Outdoors

Digging for Razor Clams

clamdiggersatsunset.jpg

Digging for Razor Clams

If you’re like me and you’ve had just about enough of this lackluster Spring Chinook season, you may want to take a look at some other options.  Instead of lamenting your empty freezer or staying home, consider heading to the beach for some clam digging.

Razor clams are hands down the best tasting bivalve on the coast.  Their tender, flavorful body will make anyone salivate merely at the thought of biting into a breaded and fried specimen.  Coming off of 2015 in which Razor Clamming was closed coast wide in both Oregon and Washington due to Domoic acid for much of the spring and summer.  As a result, many of those Razors never got harvested and are ripe to be plucked from the surf.

Doing so can be tricky at times however.  Depending on where you are searching for them, they’re “show” will take different forms.  In the higher parts of the beach they will be a small hole in the sand, or a dimple. Down at the surf line the clams will be closer to the surface and will often make their necks visible as the filter water in and out of their bodies.  These are generally the easiest to dig as they are so close to the surface but beware of the surf and the risk of losing your catch to a receding wave.

Most Razor Clam harvesters most often use an implement known as a “Clam Gun” to catch their quarry.  These have a long metal or PVC cylinder with a sealed handle and a hole in it for the user to create suction with.  These devices have seen some innovations in the last couple of years involving high quality Stainless Steel or aluminum components and different diameters to accommodate the full range of clam enthusiasts. 

Some clam gun manufacture’s such as “Clam-Vac” have begun vertically attaching a small tube to the side of the cylinder.  This helps to relieve the pressure as the gun is pushed into, and pulled out of the sand.  Though I’ve never tried them, it seems like this would make the task of gathering Razor’s more attainable for the young, old, or for anybody who struggles with it.

Other tools to take along with you include a net to put your catch in.  Danielson makes one that easily clips to your belt loop allowing your hands to be free for digging.  At minimum you’ll want knee boots, but I like to use my breathable chest-waders.  I also take along a plastic or metal broom handle with the head unscrewed to use a tamping stick.  Using a 3’ piece of 40# mono, tie a slipknot through the top of the broom handle and tie the other end to large duo-lock snap then clip it to your belt loop.  That way you can drop the tamping stick and dig without losing it in the surf.

As far as locations are concerned the Oregon side of the Columbia River has excellent digging from Ft. Stevens State Park, south all the way to Seaside.  Many of the beaches from Gearhart north have drive-on beach access that even most 2 wheel drive vehicles can handle.  Of course always exercise caution when driving off road however.  Washington also has great clamming to offer.  The Long Beach Peninsula is loaded with tasty Razors but the seasons tend to be more short lived and tightly monitored though so always check with WDFW before going.

Tides are easily the most important factor when determining whether or not to dig.  Any “minus” tide will do, but the lower the better.  Make sure to arrive at least 2 hours before low slack.  This will not only allow plenty of time to dig, but often the beaches get crowded and can be picked over by the time low tide is near.  The other factor to consider before going is the height of the surf.  Often when things get too rough out there (8’-10’ or more) the clams don’t seem to show as well.  Check USCG bar reports to get an idea before you go.

As luck would have it, we happen to have some killer tides coming this weekend so take Mom down with you or surprise her with fried Razors for Mothers Day dinner!   Good luck out there, and be safe.

April fishing update, an odd spring Chinook season so far

teddy.jpg

April fishing update, an odd spring Chinook season so far

The 2016 Spring Chinook season is shaping up to be an odd one to say the least. Snow pack is much improved over last year but it seems that perhaps the poor ocean conditions of 2015 may have had an adverse effect on our Spring Chinook stocks at sea.  The Columbia has been closed for two weeks now and given the lackluster counts at Bonneville thus far, I would be surprised to see it reopen before June. 

To make matters worse, Oregon’s tried and true fail safe river known as the Willamette hasn’t exactly been on fire either.  Many top guides are struggling to find two or three fish a day with the occasional skunk happening at times too. 

