Seven Ways To Get Your Salmon Season Off to a Swift Start!

By Tom Nelson

Well, “show season” aka “winter” is fast fading in the rear view mirror and after several full days of seeing the latest and greatest the fishing industry 2017 has to offer, I’ve boiled down the vast array of choices to these top of the line items that will get you off on the right fishy foot this season!

Daiwa Four-Carrier J Braid: A whole lot of anglers who’s opinions I sincerely respect are moving toward a spool of 65lb braid with a 20-foot top shot of 25 lb test mono for their mooching and trolling reels. The Daiwa J Braid in particular has less flexibility and stretch than most braids and more abrasion resistance making it a great choice for salt or river salmon fisheries!

Silver Horde’s Two Face Spoons: Kelly Morrison of SIlver Horde noticed that most of the “hot spoons” that anglers had the pleasure of fishing have had one thing in common: some type of paint finish on the “back” or concave side. Silver Horde has capitalized on this trend by finishing both sides of the very popular -and effective- Kingfisher Lite and Coho Killer series of lightweight trolling spoons.

CANNON Terminator Kit: Are you still carrying around a box of crimps and a pair of specialty pliers that you rarely use for anything else? Here’s the thing: as soon as you crimp your cable, you’ve damaged it and the clock is ticking. Here come the wire frays and then “POP” another expensive ball, release and rigging has just become habitat. With Cannon’s nylon Terminator, the wire is cushioned in the channel of the loom and you’ll enjoy significantly longer wire life, saving you money and fishing time!

Pro-Cure Downrigger Dynamite: There’s little question of the deadly effectiveness of Phil Pirone’s proprietary blend of amino acid bite stimulants which is the backbone of the industry’s leading Brine-n-Bite herring brine. Realizing that artificial trolling lures could benefit from the same chemistry, a mixure of herring, anchovie and sardine was spiked with amino acids and BOOM! You’ve got Downrigger Dynamite. Give it a drag. It will get you bit…

Daiwa LEXA 300 Linecounter: It’s simply about time that someone came up with a line counter that’s out of the way, easy to see and palms like a genuine low-profile reel. Introducing the Daiwa LEXA 300 LC. High speed slick with a butter smooth drag, don’t underestimate the power of it’s oversize gears and 21-pound drag system. As great as this reel is, I can’t wait to see the LEXA 400 LC ’cause it will be the best reel at Buoy Ten this August!

Gamakatsu Big River Open-Eye Siwash Hooks: Now available in a wider variety of sizes, you’ll be able to find these replacement hooks to fit any size spoon, plug or lure you care to rig. Benefitting from Gamakatsu’s magnificent curvature and shape of their popular Octopus hooks, these Big River Siwash are a definite upgrade for the questionable “original equipment” hooks that are all to often furnished with our favorite lures.

SIMRAD NSS 16 evo 3: All I could say was “Wow” when I saw the speed and layout of this behemoth! Processor speed is no longer an issue, nor is screen space as custom splits are a fingertip selection away. In addition to the Simrad DNA of a fully integrated Auto-Pilot, there’s a “Hot Key” that you can program to your favorite function. The screen is the brand new SolarMAX™ HD display technology that delivers exceptional clarity and ultra-wide viewing angles, combined with an all-weather touchscreen and expanded keypad for total control in all conditions.

There’s lots to get your attention this season and there’s no reason to wait! Try out some of this gear now so it will be familiar to you come our busy summer seasons and we’ll see you on the water!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

The Four Cornerstones of Winter Chinook Success!

It’s 0640 Saturday morning, we’re between segments on the Radio Show and Rob Endsley’s pen is just flying across his show sheet.

“Well, if you don’t write it, I will…now what is the fourth blackmouth point?” Rob says.

Some of the best “stuff” happens in between segments while the microphones are off and Robbo and I are rippin’ each other but good. However, often the “fertilizer” that flies both ways feeds an idea or concept that leads to an important or instructive point that is “blog-worthy” or, in this case, four points that boil down a whole bunch of winter chinook wisdom into an easy to remember approach.

Cornerstone One: Fish Deep

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After a late summer and fall of easy coho fishing, it’s very tempting to take a laid back approach to winter chinook or “blackmouth” fishing and that is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. Coho or silvers are most often found suspended over deep water while Puget Sound winter chinook are almost always found near structure in a depth band of approximately 80-250 feet of water but generally within 10 feet of the bottom.

While you can enjoy success on silvers without paying strict attention to your boats course or depth, to consistently hook chinook, you have to keep a close eye on both! Despite the fact that I use Cannon’s Bottom Digi-Troll 10’s in Bottom Track mode, to keep your gear within 10 feet of the bottom you must follow the bottom contour –or areas of near equal depth- while at the same time constantly adjusting the depth of the downrigger ball to remain in the strike zone.

