the forecasts for Puget Sound coho should make you forget all about summer with over 105,000 headed for the Skagit, 31,000 Stillaguamish silvers, the Snohomish chipping in with 124,000 and the mid & south Sound totaling over 200,000 more! That's over 450,000 reasons to get fired up for fall fishing, the upcoming Edmonds Coho Derby and the culmination of the Northwest Salmon Derby Series, The Everett Coho Derby.


Tobeck hoists two chunky coho that would have been a dandy derby day catch! 

In order to get off to a fast fall start on coho, let's talk technique & tackle. I tend to view saltwater coho angling in light of chinook techniques. After all, we spend winter, spring and summer targeting chinook and only get a crack at coho in the fall so it's useful to consider chinook techniques as a "baseline".

Coho are nothing short of metabolic machines and as such, tend to be interested in smaller offerings trolled faster and shallower than their chinook counterparts. We've spent a good part of the summer keeping our gear close to the bottom while running familiar bottom contours. No more! Silvers seemingly avoid structure and have an affinity for the shipping lanes out in the middle of the sound.


Quick, morning limits are often the case when the silvers come streaming in!  

So where do we start our search for silvers?

By looking for Surface activity: Bait jumping, birds working or my personal favorite: tide rips. Generally there is a "dirty side" and a "clean side" of a Puget Sound rip. While trolling, try not to cross the rip and stay on the clean side to minimize gear fouling but don't feel like you have to "rub" the rip. In other words, if you can clearly see the rip, you're close enough!

Kevin Gogan and his daughter Hannah were "close enough" to a tide rip for this limit of silvers! 

 

To place numbers on the other concepts, start fishing at first light with a cut plug herring six feet behind a blaze orange trolling "kidney" or mooching sinker fished twenty "strips" deep (a two-foot pull of line off of your reel is known as a strip) and run a downrigger 40 feet deep. Keep your speeds in the 2.5 to 3.5 mph speed range which should result in a 45 degree downrigger wire angle assuming you're using 12 pound Cannonballs. As the light level increases throughout the day, increase your depths and when you hook up, enter a waypoint into your plotter so you can troll back into the school. Silvers tend to mill around and when you find one, there is sure to be more!

Fairly new to the salmon scene is Brad's Super Bait cut plug. Just open this plug up and fill with oil packed tuna and you're good to go! 

 

Silver Horde's "Coho Killer" have been a winning piece of gear for not only coho but chinook as well! Run these 36 to 40 inches behind a Jim's Breakaway Flasher by QCove and you're in business! 

 

Get out there this late summer and enjoy some of the fastest, wildest salmon fishing of the year! Heck, summer isn't really over…is it????

Sounding the Alarm Once Again

Sometimes I feel like a broken record.  I talk and write all the time about people trying to take away our access as recreational anglers.  Well, once again we need to get involved and become pro-active to save our access to the most precious and productive fishing grounds in the State of Washington.  Hopefully someday, as we become more involved and organized as recreational anglers the state will finally start considering us when it comes to making decisions.  Politicians will start recognizing what an important voting block we are and maybe the WDFW will remember who it was that has fought for them and their budget. If you remember, this last legislative session it was proposed that WDFW to be absorbed by DNR, we were the ones that went to bat for WDFW.  That's what makes this one so frustrating. 

 Last year, newly appointed commissioner David Jennings proposed setting aside Neah Bay as a marine reserve for non-consumptive use.  Commissioner Jennings is a diver and was appointed by Governor Gregoire to represent the wildlife viewing community.  While I certainly do not have issue with recreational divers and people that love to view wildlife in it's natural habitat, I do have issue with people like this that want to take away access to my pastime.  Recreational divers and fisherman have been getting along just fine out at Neah Bay forever and there is no reason for that to change.  Commissioner Jennings proposal to make this area a dive park and use the excuse of threatened rockfish populations to do so is disingenuous at best.  The worst part of all of this is that after this proposal was struck down during the rule making process, WDFW went ahead and formed an ad hoc committee and give this ridiculous idea even more attention.  In a year where the WDFW budget has been cut for the second time in as many years, the department is spending taxpayer money to hold these ridiculous meetings and then put on three public meetings to discuss what options we have.  This is a terrible waste of resources and it is all being done to appease commissioner Jennings. 

The other side of this whole idea of refusing access to the recreational angler that frustrates and angers so many is that the area just saw a reduced bag limit, a limit placed on the number of species that can be retained, and a depth restriction limit that essentially creates an enormous MPA for all waters deeper than 120ft.  These changes to area 4b were just enacted this spring and have not been given time to be evaluated.  That is of course if there really is a need to evaluate this area.  To hear the environmentalist community talk, we are in a major crises and about to loose all populations of fish if we don't do something.  This kind of talk is another tool in the tool box of the environmental community to create an immediate crises that we have to do something about today.  Unfortunately, many people just here some extrapolated facts and buy in without doing any backround or research.  By working the public into a frenzy, these groups derive their funding and moving from one so called "crises" to the next becomes their mission.

