Hootchies are one of saltwater trolling’s most common tackle. They resemble squid which salmon eat, particularly chum. And the Wya Bay, Ucluelet, June fishery for big springs is spine-tingling stuff when the squid come on-shore to spawn. The reason it’s so good is that you may be fishing in as little as 30 feet of water, and your guide is rigging up squid that you have just jigged from the water. You float around, or slowly move in and out of gear, so the squid is presented properly, with a four- to six-ounce weight six feet in front of it. Similarly, Browns Bay north of Campbell River is largely a hootchy/squirt trolling bonanza for chum, particularly of the smaller commercial sizes and patterns, trolled behind a flasher.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of hootchy patterns available at tackle shops. Since only a small fraction work, you want to know from your records, from fellow anglers and from weekly reports such as the Island Outfitters link put together by Tom Vaida what the current hotties are.
Here is an example: one of the great patterns for the Campbell River area is the Jack Frost, based in yellowy-green. I had never seen one before or since, but darned if it isn’t sworn by in those waters.
And darned if a Purple Haze with a gold, not silver, Mylar skirt doesn’t just catch one after the other in Nootka Sound’s Gillam Channel and seaward on the banks. If you are towing your boat anywhere, phone ahead for the current good gear. I guarantee you that in hootchies, you will have to pick up a few and rig them up.
Some of the original colours still work quite well: white, glow white, clover leaf, glow green and Angel Wing. Then along came UV and glow in a broader line up. The Army Truck pattern influenced every type of gear it was so popular. Then along came Purple Haze that comes in two patterns: a silver based hootchy, and a translucent lure that gets a sexy purple tinge to it once it has cooled down to water temperature.
Look in my Vancouver Island Fishing Guide for the go-to colours all around Van Island where you might want to fish. In Quatsino Sound, for instance, we were advised that anything green/blue would work. I searched the dreg-ends of my tackle box and came up with a few I thought didn’t have a chance. These hootchies caught all our fish, surprisingly, and nothing else worked.
On the downside I broke off my best, ‘fished-in’ Mint Tulip on a screamer of a spring. Fished in means a lure that you haveused, over the years, and caught more fish on than other, seemingly identical lures. Pay attention to its properties and seek to reproduce them in another lure of the same colour, size and so on. It is better to lose a fished in lure, than change its leader and ruin its action. Fishing in a new lure is the answer.
Other good current colours in Oak Bay waters include squirts (it is a needle fish area, so squirts which re smaller, catch more fish) in J49, Jellyfish and the ageless green and white. Squirts are also the plastic gear of choice when fishing for coho, pinks (though a Day-glo orange hootchy is a standard) and sockeye. If you don’t have any squirts in the right colour, look to hootchies that have lines running down the length of the lure, as that resembles the slimmer needlefish. In fishing, explanations are found for gear that works, and I think this one qualifies.
As for rigging, use a double single Octopus style hook set up, 3/0 to 5/0 tied with nailless nail knots, or sliding knots. Leader dimensions are critical. Use the length that fits with your boat. In mine, the speed goes along with a 34-inch leader from the swivel to the tail end of the trailing hook – that makes it about 36-inches when including the ball bearing swivel on the flasher. And do put in spacer beads between the top end of the leading hook and the inside top of the hootchy as you rig the leader through it. This prevents hang-ups of the hooks in the fronds.
And the rule with hootchies is that you never, never let anything impede the fronds, whether a scrap of weed, hook, Mylar, etc. Fronds must hang loosely to appear natural. And always check every hootchy/squirt that you put in the water to be sure nothing is impeding the fronds. Other wise you will catch nothing.
As hootchies have no natural action, they are matched with a flasher that makes them do a figure eight or circle, depending on the flashers action at the speed you are trolling. For this reason, you don’t use a ball bearing swivel with the lure because that makes it spiral. You want the flasher snap to make the hootchy dart around in the water.
Leader test is a critical issue. Some use up to 40 pounds when fishing for big summer chinook. This makes a great deal of sense to hold the fish with flasher sheer so that it doesn’t pop the leader. The lightest you want for winter fishing is 25- to 30-pounds. The simplest rig is to tie a loop- or figure eight-knot in the top end of the leader and attach it to the snap. It takes some repetition to get the proper length from knot/swivel to trailing hook, but do take the time, as leader length is just as important as leader test.
You want action, and after you have caught a fish, cleaned and straightened the fronds, untangling them from one another, hook and so on, and checked, once in the water, that the lure is not fouled, attach to the downrigger and lower it (needs to be less than 10 feet between release clip and flasher), check action at trolling speed, and make a mental note of the leader length of the hootchy you have used (then reattach to the release clip, at its regular length). You want that for future reference, and over time, you will arrive at the best length for your boat’s trolling speed. Do note that speeding up makes the hootchy action wilder and that can excite a chinook into biting it.
So, if fishing is slow, speed up, for more lure action, particularly for winter fish, or migrating fish offshore. Along with this, troll across- or down-current. You don’t want to sit in one spot by trolling upstream. Move around and find the fish, something that is much easier going downstream. In the winter, schools could be several miles apart and you need to find them. As they are in deeper water than in the summer, it is far less likely for you to be fishing in a back eddy. Summer is about stick and stay and make it pay. Winter is about find the fish. Once I trolled with the current for several hours, then found the fish and took limits for two of us in less than an hour.