Now, Coho Time in Rivers: To finish off some tackle considerations from last week, a bit more on lures and hooks. On lures, I have mentioned that every river has a progression of colours through the season. And each system has its colour preferences, for example, purple is a good Cowichan River colour. And blue is good early in the season on the Stamp. Every year, I try the Mepps white, glow spinners and some years they are the killer colour all season.
Also, try a few freshwater plugs like Wiggle Warts, Hot ‘N Tots and Heddon Clattertads, pink being the first colour on your list. The consideration here is a plug that is heavy enough to cast. Along with these, keep some of the heavy Gibbs spoons on hand, particularly for high, discoloured water days and blown days when large size is better. The heavier Ironhead, Kit-A-mat, Illusion and etc. for example, sink better than spinners in rapidly moving water and sink better in deep pools. Take a look at the colour plates in my book: Maximum Salmon, from Harbour, for the range of lures to try. There are also colour plates of flies.
And take care with those individual lures that become killers. You want to snip the leader and retie the Palomar knot every few fish. You don’t want to ever lose one of the lures in your box that far out-fishes other lures, even ones of the identical model, size and so on. I have one heavily beat up orange-backed Kit-A-Mat in my box, that, as decrepit as it is, far out-fishes other spoons in my box. And the heavier weight makes them a breeze to cast, particularly when you are up to your sleeves in the water.
I will be giving the new Blue Fox UV spinners a try this year. They should be attractive on dark days and in shade where coho preferentially fin quietly, waiting for rain and high water.
Now, a bit more on hooks. I said that black hooks should replace the silver hooks that lures come with, as they are invisible and the fish bites the lure ahead of them instead of farther back, on the hook, thus the hook is already in their mouths.
Eagle Claw black Steehead hooks, model L194 F in 1/0 size and larger are useful, but short hooks. Try three black split rings in a row before attaching the hook. But there are other, larger hooks available in near-black. Mustad has a near-black Open Eye Siwash hook that makes sense. In sizes 1 to 4/0 you have a range of medium to large size hooks. Large is better when coho are not gear shy, and in rainy weather when they bite more freely. Both are kirbed.
Vibrax Blue Fox lures now come with a brass treble hook mounted and with a near-black straight Siwash. As before, introduce a kirb by taking hold of the hook sideways from shank to point in pliers and bend down for a 20 degree kirb. This gives the hook more purchase on a jawbone.
Let’s turn to fishing. The first thing is that when you know there are coho where you are fishing, it is important to cast once or twice, then change your position or the side your rod tip is on so the lure moves in a different trajectory. I don’t know how many fish I have taken over the years by taking one step and casting again. You move up or down, or back or forward, and work the spot. Coho prefer a lure moving directly up current or across and up. That means in back eddies, and most pools have back eddies, that once you have moved down fishing across the eddy, that you then, from the bottom of the pool, cast upstream, but down current, in the eddy of the pool.
The coho line up into the current, and on rare sunny days where you can stand high enough above the pool you are fishing to see the fish in the entire pool, you will find that they line up in a complete circle around the back eddy. This gives proof that the fish are, indeed, facing up current, and a lure that goes with the current rockets right past them and they don’t chase. Coho prefer a lure to slowly move up from behind or across and then pass in front of them going up current.
And coho prefer a spinner moving slowly. Reel just fast enough for the spinner to spin, its beat seen and felt on your rod tip each revolution. No faster. It is the flash that triggers the curiosity bite. The coho follows, and finally just can’t control itself and whacks the lure, sometimes after following 30 feet. If you feel the spinner lose its drag, it could either be bottom, or in many cases, its coho that nip the end, collapsing the drag. If so, make the same cast right back and bring the spinner through again. Or try the same cast at a different angle. Change things up.
If you have worked a pool with porpoising coho – the behaviour that spells turned on fish – and not taken a fish, change lure colour. Decide before you go out the four or five colours you are going to give a try that day. You will be surprised some days that one particular colour will take all sorts of coho, but another, equally appealing lure to human eyes receives not a whiff.
Don’t leave bitey fish to find bitey fish. Just change your approach, angle, colour until you find the right tactic. Sometimes it is nothing until you are down-stream but casting up-stream but down-current in a back eddy that will take the most fish. Keep changing until you understand the drill.
Finally, the tactic of ‘managing the school’. This is what you do with a school of salmon to get the most fish to bite out of the school. In the case of coho, as the bitiest of them all, you aren’t moving the school around like you can chum, pink and chinook. Instead, you are selectively taking ‘new’ fish or ‘forgotten’ fish. Here is an example: start fishing down the inside of the school. Once bites drop off, then sequentially run your casts farther down the inside to the tail end of the school. All of these are new fish: fish that haven’t seen the lure before.
Then you cast to the outside of the school and do the same as you have for the inside, sequentially down to the end of the school. When the bites drop, then cast in the middle of the school. All the fish, so far have been ‘new’ fish in that they have not seen the lure.
Now, once you have worked the entire school, you move back to the inside. These are ‘forgotten’ fish, meaning: they have forgotten that there are lures about, and react as though they have not yet seen one. Fish memory is seldom more than a half hour – I am not talking about being spooked, that is a different matter – and you will be surprised by methodically working a school through time, that by adopting this approach you will catch fish that had already seen a lure, or one of their good buddies disappear.
When you add the other two tactics: changing lure colour, and casting position to managing a school, you can receive far more cumulative bites than if you creamed off the first biter and moved on. Don’t’ move on from bity fish, until they have stopped responding to your tactics and managing.
I will give you three examples of varying technique for in-river coho next week, before moving on to the start of the salmon calendar in saltwater: winter chinook.