I missed my annual visit to my family’s home in Bliss Landing, British Columbia last year as my daughter was born in March and I was enthusiastically adjusting to fatherhood. This year I carved out some time and made plans to spend some days up here with my father and two college friends from Portland. While the fishing has been consistent, the size of the fish we’ve been catching has been disappointing with only two keeper Chinook coming home with us in four days of fishing.
I’ve asked my Dad before if he thinks that are luck is a lack of experience or a lack of fish, and in his mind it may be both. Well, I think that we would both agree that our collective experience is no longer a limiting factor. Everything involved, at least on the technical side of things, is dialed in. Downriggers and their attached lines spend more time in water. Our trolling gear is fine-tuned and tackle mostly limited to what we now know works. There’s very little, and I can say at this point that this is true for all of the fisheries I participate in, “riff-raff” or novelty tackle in the tacklebox. We’ve become better and faster at recovering from and avoiding malfunctions that in previous years stymied or ended the day’s angling. With that said, fishing has been slow and this has been stated by others online who see fishing near us and by the staff of the tackle shops I frequent while up here. Knowing that others are in the same boat does help ease the feeling that is is not us, but them.
We have had some success with our two keepers coming aboard and some very nice wild Coho being caught and released. Our two keeper Chinook were caught at around Sarah Point, but we’ve gotten into hot bites of undersize fish at Sutil Point, Grant Reef, Mystery Reef, and off of Kinghorn Island. Almost all of the fish landed have been on the same flasher/spoon combination that was suggested to us by a young buck at Marine Traders in Powell River. Normally and despite purchasing suggestions from tackle shop employees I’ll wave off these acquisitions as novelty or last-ditch, but in this case I owe credit where credit is due. At least in the case of the spoon he recommended which was a black/green Silver Horde Coho Killer. I used his flasher suggestion as inspiration to choose my own.
Humpback Whales Off Hernando Island
In our run from Sutil Point to Grant Reef on a day before the smoke really came in we spotted some whales approaching us. We were quick to see they were bigger than Orcas and cut the engine as two humpback whales cruised by. The whales circled back to our boat and the following video is the amazing encounter.
My family set down some new roots with the purchase this past spring of a second home on Whidbey. The island is surrounded by multiple marine areas, all with separate and regularly changed in-season regulations and I plan on wetting a line in all of them throughout this summer and hopefully into fall. Without a boat and shore-bound, all of the photographs will be of fishing from the beach using rotator/hoochie combinations, lead jigs, buzz bombs, and big spinners occasionally.
Long distance shot of J-pod orcas. This group included the mother carrying her dead calf. They were spotted in BC waters the next morning.
This post will document my limited fishing endeavors this summer and fall. With a new addition to our family this past spring, I’ve been understandably called upon to spend more time at home. This means no BC trip this year, but more focus on beach fishing and new additions to my rod and tackle collection as I focus on landing salmon closer to home. Luckily its a pink year and I’ve had some friends pass off some knowledge they’ve gained past summers hooking coho from the beach.
Stunner wild coho from Bush Point in late July
Hazy Point No Point
High tide/evening bite makes for a winning combination
First salmon on a Dick Nite spoon, although I’ve caught a coho that had a Dick Nite and some leader hanging out of its mouth. They’re never my first choice because I’ve never felt confident rigging them.
I stumbled upon Pete Rosko’s “one man show” video collection while searching for some footage of anglers jigging darts for Chinook salmon. It was nice to some of the techniques and rigging that I’d been using up in BC while fishing from a small tin boat and often also by myself. I’d basically figured out what I was doing over hundreds of hours bobbing around in a small tin boat, close to Bliss Landing. Fred’s Hump is a classic spot for me and one that I learned about from a former caretaker at Bliss who was also a guide on the side. I’ve fished this way, with 2 oz. Pt. Wilson darts for years and hooked enough fish to keep me out there as much as I can when I’m not in the big boat trolling. From Pete’s tactic for measuring depth to his choice of lines, leaders, color, how to cover water, etc. It’s a great technique and one that can even be employed without a depth finder..as long as you have a good set of charts, keep an eye on the weather, and fish with the tide changes. “Teacup on a wooden dowel” comes from Pete’s description of a de-hooker design that one can make in a pinch. We don’t get to see a prototype, but the description leaves one to wonder.