Unfortunately, these groups just keep coming at us and we have to stay diligent.  We have to answer the call when called upon.  The goal of many of these organizations is to have 20% of our waters shut off to fishing through a series of MPA's.  The problem is that this proposed closure is not being proposed as a proposed series of anything but a grab of one of the recreational anglers favorite and most productive areas.  

Don't get me wrong, I do believe in conservation and being a responsible steward of our planet.  Nothing makes me more angry than when I see abuses of our natural environment.  That being said, I also believe that our natural resources are here for consumptive uses but if those uses become abusive and limits are in order then so be it.  I can and do support many management methods aimed at recovery.  What I have a hard time with is arbitrary restrictions that are not based on sound science.  These types of management decisions do very little in the way of recovery.  I believe that recovery should be scientifically based and have a scientifically measurable outcome.  I do not believe in doing things for the sake of doing things and hoping it turns out alright.

I do not believe that there has been shown to be a need for a closure in Area 4b.

As mentioned earlier, we have recently seen restrictions added in that area even though it has remained very productive.  The departments evidence is anything but complete or conclusive and more evidence is coming out daily that throws into question any science that is offered.  One recent study shows that in closed areas where lingcod are present, rockfish recovery does not happen due to predation from lingcod.  This is something that has been speculated on with regards to Marine mammals as well.   We also keep hearing about china and tiger rockfish but NOAA just denied a petition by one activists stating that the "petition does not present substantial scientific information".  Another example of incomplete science is the REEF study that is going on in Neah Bay right now.  The department cites information provided by REEF all the time and while I applaud many of the volunteers associated with REEF they are only diving down to 60ft to make population assessments of rockfish in area 4b.  Although valuable to some degree, this does not represent complete science. It will be interesting to see how this information is used in the future. 

We have four options when it comes to Neah Bay Area 4b.  Status Quo and alternatives 1-3. Status-quo still leaves in place the restrictions that were added in the rules proposals this past spring but does nothing else.  Alternative 1 further reduces the bag limit of bottomfish but at least it does close the commercial long line bottomfish fishery.  Alternatives 2 and 3 both include closures throughout Area 4b and severely limit access for recreational anglers. 

What I am asking is that you take the time to email Ami Hollingsworth of WDFW and give written comments on which proposal you would like to see enacted.  I will be requesting that status-quo remain with maybe an add-in from alternative 1 to close the long line fishery. Ami can be reached at Ami.Hollingsworth@dfw.wa.gov and as always be respectful.

 

 

  

Low Tech Silvers

 

With a silver run that's triggered more than a few suicide watches here in Craig the past few weeks the phrases "You can't miss!", and "They were everywhere!" more than jossled my interest when I heard them. Two of the fishing nuts that stay in the RV park that we call home during our Southeast Alaska summer had bagged the saltwater salmon fishing altogether to fish a lake that they raved was "loaded" with chrome brite, sea lice-laden coho.

I've been on my share of wild salmon chases, several in the past week that I'd just as soon forget, but this one didn't involve burning several hundred dollars worth of fuel and it was so simple that if the fish weren't there it wouldn't really matter. The guys were good fisherman and didn't share intel with just any-old-body, so today I grabbed the $25 dollar spinning outfit that our fish cutter Tim's four year old son uses to catch pogies, cod, herring, and anything else that will bite from our dock along with a handful of Vibrax spinners and off I went to check out this lake.

The lake has a USFS cabin on it and two low-sided jon boats were supposedly available to ferry folks who rented the cabin.

After an hour drive, half of which was on a spine-compressing, potholed mountain road I arrived at the lake and sho'nuf…there was a ten foot pram half full of rainwater waiting at a little dock. A small bucket was laying in the bottom of the partially sunken vessel and I didn't hesitate to begin sloshing the water from it.

A rig with Ohio plates was parked in the small lot and before too long I could see them paddling their canoe peacefully around the lake casting spinners. There wasn't a breath of wind and it had been years since I'd heard silence so deafening.  Fish or no fish, this was awesome!

Standing in the calf deep water in the boat I stopped briefly to take in the serenity of it all just in time to see a white-bellied coho rocket from the water, coming down with a "Fa-lop!" on it's side. Another one jumped, and then another…sum bitch…I need to get the water out of this boat NOW!

So much for ambience. I cranked up the RPM's on the human bilge pump, quickly removing enough of the water to make the craft lake-worthy and ran to the Suburban to grab Cael's dock rod.

The silvers were jumping seventy five yards from the dock and I hurriedly pulled on the little oars to join them. One, two, three casts and WHAMO! A chromer ten pound buck blasted the #5 Vibrax and threw water everywhere. This wasn't the typical roll-up-in-the-leader-and-choke-itself-out silver. This puppy was tearing it up, ripping line off the Okuma spinning reel and jumping wildly around the lake.

Still no wind and the only sound was the clanging of my spinner and the spu-looshing of water every time the silver would catch air. This was cool! 

Well, the hot silver played possum just long enough for me to think the fight was over, laying on it's side waiting for the inevitable. He was as good as in the freezer.

I grabbed the line and squared up the sweet spot on his noggin' with the back of my fish knocker and low-and-behold he shot off like a rocket and spit the darned hook, spraying water on me in the process. Ug!

