Sunday, 17 July 2016

Coho Time

Time to get out in Juan de Fuca Strait and catch those American hatchery coho. Retention is 2 marked coho per day with a possession limit of 4 – in most of Areas 20 and 19 (two more wild in Port San Juan). No wild fish, most of which would be Canadian. The Fraser is not doing well. 

The gen on fishing coho is finding tide lines from on-shore all the way to the Canada/USA border. It used to be the case that coho were found in the top 30 feet of water, regardless of depth to bottom. These days, you had better try closer to 100 feet to start as the fish are lower. I don’t know whether the difference is that anglers just selectively caught surface fish for the past 50 years until there were no more and that there were always coho at 100 feet, or whether the fish have actually changed habits.

If the answer is the latter, the question would be: why have they changed? After all, off the west coast, they still do migrate on the surface and you see them jump for miles around the boat on calm days. It could be the case that as herring supplies dwindled, coho moved from surface boils to deeper bait fish. In other words, the pattern is the same – pursuit of bait – and habits are the same, just a change in bait numbers. It could be the case that they have switched from declining herring (on which there is a roe fishery) to needle fish that are mid- to bottom-water dwellers.

Fish habits seem the same. It is still the case that your chances are far better fishing tide lines, crossing over and back – yes, this means it you have to continually clean weed/detritus from your gear, but you will catch more fish – fishing the moving side, because that is where the fish are coming from. And yes, the bait, be it krill, needlefish/herring, with less swimming power than tidal current, end up where the two currents meet, producing a tide line – they don’t have power to outswim either current. That would mean that the issue is still location of coho food, just deeper.

Why deeper? For decades, herring balls have dwindled and disappeared, but in the days of Charlie White’s books on catching salmon, were the big attraction to be spotted on the surface because there were the fish, too, typically coho and chinook. Bait habits can’t change to include out swimming currents, but bait availability would change coho/salmon habits.

Your open water fishing should include ignoring speed over ground measured on your GPS. Speed over ground does not take into account how fast you are moving relative to the fish, just the bottom and your SOG could be a crawl, or could be throttling along, depending on the speed of the localized current. For example, the Oak Bay Flats often has conflicting currents and so SOG can change dramatically in short distances, crossing different direction currents, but your speed in the water relative to the fish has not. 

Instead, in open water, increase your rpm from idle rpm. I go anywhere up to 1200 rpm but this depends on your engine and prop. You increase speed because coho behaviour is to move faster and to chase quicker. Thus you match speed in water to behaviour. An additional bonus is that you cover more territory in the same length of time and thus your gear is presented to more fish. If you catch one, circle the spot, and that includes letting the tide line move you, i.e., you are circling a moving spot. 

You don’t have to be Einstein to discovery relativity: you catch more coho moving to them than moving away. And: the closer you get to the coho, the bigger they become. 

And don’t waste time on bait for coho. You will just spend two trays, instead of one, and all of your time dealing with shreddies, or worrying about them. Good old plastic saves the day. Look to squirts for that thinner silhouette, or hootchies with longitudinal stripes – that means they more closely resemble needle fish than herring.

And Mylar skirts make sense, in silver, rather than gold. Two kerbed hooks rather than one because it gives two chances to hook a coho that will always do the coho roll thing, so second purchase comes in real handy. 

I have always caught coho on Bubble Gum squirts which are pink and white stripe based, but pink is the colour. If you still have some Red Krippled Ks, do twist them to introduce a bend that runs across and down the lure, rather than perpendicular. The key is making your tin lures into killers with asymmetric action. We forget that blue is a coho colour in saltwater, after all, Haig-Brown’s fly is the coho blue. Hence an Irish Mist squirt is on my shortlist.

Oh and that increased speed makes 34-inch leadered plastics do that yanked figure eight thing in a way that makes the beholder keep changing eye position to keep up, and because coho are the most excitable of the five species, once they are locked on, inevitably bite. I discovered this in late fall fishing on rivers, after the main floods have passed. When you draw a spinner across a coho in knee deep water within 18 inches of its face, it starts to follow.

I noticed coho will follow 30 feet, and if they get to the stage of first looking at the lure from one eye and then changing to get a good look from the other eye, that they are locking on, and once this rapid side to side head movement starts they will bite every single time.

Add to this to remember that the faster your speed, the more it reduces leader length. That means that chinook plastics on 34-inch leaders, when sped up, their action becomes faster and more erratic, ie, the equivalent of a shorter leader. This means you don’t have to carry two boxes: one of longer leaders for chinook, and one of shorter leaders for coho.

Finally, spoons make great sense. The advantage in spoons is that they keep on working when all other types of tackle have problems. For example, if you slow down or speed up, you will want to check bait because it is easily damaged. And hootchy fronds can and do wrap around hooks.

The new Coho Killers have that slim silhouette thing, and look pretty sexy for coho fishing. Do remember though, that they are not stainless and thus rust. You should carry some Brasso (or fine grit sandpaper) to polish the lure – and make sure to get the scent off the lure. And change the hook, because, for some unknown reason, they use freshwater hooks, and they rust as soon as they see salt water coming. 

Tin spoons bend far too easily, so it is hard to keep the shape of the lure out of the box. Memorize it the first time you put it out. If it catches fish, observe what the lure looks like, taking care not to bend it, of course, and if it bends, return it to fish catching shape it had before it caught the fish.

On the other hand, if the lure catches nothing, or gets wildly out of shape during the catching phase, either add an asymmetric bend, or return it to the shape it had.

Now, when you have that coho doing its roll thing at the side of the boat, be ready to slip that net under it the moment it ceases, for it will do it again in short order. As we all know: fortune favours the bold, and the only Latin we all know is: Carpe diem means seize the fish.

Some coho policy considerations: 

If DFO focussed on habitat restoration, much of the problem with low, wild numbers, particularly Interior coho, would disappear. No one can change ocean survival rates, but doing the best for our fish on the spawning beds is something that can be done. (There is, of course, a caveat to be mentioned – if DFO says the problem is ocean survival, but bases that comment on low return numbers, that is a whole different issue from measuring the ocean and finding it actually has low survival conditions. For example, the problem could be changing water conditions in inside waters that kills fry, and not open ocean survival at all, unless you have done the actual tests to prove it).

And for the sake of fisheries, hatchery diploid or triploid coho would be a good idea as they would not compete on spawning beds, and with low numbers of wild coho, competition at sea is not the problem. The Pacific Salmon Foundation study on the Salish Sea is a great idea for addressing the problems in inside waters. So, Strait of Georgia coho and chinook numbers, an area that competition between diploided and wild fish may prove a deciding factor on where to enhance which stocks.

All anglers with experience can remember blueback fishing in January in Saanich Inlet, and Georgia Strait up to five pounds in April to June. Winchelsea Islands comes to mind. It was the case that as the smaller outbound fish were ending, the first of the returnees had already arrived back in our waters. June was a big month in kelp beds on the outside of Van Isle.


1.      The Salmon Outlook document on which fishery plans are based:
2.      These are the regulations for salmon retention in the Victoria area:
3.      I will be doing the pink fly fishing thing on the north island for the next two weeks, so no articles until after I come back, circa August 5.
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