I spent the Christmas holiday in Pacific City, Oregon with my fiance’s family. Pacific City is an amazing home base for river fishing. There are the Neskowin, Three Rivers, Little Nestucca, and Salmon Rivers all nearby and holding fish. There is a winter steelhead hatchery on Three Rivers, but typically of any winter hatchery steelhead river the rush of fish brings a rush of crowds to the banks. I overheard at the tackle shop in Hebo that the vehicles at the hatchery hole were “stacked in like cord wood”. Katlin’s family has a farm above the hatchery and I’ve had success fishing for both native salmon that are passed through the hatchery weir and resident cutthroat which seem to be always around.
The area had been hit by heavy rains and the big river, the Nestucca, had a chocolate milk quality to it and was close to flood stage. I’d spent a couple days trying to get some bites at my favorite hole on the Kellow Fur Farm up above the Cedar Creek Hatchery and decided early on day two to head out to explore the Little Nestucca River and see if it was in better shape.
The Little Nestucca runs along Highway 130, which I headed up via 101 from Pacific City. The river is a thing of beauty and despite the rains had beautiful water clarity, a nice steelhead green. I saw at least a dozen promising pools as I searched for a safe pullout and route down its steep banks to the river. I didn’t have to drive far before finding one of the more beautiful pools I’ve seen in person. There were two fisherman working it with spoons so I initially drove past them searching for some solitude, but a narrow canyon portion above the pool convinced me that I’d have a better chance getting into a fish below the major whitewater I was seeing upstream…so I turned around. I went back to the hole where the two other anglers were fishing and tried to determine if it would be feasible or even polite to squeeze in above them without interfering with their experience.
Lucky for me I watched one of the anglers pack up and climb if the trail to the road. I asked out my window if he’d have any luck and he said that they’d been hooking some cutthroat. I pulled myself out of the truck with my gear and luckily the other gentleman was packing up and heading out as well, leaving me alone at the fishiest spot I’d seen all week.
The pool was perfect for float fishing with all of the components (head, body, and tailout) within one long drift on the centerpin rod. Being by myself, I started my drift at the head of the pool and simply let it float through the body and to the top of the tailout. I had never caught or seen salmon or steelhead in this river but had been told by my soon-to-be father-in-law that they were in there. ODWF describes the steelhead and salmon fishing as “fair” on this river.
With this information in the back of my mind I soon gave up on float fishing and thought I’d switch to some smaller spinners to try and get a cutthroat while I was there. I worked my way down the hole with a small bronze spinner and when I got to the top of the tailout I saw two steelhead swimming nearly at my feet. I stopped putzing around with the spinners and immediately switched back to the centerpin.
While I was in Hebo visiting the local tackle shop I decided to pick up some locally made steelhead jigs. It’s a habit that I believe brings me a a little good luck when fishing away from home. Help support the local economy and use what the locals are using to catch some fish.
I tied on a local 3/8 oz pink maribou jig with a flashy body and within ten minutes landed what I thought may have been a steelhead, but soon realized that it was just a late-run native coho. I was a bit off my identifcation game because I had seen two steelhead (where there’s one there’s another), but had also seen a larger fish rise above the tailout (A coho is more likely to break surface in my experience). The v-shaped tail and hooked beak gave it away for me, but I was still surprised that I was catching a bright-ish coho this late into the season.
After a quick picture I retrieved my jig and revived the fish and he swam away with strength. I have to say that the coho didn’t fight much, a few head shakes but no real runs that would normally have me on my toes with the centerpin. Still a beautiful fish and I felt lucky as I always do when I catch a native fish in a beautiful setting.
I took Sunday off from fishing and our plan was to head back to Seattle around noon on Monday. I carefully broached the idea of me going out one last time to my fiance with the idea that I’d be fishing before anyone woke up anyways and back with enough to time to pack and say some goodbyes to the family. She was alright with that and so I headed out before dark on Monday morning, hoping to be the first (or even better, only) fisherman at the hole at sunrise. Highway 130 is a narrow, curvy road with a view of the river and its many fishing spots for miles. You can bet that if you see a vehicle parked on the side of the road that means a fisherman is down on the bank getting a line wet. The river’s access does not suggest any sort of combat fishing and on the contrary, seems to lend itself to the kind of reclusive style of fishing I prefer: Away from the hatchery crowds and elbow-elbow, synchronized casting gong show. I’m bringing this up because if I see a truck parked at a spot where I know there is a fishy stretch of river, I keep driving. There are too may great spots to crowd another angler looking for solitude.