Cornerstone Two: Fish Small

HiFly7In the winter we typically find less bait and baitfish individual sizes are at their smallest. I’m sure you’ve heard the term “match the hatch” and that is definitely the best game plan here. Fortunately there are a lot of tackle options that fill the bill. Silver Horde has the Coho Killer, Needlefish Ace-Hi fly and Kingfisher Lite spoons from size 2.0-3.5. With those three items alone you have the ability to mimic bait sizes from 1.5 to nearly four inches! The word “opportunistic” has been used to describe the dietary habits of immature chinook and while they will feed on a wide variety of species, often the best approach is to start small and gather all available information to get dialed in from there.

Cornerstone Three: Fish Fast

evinrudeThe fact of the matter is that in wintertime, there are less baitfish available and fewer fish chasing them than in the summer months and that puts you into a “search mode”. The most effective way to search is to cover water quickly and there is no better way than downrigger trolling to do just that.

However, there is more to fishing fast than just leaning on the throttle. Keeping an eye on current direction and velocity is a great approach to speed up and enhance your fishing efficiency. Chinook tend to face into the current so that feed can be washed into their view and you’ll cover more territory by “riding the tide” as well. Even though your Lowrance or Simrad GPS chartplotter displays a digital speed over ground, the best way to keep track of your speed through the water is to continually monitor the downrigger wire angle and relate that angle to the speed you observe on the GPS display. You’ll find that wire angle increasing when “bucking” or trolling into a tide and that may be an indication that it’s time to change trolling direction!

Cornerstone Four: Fish Near Feed

BairSchoolWinter chinook or “blackmouth” are also refered to as feeder chinook and brother, you had better believe that “findin’ and grindin’” is what they’re all about. When you’re a little fish in a big body of water, one of your best defenses against becoming someone else’s snack is getting bigger so that you fit in less predators mouths. Therefore, fast growth becomes a reproductive and survival advantage to a young chinook and the only way to achieve that growth is to find groceries. So, in turn the smart winter chinook angler needs to find the feed to find the fish and this is where your fishfinder is your very best friend! Learning to correctly operate your sounder, fine tune it’s adjustments and interpret the display will result in a full fishbox. At times, you’ll see larger arcs surrounding a bait ball and that my friend is where you want to stay for a while.

When you consider that there is someplace in Puget Sound to fish for and catch quality chinook all winter long you’ve got to admit that we’re very fortunate indeed to live here! Compared to the Great Lakes that freeze solid and coastal waters that are continually lashed by winter gales, the blackmouth fishery in Puget Sound begins to look very inviting and I hope to see you on the water this winter!

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Dirty Downrigger Trick: Silver Horde’s Rudder Flasher!

Now that “seminar season” is begrudgingly giving way to fishing season, I’m looking back on the most frequently asked questions I’ve heard after my  “Dirty Downrigger Tricks” PowerPoint presentations.

I’m always looking for some new and interesting blog ideas and I believe a series of blogs answering these questions regarding controlled-depth trolling techniques may just be what the “downrigger Doctor” ordered!

One of the relatively recent additions to the downrigger fisherman’s attraction repertoire is the Silver Horde Rudder Flasher!

“We originally marketed it as a halibut spreader back in the mid 1970’s and by the late ’80’s some guys out of Edmonds started using them as rudders on their downriggers” said Silver Horde’s Kelly Morrison. Indeed, it is the “spreader effect” that is one of the most endearing qualities of the Rudder Flasher. As soon as it’s placed in the water, it immediately “weather vanes” or points behind the boat which allows you to easily reach your release -without untangling it- and quickly get your gear back to the fishes’ depth.

There are two ways to rig the Silver Horde Rudder Flasher: One, simply run your release directly off the back of the rudder…

…and two, running a “Dummy” or remote flasher off of the Rudder Flasher and then stacking your release a few feet up from the flasher!

By far the biggest advantage of the Silver Horde Rudder Flasher is it’s fish attraction characteristics. The Rudder Flasher affords your downrigger presentation a consistent horizontal profile which allows salmon to find your gear more easily. Simply stated, a rotating flasher makes noise and vibration in the water column but it’s continually moving, rolling aspect can often be a challenge for a salmon on the far reaches of the attraction threshhold to locate. The combination of a rotating flasher and a Rudder Flasher is a one, two salmon attracting “punch” that will result in more fish in your box!

Next time you’re out on your favorite trolling drag and you see someone land a fish, take a close look at what is running just on top of their cannon ball… The Silver Horde Rudder Flasher used to be the trollers secret handshake. Now, it’s more like the mark of the highliner fishermen.

Tom Nelson
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com

 

CohOctober!

It's been a while since we've seen a coho season around here with "legs" like this one.

What am I talking about? Well, when a spawning run of salmon in these parts provides action and opportunity for three solid months… it has "legs" or the ability to run a long distance.

I guess after 2010's "coho no-show" we had a good run coming but just think about the 2011 silver season for a second: it started almost un-noticed in August due to the swarms of pink salmon, provided excellent, boat-limit fishing in September for the final two events of the Northwest Salmon Derby Series and is still providing solid action even as we speak!

To get a good idea how the action has been, I jumped aboard Nick Kester of All Star Charters boat to see for myself! 

Once we arrived at the "Shipwreck" north of Edmonds, it wasn't long before we were into a hot coho! Nick mans the net and coaches up his client!