For the next hour I would cast in the general direction of jumpers, only to have them quit jumping…and then start jumping behind me. Some of them would chase the Vibrax all the way to the boat and then turn away. Why didn't I bring along some WD-40? That always works when they do that.

Even though I was prepared for this, I was beginning to wonder if the first fish was just a fluke and the bulk of the coho the guys had been hammering days before had moved on upstream. I kept flogging.

The air was balmy, at least for Alaska, and the lakes surface didn't have a trace of a ripple on it. When I hooked the first silver the lake had a small ripple. Hmmmm!

Two hours later and still nothing to show for it except a few chasers and a nice day on the water. I could see a squall across the lake moving my way and within ten minutes it was beginning to rain and the wind was picking up. I rowed back across the cove and set up for another drift, hoping the wind chop would trigger the bite.

That was the ticket! In the next four drifts I hooked ten silvers and landed five of them. All of the fish were between six and ten pounds and fought exactly like the first fish I lost. 

No side-scanning sonar, babbling VHF radios, or stubborn kicker motors to worry about. I was in a loaner skiff on a remote lake in Alaska catching hot silvers on a cheapo spinning rod by myself and having a ball!

With one more fish to go to get my limit of six silvers a white USFS Dodge pickup pulled down the ramp and a gal hollered across the water to me. "Hey buddy…we need to use the skiff to get to our cabin so we can cut some firewood."

"Ok…just one more cast," was my impish reply.

Another chrome missle slashed at my spinner just before I lifted it from the water on that "last cast" and hard as it was I put the rod down and rowed the pram to the ramp.

The two gals that worked for the Forest Service were nice as can be and apologized for hussling me off the water, but they had to get a mess of firewood chopped up that afternoon for a group that was using the cabin the next day. I politely sloshed the remaining bloodied water from the bottom of the boat before they loaded chainsaws, splitting mauls and equipment into the craft.

As I snapped a quick photo of my catch on the nearby beach I watched in admiration as one of them straight-armed the fifteen horsepower Mercury outboard onto the back of the boat. These Alaskan women are alright!

I ran my fish down to our dock back in Tough-Town to fillet them up and met one of our running mates as he was pulling in to drop off their days catch for Tim to process. They had ran ten miles offshore and managed to catch only four cohos.

Today was a good day!

 

 

 

 

   

Did I Lose My Keys?

By Jeff Lund. In the rush to join Ryan, Josh, Eli and Nate, I frantically threw two bottles of water into my pack that was already stuffed under the bungee hold on the front of the kayak.

I saw Josh casting, Eli smiling, Ryan drifting and Nate launching. What I didn’t see was my keys slip from my hand and fall into the boot-tilled mud and knee high grass of the shore.

I pushed off and acclimated myself to the seated position for the eight mile drift down the Thorne River. Josh and Ryan were using sit on top kayaks, while the Eli, Nate and I were sitting in. I was a little jealous.

I was borrowing my moms basic purple kayak meant for slow-moving, recreational use. I thought about the possibility of flipping, I didn’t think about my keys.

The river was low, because of intensely beautiful afternoons like the one in which we drifted. The few happy clouds that showed up wanted more to be a part of such a day, rather than ruin it.

It became evident pretty early that until we reached the split just above the fishing spot we call “the pinch”, that there wouldn’t be any water calm enough to toss a lure. The brave salmon that weren’t waiting for nightfall or a little swell in the flow to head up the shallow lazy ripples that would qualify as Class .3 rapids, did nothing more than scare Eli.

With the pool above the pinch in view, I slowed and casted for the rainbows and cutthroats that I knew lived in the backside water of the split. The guys powered on into the big pool while I lingered.

I expected a trout, but instead was almost flipped by the hellish rip of a shaking head on the end of my line. The salmon left the water pretty acrobatically rhythmic, for being in absolute panic.

The guys turned just the fish turned me so that I was facing up river, unable to see the rocks and the shallow bar I was approaching. The fish then ran down river behind me, pulling my kayak backward as I raised my arms and reached behind my head. To fight the fish.

It turned again and ran close enough on port side for the fishing line to knock my paddle from its precarious resting position.

Rather than fight the fish with only one hand, I let the paddle drift away then grabbed my alder fish club. I brained it once, it swam under the hull, then back and I finished it off. With the dead weight floating in the water, I then looked for my paddle all while drifting backward toward the pinch which squeezed the river through a space a quarter of its size. Hence the name.

Since Nate was tying on a new lure and still laughing, it was up to Josh to retrieve my paddle and get me facing back down river.

Down the pinch and under the bridge we fished, maneuvering our kayaks out of the now swifter and deeper current.

I took pictures and video with my camera then for whatever reason, checked my port side pocket for my keys. They weren’t there.

As Ryan lost his fish at The Spot where Scott, Dale, Brian and I had harvested plenty of fish the week before, I pulled onto shore and checked all my gear. No keys.

Four days before I was supposed to start my drive back to Manteca, I didn’t have keys to start the truck that was parked by the side of a road near a river on an island in Alaska.

Nate had been in my backpack to get swivels, but there was no way he wouldn’t have noticed a set of keys on a lanyard drop into the water. Right? He is an observant guy, and the only one that didn’t hit his head when we went hiking around in the limestone caves on the island.