So I got to the hole early, probably too early as I had about a half hour to kill before there was enough light to see a float going down. I started at the head of the pool, using a orange and white maribou jig with a white head. This is a pattern that I have caught some coho on before and an appropriate one for the ever-so-mildly colored up water this early in the morning. I saw a fish surface right at the top of the pool behind a tree that had fallen down the steep opposite bank and into the pool. Long eddies were swirling on both sides of the head as the pool was being fed by a narrow canyon portion that was frothing with white water just up river.
WIth no bites or bumps twenty minutes in, I was starting to go over in my mind potential adjustments to my offering. Just about when I settled on a change the float goes down. I set the hook and had a couples strong head shakes before I see my line go limp, soon realizing the fish has swam directly across the bottom half of the pool body. I have to put a quick spin on my reel to get caught up and get tension on the fish again. As soon as I get pressure again the fish takes a run in the opposite direction, peeling off line.
Knowing that what I had was more significant than the other fish I had caught in the pool (more energy, stronger head shakes, and violent runs) I started going through the inventory in my head of all the things that could go wrong. Knots and weak points being at the foremost of those thoughts. I couldn’t do anything about that at this point and snapped back to worrying about the fish taking my line across the lip of the shelf in the pool or heading downstream below the pool. The steelhead took about four more significant runs before I had it close to the bank. I had lost a coho earlier in the year horsing it in because of some serious logs in the river, so I was careful to let it tire out significantly before I banked it. My arm hurt and my heart was thumping as I quickly snapped a photo, popped the jig out of its mouth and released it.
Photographs are important to me for not just memories but also to help keep track of the elements in my gear that work. I’ve caught all my steelhead and salmon on the centerpin using Drennan floats. They’re expensive but if you’re careful with them they’ll last a long time. Flourocarbon line and well-spaced split shot (spacing depends on the water speed) are other elements that I never change. A photograph reminds me of my leader length and size as well. I don’t love knocking any scales of a fish but am more careful with my salt water catches than river ones. Many of these fish, especially in a rocky river like the Little Nestucca, have beat themselves up on rocks just getting upstream. Regardless, I’ll spend as much time as it takes to revive a fish and make sure that jig hooks avoid snagging gills and pop them out with care. Here’s a good article from Northwest Sportsman on handling native steelhead.
I was pretty happy with myself after this and paused for a ten minute break before getting my line back in the water. This fish had fulfilled a goal I have every winter of just getting one steelhead. Any more than that is a bonus and any less leads to a long off-season of self-doubt and disappointment. The fight this fresh fish put me though stacks on its value. It assured me that I’ve come a long way in developing and implementing a system for centerpin fishing that works for me. With all of the variables and opportunities for failure, having a fish really put me through the ringer as I fight it is rare experience and one that I won’t forget.
Labor Day weekend started Saturday for me with a bi-annual float down the Skykomish River fishing for pink salmon. We put the pontoons in at Sultan and floated down to the Ben Howard take-out. While there were a fair amount of fish in the water, it was nowhere near the abundance we encountered in 2013. I hooked and landed four for the day, one on the centerpin and the others on twitched jigs. The highlight of the day came at the end of the float on the long flat section before the river bend that takes you to Ben Howard. I was casting to some rising fish, long casts from my pontoon with quick twitches on a white 1/4 oz jig when I hooked a fish that immediately jumped out of the water and then took off across the river and behind my pontoon. After a couple of minutes and a couple more runs I landed what must be the first Coho caught this high in the river, this early in the year. It was a beautiful fish and I broke my long-standing rule of never keeping a fish caught in fresh water. The Coho had sea lice and must have just come up the river that day.
On Sunday I went to Kayak Point County Park to have a picnic at a shelter reserved by a friend. Someone had brought a small boat and we used it all afternoon to drop crab pots in the calm bay off the shore where the shelter was. We had great luck crabbing and were treated to a crab boil, prepared by my longtime fishing partner and friend, Scott. Labor Day weekend was a great time this year and a fitting end to summer here in the Pacific Northwest.