 

No sooner did we get the first fish in the box and Boom! fish number two is on and it's a dandy!

 

Nick slides the twine under the chunky coho and he is all ours!

 

A very proud angler holding one very big, chrome reason to keep fishing this fall!

Catching saltwater coho when it's closer to Halloween than Labor Day is an unusual opportunity for Puget Sound anglers and when you add our new winter crab seasons to the mix, well… it's going to be very hard to pull the tarp over the boat for the winter!

Heck with the tarp! Let's get out on the sound!

March Madness

March.

Schizophrenic as an ax murderer with a side job as an ER Doctor.

One day you’re basking in spring-like temps, flat calm waters and the next you’re trying to catch your hat before it blows off your head as the wind knocks foam off of the whitecaps.
So, when we saw a window in the weather, we headed for the banks. Buoyed by a glowing report from Tony Floor (and maybe a waypoint or two) it was Coyote bank or bust!

We launched at Cornet Bay just inside of  Deception Pass and ran west for 35 minutes in a small surface chop to find four other boats on Coyote. The US/Canada border splits Coyote Bank and I was surprised to find that only one of the boats were trolling like us. The rest of the boats were anchored on the Canadian side halibut fishing! What’s more, they were boats from the US which had purchased Canadian licenses. The ability to get that Canadian non-resident license is a nice option for Americans who want to start their halibut seasons early!

We made our first Pass on Coyote Bank and were quickly rewarded when my friend Eric Fagan boated this fat blackmouth!

Every drop we were greeted by a bite but as far as keeper chinook were concerned we were done with the one! Juvenile lingcod, kelp greenling and shakers were the best we could muster as the banks are nothing short of a nursery for the young, rapidly growing residents of the Straits of  Juan de Fuca.

As we left the banks that sunny Sunday, the south wind started to pick up and we knew if we wanted to fish later this week, it would have to be in the rivers.
March can be more than a little unpredictable weather-wise but there is one thing you can count on: Columbia springers. Well, maybe “count on” is a little optimistic for the second week in March but the thought of a springer on the barbeque drives a man to do crazy things!

While we were lucky on the banks to get bit on our first pass, it was not until our last pass on the Columbia that we finally got our fish but it was the right one!

Phil Michelsen admires his first Columbia River springer of the year but he would only be taking half of it home! I was ready to wrestle a filet away from Phil but he generously offered me half!

The month of March offers many angling challenges but very few opportunities to take advantage of them. Here’s hoping you get a weather window and get lucky, Even if it is only for one fish!

Marine Area 8-2: Home Water

The first place I ever used a downrigger was here in Possession Sound.
Having grown up in this area, I've spent more than my fair share of time fishing these waters. Although portions of 8-2 are open during the summer, most notably the Tulalip "bubble" fishery outside of Tulalip Bay, the longest opportunity we have is our winter chinook season November 1 through April 30 and that's our focus here.

You've heard this advice so often that you're probably tired of listening to it but nowhere is it more important to find the bait to locate the blackmouth.

Fortunately, The largest boat launch facility in Washington State, the Port of Everett's 10th Street ramp is located right in the heart of Area 8-2 so you will not have far to run. In fact, one of the best locations, south Gedney ( known as "Hat Island" in the local parlance) is literally minutes outside the harbor!

Less than three miles from the Everett Harbor Jetty lies Hat Island and no matter where the wind is coming from you can always find a place to hide. The funny thing is, Hat is so close to the harbor that is often overlooked by local anglers! You can't really blame the guys… Heck, as soon your boat gets on plane leaving Everett, Hat Island goes by before you have a chance to think about fishing it! That's a shame because the sandy flat around the south end is something of a "mini Possession Bar", holding herring, shrimp and even the occasional candlefish hatch! Follow the edge of the sand bar outlined on the map and don't be shy about contacting the bottom with your downrigger balls!

To the north of Hat Island lies the "Racetrack" or underwater ridge that extends from Hat Island to Camano Head. Often you'll find bait all along the ridge and the area immediately around Camano is some of my favorite water in this area.

Due east of Camano head,  Tulalip Bay is a large eel grass flat that amounts to a big bait factory. Herring must have a protected area that supports underwater vegetation in order to spawn successfully and Tulalip Bay fits that description very nicely. "T-Bay" remains an enigma, winter or summer but on the days that you just cannot find bait anywhere… You'll find it here and don't be surprised if you find a springer or two here come March and April!

Speaking of springers, that's the only way I could describe this March monster my wife Kathy caught at Tulalip Bay a few years ago. To this day, it's still the biggest blackmouth..or springer we've ever caught!

When wet weather approaches, the prevailing southerlies can severely reduce the water that we can comfortably and safely fish. On those days, I often head for Langley on Whidbey Island. Starting at Sandy Point, you are in fairly protected water that can be fairly productive as well!

Mabana is something of a non-descript bump on Camano Island that is often bypassed by anglers heading for Elger Bay or Baby Island. If you're looking for an out-of-the -way spot to keep in your bait and blackmouth search pattern, Mabana is it! It's almost always worth one pass and if it's holding herring it may produce a fish or two for you as well!