We kept drifting, everyone aware of the predicament, but having too much fun to really care. Luckily Josh hooked a coho a few pounds smaller than mine, and since I was moving quicker, I was able to take out some frustration in the form of a float-by clubbing of his fish. I felt a little better, but still had no keys. I tried not to let it bother me, but this changed the entire summer. If my landlord overnighted me keys, they would get to Anchorage in a day, then get sent regular mail from there. Thats how things get expedited to islands in Alaska. I wouldn’t even be able to drive my truck until after I was supposed to leave.

Nate tried to cheer me up by letting the quickest rapids take him into thorny bushes hanging over a cut bank, and we all continued fishing for the next five miles as the river widened in the tidal shallows and the sun turned the sky orange behind us.

But its hard to completely remove something like losing your keys somewhere in an Alaskan river completely from mind.

Three hours after I dropped my keys in the mud, we had arrived at the shore near Thorne Bay. Carrying the kayaks up to the trailer was pretty easy since we lad lost feeling in our arms a few miles up river.

We drove back up river a bit to our campsite which Josh, Eli and Ryan set up while Nate and I headed back to find my keys, in clear view right where I had launched.

All was well.

We returned to camp, Josh perfectly filleted our fish in the dark and we ate fresh salmon, river side with our fingers, and every couple minutes, I touched my pocket, feeling for keys.

Jeff Lund
Teacher/Freelance Writer
Manteca, CA

"Its the coming back, the return which gives meaning to the going forth. We really don't know where we've been until we've come back to where we were. Only, where we were may not be as it was, because of whom we've become. Which, after all, is why we left." – Bernard Stevens  Northern Exposure
 

…And I Thought I Knew How To Take A Picture..

Every now and then you're asked to do something that, well, you've never thought about doing before.

Such was the case when the phone rang last spring and Cannon product manager Dave Maryanov said:

"Hey Tom, what do you think about having us out to the Puget Sound area this summer to shoot our new catalog featuring our new downriggers."

For a Great Lakes based company to come all the way out to the Pacific Northwest for a photo shoot is a major undertaking and speaks to the regard they hold for the Washington State market.

"Dave,  I think that's a great idea!" I responded…. And then, the work began…

The logistics of organizing five boats, operators, "talent",  and accommodations,  not to mention tow vehicles, arranging locations and rigging the boats was overwhelming to say the least.
Fortunately, I had help in the form of Jeff Lalone of Bayside Marine, Glen Wooldridge and Rob Hyatt of Wooldridge Boats, Marty Smith of Stabicraft USA and Larry Carpenter of Master Marine. Without these guys rigging and providing boats and tow rigs, there is no way that we could have pulled this shoot off!


Product in the form of downriggers, mounts and apparel began arriving on my doorstep and I became a "delivery boy" of sorts getting the appropriate gear to the right place at the right time.

It was only when the Cannon entourage arrived that I began to understand that I was providing a canvas on which some truly talented, hard working guys were about to paint.

The photo crew's equipment alone was impressive. Here is a waterproof "fisheye" housing being readied for action… 

…and here is the shot that was the result… pretty impressive…

 

Here's some more "fruit of the fisheye lens": For this shot, the photographer leans over the gunnel and immerses the camera partially underwater… not gonna do that with my camera…!!!

 

My fishing buddy and "male fishing model" Phil Michelsen takes direction (Yes, there was a director) as the photographer gets soaked on the swimstep, waiting for Phil to behave…

 

Cannon's new lineup is as functional as they are photogenic. The rod holders are repositioned to the sides and the side plates are removable for maintenance and an easy swap out of the entire spool!

 

Re-designed keypads bring all Cannon's functions to your fingertips and are backlit so they are easier to see in low light conditions as well!

 

Robbie Tobeck got into the act on the last day of the shoot. Here's a shot of his boat "The SalmonHawk" skipping across Rosario Strait on our way to yet another scenic location.

Look for the new Cannon line-up to make it's debut this show season and in stores by spring 2011. Cannon has made significant upgrades to their entire line along with a kick-butt track system for their downrigger mounts and rod holders. Just one more reason to get fired up about next year!

Tournament Weekend

Whether you are a salmon fisherman or a tunaholic, this past weekend presented plenty of opportunity to get out on the water and go chase some fish.  With great weather and reports of people catching fish from Area 11 on down the coast to Oregon, the only way for things to get any better would be to add a little competition in the mix.  For salmon fisherman that opportunity came down in Area 11 at the 15th annual PSA Gig Harbor Derby.  Top Honors was taken by John Schauble with a 24.42 pound fish with the top team being Team 4 Wheel Parts with 30.89 total weight. 

Top Twenty Finishers


1. John Schauble  24.42
2. Travis Hofland 22.20
3. Paul Barwick 19.79
4. Duston Anderson 18.65
5. Jeff Beatty 17.65
6. Don Mooney 17.19
7. Kerry Allen 16.63
8. Christian Bakken 16.54
9. Jon Reed 16.12
10. Pete Rapozo 16.011.
11. Sharon Pendargaspt 15.74
12. Ron Hunt 15.60
13. Thor Johannesen 15.22
14. Bill Coombs 15.00
15. Bart Mahuoh 14.75
16. Terry Ness 14.54
17. Branden Taylor 14.45
18. Ron Sulkosky 13.95
19. Norine Keizer 13.88
20. Jim Holly 13.21

Capt. John Keizer of Salt Patrol with the winner and a nice big check!