My family has a home at Bliss Landing which is at the mouth of Desolation Sound in British Columbia and for the past three summers I’ve been allotted the use of a small tin boat with a 25hp engine. From this boat I primarily fish using Pt. Wilson Darts, targeting Chinook salmon (called Springers here in BC) that come into shallow areas chasing bait fish pushed up by the high tide. It has been a frustrating learning curve getting these fish in the boat. The first summer I spent first discovering that there was a spot close to our home that I could access safely in a boat that frequently had mechanical issues and is very small. By the middle of August I think had hooked 6 kings, but not a one made it into the net. I was having troubles with my reel and rod choice and the appropriate amount of drag to be using. Barbless hooks were another challenging variable and I was also hooking these fish by myself in most instances, doing a one man keystone cops impression as I attempted to keep the line tight on the huge salmon now at the surface, while trying to get the net positioned effectively. On one memorable day I had hooked three, losing one that ran then surfaced close to fifty yards off of the back of the boat and another that broke off after I lost the net in the water and tried to host the 25lb fish into the boat by grabbing the 30lb test leader.
I thought about the failures of that day all winter long. Last summer I came prepared, or so I thought. I bought a small arsenal of jigs in all sizes and colors. I spent so much time throwing every color in the rainbow at them that I ignored the color that had worked that day the summer before: white. A long 4oz white needle fish jig with red eyes had hooked every salmon I had got into the summer before. I lacked patience and ignored many of the environmental contributors to great salmon fishing (tides, time of day, bait fish and bird activity). I landed one 14lb salmon towards the end of August in the small boat, but I was trolling and brought it in on an Islander mooching reel and a lucky net job.
This summer I’ve experienced hundreds of more days fishing and even more hours to think about what I was doing wrong. I stocked up on those white darts in a variety of sizes. I’ve had ample practice netting and playing fish in other situations that have practical applications to landing these larger ones. I pay more attention to the environment that I’m fishing in when it is both and not. These things are ingrained in me now, and have allowed me to focus more on technique. My rod and reel of choice was once just my rod and reel of default, but I’ve come to like using it. It’s a 6′ casting Shimano Trevala Jigging rod. The reel is a Shimano Calcutta with 50lb braid as it’s mainline. It’s the shortest rod I use in all my fishing, shorter than my ultralight trout rod, which lends itself well to netting fish by myself without having to worry about breaking it. To the braid I tie a snap swivel and about 4ft of 30lb flurocarbon leader which is then tied to the dart jig. With the drag set right, this reel and line do a great job of tiring a running salmon down.
In putting this equipment to work I do what is generally referred to as drift jigging. I’ll motor to about the middle of the bay north of Fred’s Hump and put her in neutral, waiting to see which way the current and wind are gonna push me before I cut the engine. Once I get an idea of the drift I’ll go north or south along the shore depending on the direction I’ll be drifting, so that I can start at the “top” and drift across the small bay where there is a drop off from water averaging 90 ft in the bay to 300ft just outside of it. I try to drift right at the edge of the drop off. I’ll drop my dart to the bottom and then reel up about 11 times to get off the bottom and out of the way of the small rockfish. As I’m dropping the jig I’ll keep my thumb on the spool and every so often I’ll feel a fish bump it on the way down. When this happens I stop feeding line out and give the rod a couple mooches. Twice I’ve hooked salmon this way.
I’ll drift jig until I’ve drifted into water too shallow or deep to productively cover water where I’ve historically hooked fish. I’ve hooked two big salmon drift jigging in water under 40ft deep. This summer I landed three nice Chinook in the tin boat at Fred’s Hump. It’s taken a long time but I feel I’ve finally figured out most of the techniques that are successful and learned to work with most of the variables that might suggest tweaking these techniques.
I’ve been tying with beads and pins since I started tying last year. I chose the method because of my aversion to working so closely with lead and the availability of options in regard to bead colors and sizes. I get most of my beads from http://www.lurepartsonline.com and the beads or nails I use generally come from craft or hardware stores. These jigs have also proved to be incredibly durable in comparison to painted lead-head jigs I’ve obtained from commercial dealers and rarely show any of the expected wear that is associated with bouncing your jig off the bottom as you experiment with float depth or leader length. I use Owner jig hooks for my steelhead and salmon jigs and tie with rabbit fur, the occasional strand of Maribou, flash, and wiggle legs in white or pink. Bronze beads have brought me the most success, but I also have black and nickel beads that I use depending on the day or species being targeted. I’ll use this post as a gallery to share some of my creations, which may get posted because of their success or creativity.
Simms Fishing Products released this series of instructional videos to help teach the bank angler tactics and tips for keeping yourself alive while fishing in rivers, crossing rivers, and even swimming in rivers all the while suited up in chest waders. It’s a few years old, but the series is still helpful in regards to its content and ability to scare the hell out of you as you imagine yourself bobbing down the river and having to decide if you’re going to go over or under the tree laying across the river ahead (go over).