To close out this series of articles on fishing for coho in freshwater, I’d like to tell you a few stories that taught me a lot. The point is to think about what happens while you are fishing and remember it for subsequent years.
I assembled Colorado blades in my early fishing – because they were inexpensive – by buying the blades, clevises, hooks, and so on, and attaching them on two- to four-foot leaders. The top end was attached to the main line at a swivel. To the four inch tag end of the mainline, a piece of pencil lead was attached as the weight, crimpled only tight enough to not come off in casting or fighting a fish, but that would slip off on a bottom/log snag. Depending on the depth and speed of the water, a dink float was sometimes put on the mainline before the swivel, and slid up or down so the blade was at the right depth.
One day in the rain, I caught a beautiful, new 20-pound coho in a narrow seam. I few minutes after the release I caught another 20-pound beautiful coho and released it. At the time, I did not think anything other than it was amazing to catch two identical fish from the same run, along with another fish or two. Many years later, I realized that, yes, indeed, I had caught the same fish twice, evidence of just how turned on coho get in heavy rain and rising water. Typically fish will not bite twice.
The day that changed my mind occurred at the Falls Pool on the Stamp River just below the provincial campground. This is a well-fished pool because it is a choke point with high velocity falling water, a spot where fish stop in the pool before trying to get over it.
And it is where Beaver Creek enters the Stamp – a side stream in which coho spawn. It rained more than two inches as we fished. I fished the pool with the plan I mentioned last time of managing a school, standing in the middle of the flow of Beaver Creek. I had forgotten my box of spinners and scrounged a spoon out of a 1960s box in the clutter of the trunk. Blue and nubby silver. (We often forget that blue is a prime coho colour; after all, Haig-Brown’s iconic fly is the Coho Blue).
It was a beat-up, ancient lure that I had no confidence in, but it was all I had. I decided that I would retie the lure every second fish. Then I began to plumb the water on the near side, then far down the near side, then the other side, then far down the other side, then back to the middle and far down middle. And so on, changing rod tip position to amend the retrieve angle through the same zone.
And the creek began to fill, first from ankle deep, then calf, then knee and finally almost waist deep. I found I caught fish everywhere I cast, and was getting bites right in front of other anglers’ feet. At least a half dozen other guys were there in the rain, but I had picked the best spot: right in the middle of the side stream, that, once deep enough, the coho would all pass up.
I caught a large female with an identifiable mark on her snout. As the day wore on, I caught her four times. The same fish. That is proof that coho intensity rises dramatically the higher the water level, meaning the taste of rain, and that they are programmed to get active about moving forward to spawn.
I also caught another fish – a hook-nosed male – with a cut on its flank, and then caught it four times as the afternoon progressed. Same explanation. And I retied that lure 26 times, far out fishing everyone else, just because I had sense enough to put myself in the best spot as the water rose, and to manage the school.
As you can imagine, the other anglers, in the wrong spots, and not methodically 3-D identifying where the fish would be and where to cast, and where to cast to in the progression, became good and pissed off. Had I been in their shoes, I would have felt the same.
And that lure was so ugly, I doubt it would ever catch another self-respecting fish, until the same extreme conditions reoccurred By the time I left, Beaver Creek was so high that in getting out of it I was almost swept away. But it became etched in my brain that the heaviest rainfall produces the most coho.
On final comment on this story is that animal rights activists often say that fishing and catch and release should be abolished because fish feel pain and are terrified. My response is that if you can catch the same fish several times in a row, the fish can’t feel that bad. Oh, and I have never had a fish I let go, say it would rather have been bonked.
Moving on, sometimes you can feel the intensity of the fish in the air. It is so electrifying it is hard to put on lures and even to cast. Hundreds of porpoising coho in front of you, and you’re so jittery you can’t cast. On one day of this, in heavy rain, I could not get a single fish to bite. I was fishing Colorado blades, with a dink float several feet up the line. I finally put the rod under my arm and just stood there cursing the fish. This was a backeddy with a seam on the outside that passed down stream.
It crossed my mind that I could no longer see my float. When I lifted the rod tip, there was a 13 pound coho on the other end. After its release, I tossed the blade out and let the current move the float in circles, and watched. Darned if it didn’t disappear again and a nice coho was on the other end. And I took more than half a dozen other fish the same way.
While lure spin would not get a fish to bite, the lure hanging straight down in the water about six feet under the float, just floating along, was deadly. The fish were whacking it with abandon – odd but true. Two other wet anglers on the other side of the rising side-stream, with coho passing up, were tossing spinners, too, but catching nothing and giving me the evil eye. I ended up giving them my spot, and explained what I had been doing.
They politely laughed at my explanation, thinking it was the spot that was important, so I slogged through the rising side-stream to where they had been standing. It was not as good a spot, as the back eddy started twenty feet below it, just where I had been standing. I cast out and let the float pass without any mending, and, yes, it disappeared and I got another silvery coho.
Over the next couple of hours, they caught nothing and finally were so mad that I had caught another half dozen fish – where they had been fishing – and they had not had a bite that they left. I moved back down to the better spot, and continued catching fish.
And, yes, I have never forgotten this unusual coho behaviour. Because of that experience, I carry a simple red and white bobber in my fishing raincoat, all year round. It is only used in coho season, but the reason is that you don’t have to cut the mainline and put in a dink float when you are fishing in spots where that approach isn’t the best one, for example, in deep pools or ultra-clear water.
You just attach the mainline around the bottom and top hangers on the bobber and then cast out. One day, I noticed some turned-on, porpoising coho about 150 feet below me. The shore was a tangle of ugly bushwhacking vegetation and if I had shoved through, there was no place to cast, because the tangle of willow stuck out ten feet into the water.
On went the float, then a small cast, and I let the float carry the spinner down stream. When it was in the fish zone, I clicked out of free-spool, and the bobber went down. The result was a 20-pound coho. Hard to believe, but over the hours, because I had that bobber was able to catch another half dozen lovely coho I had no other way to reach. It has worked in many succeeding years.
The point is, if you catch a fish, figure out what the special circumstances are that made it bite, write that in your notebook and next year, take it out, and do it again. And so on.
Okay, one more story. Once in the pouring rain, I passed a stream and stopped to look and yes, dozens of large coho porpoising in the tail out. At the top end of the pool, I slid into the water and it rose to two inches from the top of my waders – I had miss-judged the depth – and found myself with only a foot of water from the surface to the branches above the water to make my cast.
Sidearm, I could cast only 10 feet. The fish were 70 feet below. Out went the spinner, and once the blade thump was on my rod tip, I let the line free-spool so the stream carried the lure – because of its blade drag – down to the fish, whereupon, I set the reel in retrieve and the lure swung in front of the coho. The good news was that I got a bite right away. The bad news was that the fish went directly downstream and the line snapped when it went around a corner.
I had eight spinners and tied successive ones on, let the reel carry the spinner down and so on. A 20 pounder would bite, and then it was over the tailout into the next pool. Snap. On my last spinner, a Mepps white-glow one, the fish moved toward me and ultimately I landed and released it. I lost 7 lures in all. But it was a large fish and the first coho I ever took in December. Memorable.
It was the first time that I had used the white-glow spinner, and it would be written down and remembered for successive years. Some years it is the best colour. The point is to adapt what you know and see if you can make it work. So, over the years, you build up a list of strategies to try every day out.