 On the Tuna front, the Oregon Tuna Classic had their Charleston/Coos Bay event.  Below is a re-cap of that event from Del Stephens OTC Chairman.

Fishing the northwest you have to be hardy but to fish the Oregon Tuna Classic this year you also have to be patient and wait for Saturday morning.
When teams rolled into Charleston/ Coos Bay for the third leg of the tournament series they quickly heard about the bar restriction limiting boats 40 foot and under to crossing the bar. Later that evening, during the captains meeting, most everyone was anxious to hear what the Coast Guard had to say about the prediction for Saturday morning. The message… “better get out there early before the ebb gets going strong” and early it was when 44 teams crossed a flat bar in the dark, well before daylight, and waited while roll call was repeated numerous times. It was just breaking daylight when all the boats finished checking in and the Coast Guard was told to shoot the flare sending teams west in search of warm water and hopefully a few fat tuna.
At the end of the day 37 teams weighed in 4045 pounds of tuna at the Mill Casino where a large crowd of spectators and teams watched as the weights were called out by Mike “The Bear” from KDOCK radio. An additional 2,100 pounds of extra fish was also donated taking the total well over 6,145 pounds of fresh tuna going into the community food banks along the south coast.
Team Wildcat made their second appearance on the podium for this venue by taking the top honors with a 33 pound brute that pushed them well over the other teams with a five fish total of 131.10 pounds. They also won the Big Fish pot which paid out $750 on top of the $3,000 first place prize money. Second place honors went to another new team to the tournaments this year by Team Chillabit with 124.15 pounds. Team Gales Creek Tuna Gafers secured the third place spot with 118.45 pounds giving them another podium placement for the season. The third place through sixth place teams were only separated by .9 pounds causing a close call for a few teams including mine for missing the podium by less than a pound.
The leader in the points standings for the official invite to the IGFA Offshore World Championships is now Team Just Keep Fishing followed closely by Team Green Lightning Laundry and Team Gales Creek Tuna Gafers. Although anyone of the next three teams, Team Chillabit, Team Wildcat and Team Daiwa “Bad To The Bone” are not far behind the leaders and could steal it away if the leaders fail to score very well going into the season finale in Garibaldi in two weeks.
Captain Tred Barta will be there to film the event for his award winning show “The Best and Worst of Tred Barta” and will have the honors of crowning the season champion and hand out the official invite to the IGFA Offshore World Championships to be held next May in Cabo San Lucas.
This event draws close to 700 people and it should be a good time as we close the season on another tournament year. This event is the final push to generate funds for the food banks and will have a silent as well as live auction with a lot of great items. You don’t have to be part of a team to join us for dinner and enjoy the evening.
See you in two weeks when we roll into Garibaldi for the fourth and final leg of the tournament series.
Hope to see you there.


Del Stephens
OTC Chairman

2010 Alaska Charter Season, The Little Things

With two more groups and a little over one more week of fishing for us here in Craig, Alaska I've got a few minutes to reflect on some of the little things that have made our season here a successful one. Much like Nelly's astounding king salmon success in the Puget Sound recently, it's the attention to detail that puts fish in the boat when things get a little squirrely.

Electronics 

This is what a 26 pound king salmon looks like on the Lowrance Broadband Sonar. This one was on ice shortly after this photo was taken!  

I've written about this before and here it is again folks. Anyone that's fished with me here in Alaska knows that I'm glued to the Lowrance broadband sonar like a little kid watching Sponge Bob Square Pants. The broadband paints a clear picture of what's happening under the boat and you can bet I'm constantly telling my customers what depth to place their baits as fish pass by. 

Three days ago was a prime example of how well this works. I made two passes thru the prime part of one of our local king salmon haunts and outside of an occasional tumbleweed the screen was blankola. Then it happened…"School of kings at fifteen feet guys!" Using line counter reels Chris, Jerry, and Milo quickly adjusted their cut plug herring to fifteen feet and it was on like Donkey Kong!

All three rods lit up instantly and we had king salmon running everywhere. One popped off fairly quickly and the other two, 26 and 39 pounders, streaked off around the bay smoking 25 pound mainline off the reels. As those fish tore it up I quickly rebaited the third rod three times and Chris got bit every time he dropped, missing three more bites until we finally had to spin the boat and move off the fish to avoid losing one of the chromers in the kelp.

Some days it happens like this and on other days my guests might hear me say "There's a king at 70 feet", or "Marked some fish on the bottom guys." Carpet-bomb four baits into the depth the fish are holding at and a hookup will often occur. Pay attention to the small details, namely the sonar in this case, and what could have been a marginal day is suddenly a successful one.

Structure Scan 

I added the Structure Scan to my Lowrance HDS this summer and it's saved my bacon on more than one occasion. Most of the salmon areas we fish here in Southeast Alaska have a main drag, the area where fish are most likely to be holding. The broadband sonar gives a stupid-clear picture of what's under the boat, but if the bait and fish aren't on Main Street, which as we all know is sometimes the case, you can dial in the fish-holding hot zone in a snap with the Structure Scan. This puppy looks up to 200 feet on both sides of the boat.

One day this summer will be burned into my mental hard drive forever. We had scratched around all morning for one 26 pound king salmon and two coho's and at 11:00 a.m. I decided to pick up and run twelve miles to an area that had produced some great silver action several days before. The area had been dry since then, however, and I knew it was a bit of a gamble.

We pulled into the gut of the run and the broadband sonar screen was full of…tumbleweeds! Nada, zilch, zippo!

On the Structure Scan, however, was a much different picture. A hundred feet inside of where we were drifting, alongside the kelp in 45 feet of water, was a mass of baitfish that couldn't be missed on the Lowrance unit. We slid over into the shallow water where the bait was tucked up along the kelp and schwacked on salmon and halibut for a little over two hours. Details, details!

Hooks and Line

I made the switch to using Mustad hooks exclusively this year and I'm very happy with them. The Ultra Point octopus hooks are ultra sticky-sharp right out of the package, which is a requirement on the salmon mooching grounds. It's important that the hook "sticks" the fish on the first "chomp, chomp" and the 2X strong hooks are strong enough to land just about anything that comes their way. We've landed halibut up to 120 pounds this summer on these hooks!

I've been super happy with Stren "Hi Impact" line the last two years, using it almost exclusively on all of our mooching reels. I say "almost" because we've been trying out Berkley's new Transoptic Line on a few of our reels this summer and it's also performing very well. Transoptic is high-visibility above the surface and disappears once it goes under water and it's got the same toughness-factor as the Hi Impact. Both are very good products!

Staying Comfortable

Hoisting a 43 pound king salmon in my daily office attire. 

Take a look around both the charter the commercial fishing fleets here in Craig and you'll see a common sight, Grundens! We all wear Grunden's gear because it's designed to keep you working in any weather Mother Nature can dish out. I wear a Windjammer hooded fleece jacket on rainy, drizzly days and when the going get's tough I jump into a 2X tall Griggs jacket that's both tough and comfortable. The Grunden's Griggs bibs…I wear them every day. 

Another one of their products that I've worn every single day this summer are Goat's Feet. A contractor friend, Jim "Bucket" Heins from Jennings & Heins General Contractors in Poulsbo, Washington was wearing them a couple years ago when he fished with me and I figured if a big, tough guy like him is wearing fleece socks they must be alright.

What are Goats Feet? They are extra-tall fleece socks that fold over the top of Extra Tuff's or other workin' mans boots so they don't fall down during a day of hard work. Trust me on this one…they are Uber-comfy! 

Sunglasses 

Polarized sunglasses are an important fishing tool that is often overlooked by fisherman. Here in Alaska, where it can be rainy and damp much of the time, I wear Costa "Brine" model sunglasses with copper 580 glass lenses. They are vented on the sides to reduce fogging and the copper lenses are just the right tint to see clearly on both rainy or sunny days on the ocean. They also work great on the river for salmon, steelhead, and trout fishing. 

In addition to the Brine's I also have a pair of Costa Tripletail 580's in blue mirror that I wear when I'm fishing the bluewater. The blue mirror is the ultimate lens for cutting glare on bright and sunny days close to the Equator or anywhere on the ocean for that matter. 

These are just a few of the things that make my job a lot easier here in Alaska. I'll be immersed in our fishery here for one more week and then…well, I'll be thinking about fishing in Washington again. I can't help it!    

These Boys are Good

One of the great joys that I have as a fisherman is sharing that passion with my two sons Mason and Madden.  As many may already know, these boys are pretty darn good fisherman and maybe just too darn good.  This past weekend they both had the chance to travel to Sitka and fish.  After just one day of fishing they both beat their dad's personal best's.  Mason caught a 110lb halibut and Madden caught a 38lb king.  While I am very proud of both of them, I have to admit it's a little tough as the "old man" hearing the boys tell you how much better they are than you and that they beat you and your best.  Aren't they supposed to wait a few years before they start out classing dad?  Don't get me wrong, I knew this day was coming, I just wasn't ready for it to happen this week.  Instead of the boys shooting to beat dad, it's dad that is shooting to beat the boys.  Oh well, I guess that's nature's way, I sure am proud of these two young men and now I have something to shoot for.

 

Mason with a halibut to make dad jealous.

Madden said the king almost jumped in the boat before it took off on a long run.

Confessions of a Tuna Addict

By Bear Holmes

Hatchery Trout… innocent fun or gateway fish?

Del Stephens’ blog on Tuna Addition, combined with fishing the OTC with the Tobecks last weekend, got me thinking about how I became a Tuna Addict.
It started out innocently enough… fishing for hatchery trout with Dad and Grandpa off the bank at Lake of the Woods.  Pretty soon it was boat fishing for bass and catfish, then a bigger boat for rockfish and lingcod, then still a bigger boat for salmon and halibut and before you know it bam! Hooked on tuna. 

It’s the same old story, you do it because your friends do it or try it once just to see what it’s like but pretty soon it’s more, bigger, better and then you can’t wait for the next “trip”.  You start hanging around with the wrong crowd; guys with names like “Tuna Dog”, “Tower Todd”, “Cornfed”, “Marlin Mike”.  Before too long you are buying all kinds of tuna paraphernalia and spending 25 bucks for a scoop of “chovies” just to support your habit.

Hi, my name is Bear and I’m a tunaholic.

In 2006, peer pressure lead me down the garden path to Westport.  In spite of the fact that I knew several of my friends had become addicted I thought “What the heck, I’ll just take one trip to see what it’s like.”  At the time, I honestly told my wife “Don’t worry, it’s just one trip and I can handle it.”  Well, like many others before me, after experiencing a wide-open full-on bait stop I was hooked and I’ve been looking for the next trip ever since.  One year I postponed rotator cuff surgery in order to take a tuna trip; you can have surgery anytime, but tuna are only around July-October. 

And so it goes… you forsake your health and your family and pretty soon you’re taking days off work, calling in sick, buying “tuna clones” and arguing about which will give you a bigger rush, 50 pounds of Alaskan Chinook or 30 pounds of Westport Albacore.

Last year I was fortunate enough to get an invitation to fish with Rob Tobeck and his sons Mason and Madden aboard the Salmonhawk.  I really enjoy fishing with the Tobecks.  First, they are fun to be around; the boys have inherited their dad’s sense of humor and they truly enjoy each other’s company and I enjoy their company too.  Second, they are all excellent fishermen; the boys would easily out fish most of my adult friends.  And Rob is an experienced skipper with great equipment; the Salmonhawk is a well maintained 30’X10’6” Seaswirl and is the right tool for the job and the twin 250 Yamahas get you there (and back) in a hurry and all of his gear is first rate.  Short story… we went 21 for 24 and had a great time… the addition grows…

That brings us to this year…

I was blown away when the Tobecks invited me to fish with them as a member of Team Outdoor Line in the 2010 Oregon Tuna Classic last weekend.  I knew Del Stephens and his lovely wife Weddy and a team of volunteers put on a first class event and I could hardly wait.  Rob had been waiting for a tuna fix since his last trip of last season and he’s been talking tuna nonstop all winter and spring (just ask Nelly).  And I’m just as bad; every time I get an email from Rob with “tuna” in the subject line my heart rate goes up 20 beats a minute.

Here’s the Salmonhawk on the road to ruin.

The OTC started out at the Port of Ilwaco with a meeting and social hour Friday night and we saw all the usual suspects including Captain John and the Salt Patrol and ran into Matt Olson from CCA.  
   

A lot was said at the meeting, but we only heard two things: 1. Del Stephens: “There are tuna out there and they are hungry” and 2. Coast Guard spokesmen: “It looks like it’s going to lay down for you folks tomorrow”.

Off to bed with dreams of tuna dancing in our heads… very little sleep anticipating the next day’s event made morning come early.  Down to the boat at 4:30 to set out the rods and prepare the boat for the 6:00 shotgun start.  We just got started setting out gear when the cabin lights started flickering… hmmm… electrical problems on a boat are never a good thing; a quick look at the situation discovered a wiring issue which caused us to postpone our start.  We quickly analyzed the problem as minor and limited to the low voltage side of the shore power battery charger that luckily had zero affect on the boat operation,  so off to the bait dock for a couple of scoops of anchovies.

We missed the 6:00 shotgun start but we caught up and passed a couple of the slower boats and hit the first stop just before 8:00.  Having fished as a team the year before, we have a system… I drive the boat on troll, Rob and 14 year old Mason put out the troll rods and 10 year old Madden waits for the first rod to go off… he gets the first fish.  Just got the gear out and wham! Fish on!  Everyone springs into action, Madden on the troll rod, Rob starts clearing troll lines barking orders (sounds a little like Holmgren) “Mason, get out the chum and get on a jig rod” and “Bear! get out the swim baits” and “Madden, when you rest the fish rests… keep after it son!”  Rob quickly joins the show but no action.  Madden does a great job of getting a nice albie to the gaff and we have our first fish in the box at 8:04… things are looking up.  Coach Rob thinks about the electrical problem and reminds us it’s not how you start but how you finish.

Time passes and we pick up another single around 9:00 and lose a couple on swim baits and jigs.  Pick up one more single and lose a few more fish… dang!  It is very unusual for this crew to lose fish and we really don’t know why but later find out other proficient fishermen had the same problem. 

The day winds down but it was desolate out there; nothing… no birds, no jumpers, nothing on the troll rods… zero, zip, nada.  Things are looking pretty dismal by 1:30 with only 3 fish in the box for 5 fish total weight contest.  Rob announces “It’s the fourth quarter boys, we gotta get going.”  At 2:00 he says “We need a Hail Mary”.  I look out and it is flat calm I see a slight temperature increase from 57.7 to 57.8 then 57.9 and then 58 degrees and I have a good feeling.  Then it happens, one of the troll rods goes off and again we jump into action.  I grab the troll rod and Mason starts jigging and Madden flings swim baits, then Rob jumps in and it’s what tuna junkies live for…  per pandemonium.  I land the troll fish and grab a swim bait rod and I’m hooked up again, Mason is putting on a jig rod seminar and Madden is hooked up on a swim bait Rob’s got a jig rod hook up and in short order go we 6 for 8… nine fish in the box at 2:30 and we are an hour and a half from the finish line with a 4:00 deadline.  Stow the rods, pack the fish on ice and it’s Hammer Down! 

Running along at WOT one of the 250hp Yamahas started to surge… dang!  We throttle back and decide we need to change the fuel filter… Rob says he changed them last week and decides we don’t have time to do it again and off we go.  It turns out to be the right decision as the motor smoothes right out and never misses a beat for the rest of the weekend.  Luckily a fairly smooth bar crossing, followed by a questionable ride through the “No Wake Zone” at the Coast Guard Station but we get through unscathed and check in at the finish line at 3:54.  High fives all around… what a rush.

There were 80 entries total, 67 answered the 6:00 roll call and 49 checked in fish.  We ended up 19th with a total weight of 110.6 pounds for our five largest fish.  We were less than three pounds out of the top 10 and less than 16 pounds out of the lead.  Like many others, just a couple of good fish away from glory, but that’s the way it goes. 

We went out Sunday and again started slow but Captain Rob made a good call to move to another location and it was on; all of our fish were bigger than the ones we weighed in the day before.  We actually had to leave a wide open bite due to the hour and a half run in plus a four hour road trip home.

I had a great time and had a few firsts, first time I fished in a tuna tournament, first time fishing an IGFA event, first tuna on a swim bait, first tuna on a spinning rod.  If you’ve never caught a tuna on a spinning rod, it’s a blast.  I actually caught several over the two days on spinning gear and I really enjoyed the CCA branded FethaStyx Big Game casting rod.   I found it to be an excellent rod with a super strong back bone and a light enough tip to get some good distance and action when flinging swim baits but you do pay for the lighter tip on the larger albies. 

Mason (AKA ‘Donut Boy’) is the jig master and had more hookups than anyone.  Here he is contemplating another donut.

 

Young  Madden put on a swim bait clinic on Sunday.  Slightly short of his smack talking predication of 20 swim bait fish for the weekend, he hooked an impressive 5 fish at the last stop alone.
 

If you ever get the chance to tuna fish with the Tobecks… do it.  One word of caution… other than the addiction…  be prepared to do some reeling; first, Captain Rob will put you on fish and second, the boys will only grab a troll rod if they are ordered to; they much prefer to let the guest reel in 350 yards on the spooled reel while they grab the jig and swim bait fish.  Like I said, they are good fishermen… and smart too. 
 

 

So… all you dads, uncles, brothers, grandpas and friends out there ask yourself this question… “Do friends let friends tuna fish?”  Think about it…  In the meantime I have to go check Terrifin SST…

Plug Primer!

Ok, so maybe it's a little late in chinook season for an in-depth plug drill but it's only early August and there are still kings to be caught so… Let's get pluggin'!

When we talk about salmon trolling plugs off of the Cannon Downriggers we need to draw some distinctions between flasher gear and the plug.

In general, the plug is fished by itself, 40 or 50 feet behind the release, tied directly to your mainline (without a swivel as plugs do not spin).

In contrast, A flasher is fished with a spoon, squid, or fly, 10 to 20 feet behind the release and a bead chain or ball bearing snap swivel is a must.

Salmon plugs are buoyant and they have the ability to dive.  As your trolling path turns, speed over ground decreases and the plug rises in the water column. When you straighten out your course, trolling speed increases and the plug dives deeper. This vertical component to the trolling plug is an under-rated aspect to the plug that has the ability to provoke a strike from a finicky chinook!

To get the lowdown on plugs  I went directly to the source, namely Silver Horde Inc. in Lynnwood, Washington (Silverhorde.com) Kelly Morrison is a second generation salmon lure manufacturer and some of his innovations are catching salmon this season from California north to Alaska and east to the Great Lakes.

The slip harness plug is two pieces and the way the halves come together often determines how the plug fishes. 

 

To fish the slip harness plug legally in Washington waters you must remove the treble hooks and replace with one or two single hooks. In this case we have a single siwash replacement hook. Note the addition of a barrel swivel and the use of a four-bead chain in the lower siwash harness. The barrel swivel easily accomodates an open-eye siwash and the four bead chain fits neatly and completely inside the plug, enhancing it's action! 

 

The Silver Horde "Ace Hi" Plug has a fixed keyway and has a more erratic, diving action than its concave face slip harness plug counterpart. 

 

These plugs await final inspection and rigging prior to packaging.

 

Silver Horde Ace Hi 5" plugs on the left and  5" Canadian Tomic  plugs on the right. Note the solid keyway on the Silver Hordes that grabs more water than the wire loop of the Tomic. 

 

Tie directly to the welded eye of the Ace Hi and directly to the wire loop of the Tomic. No snap swivels…Please!!! 

 

Five inch plugs are great imitations of five inch herring and this chinook couldn't tell the difference! 

 

I know several fine salmon anglers who always have a plug fishing, winter or summer. Once the coho start to show I will leave the plugs in the box for a while but until then… Plug baby PLUG!