In addition to ocean conditions being to blame, one can’t spend more than a few minutes at Clackamette Park or the falls without realizing what a huge problem Sea Lions are causing for Fisherman.  Between their presence in high numbers putting fish off the bite, or straight up stealing them off an otherwise successful angler’s line, the lower Willamette is an absolute bloodbath.  What to do about the situation with the Pinnipeds is a discussion for another forum but one can’t help but notice the appearance of these predators in northwest rivers over the last fifteen years or so has begun to make a huge impact on our Salmon runs.

Things are not all doom and gloom however.  The truth is that there are still fish to be caught, it just may take a little more time and patience than it has in previous years.  Bites are precious now more than ever so be sure to make each one count by keeping your hooks sharp and your gear in top working order. 

Summer and Fall Salmon Seasons have been set!  This includes my all-time favorite fishery, Buoy 10.  There will be a few changes this year down at the red can that aim to help extend the season all the way to Labor Day.  While the majority of Chinook strains remain very healthy, the Snake River, and Lower River Tule stocks are down.  This means managers have decided to designate Sundays and Mondays between August 1st and September 5th as “clipped Chinook only” days to help limit the number of wild fish taken.  If this season is anywhere near as good as last year, it shouldn’t hurt your ability to load your freezer and cupboards with plenty of Salmon, you may just be faced with the prospect of having to turn back one of those stud wild URB’s we run into up there from time to time.  Other than that, the bag limit will remain similar to past years with two Salmon only one of which may be a Chinook and Coho must be clipped. 

The trout stocking schedule is in full swing as well as Spring Bear (Hopefully you were luckier than I was and managed to draw a tag).  The full Schedule is on the ODFW page where you can also sign up to receive email updates on which lakes and reservoirs have been stocked.  Another activity that is fun for the whole family is the sport reward bounty program for Northern Pikeminnow, which begins May 1st.  Chicken livers or cheese balls fished in and around wing dams and along current seams where they congregate, will produce bites.

Did I mention Summer Steelhead? No.  But these feisty brats are entering the tribs in good numbers now even if the DFW’s aren’t stocking them in numbers like they used to.  The Sandy and Clackamas on the Oregon side as well as the Cowlitz, Kalama, and Lewis are starting to see catchable numbers show up.

Whatever you plan to do, make sure you take advantage of this great weather we are having and get outside with the family!

How to improve your hook to landing ratios

herring_chomp.jpg

How to improve your hook to landing ratios

A few years back I was trolling downstream from Willamette Park, my crew and I had our rods staggered throughout the water column in an attempt to cover the greatest amount of water possible.  Passing through the deep hole just up from the Spaghetti Factory Teddy’s rod took two sharp dips, hesitated,……buried, then went slack just as he was about to pick up the rod.  Teddy then began a long painful retrieve only to find the horrific sight of a thoroughly mauled Herring, and no Spring Chinook to show for it.  As can often happen to those that don’t fall into the “Open class” category of Spring Chinook anglers, we went the rest of the day without another opportunity.  Though it’s impossible not to miss a bite once in a while, there are some things we can do to maximize the number of chances we convert on. 

It all starts with a good rod that should be matched up to the type of fishing you are doing.  This doesn’t mean you have to spend $300 on a state of the art composite rod (though that does help) but you should expect to drop at least $60.  The Okuma SST, Berkley IM7, and North River are all good lines of technique specific sticks that won’t break the bank.  My absolute favorite all-around rod of all time is the 934 Kenai Kwik.  However, you won’t find me dragging hardware behind it because it is designed as a bait rod and has too soft a tip for blades.  Find something that works for how you plan to fish.

Everyone has a different opinion on mainline and although I’m a fan of braid for many tactics, I don’t often use it to troll for Springers.  When I do it would be for back-bouncing or trolling spinners, but I mostly pull bait so mono is my go-to.

For most people, the first lesson they ever learned about catching fish is to always keep your hooks sharp.  This has never been truer than with barbless hook rules in effect on the Willamette and Columbia.  Speaking of hooks, most of the rivers we fish in the spring allow up to three per rod.  Don’t hesitate to experiment with this.  I would recommend if using a triple mooching rig to not go over 3/0 with any of the hooks.  Anything heavier will add too much weight to get a proper roll in my experience.

This weekend I played around with running a size 2 treble as a trailing hook.  If you’re wondering how I pulled that off considering you can’t thread a treble through a Herring, I Simply used a Herring Helmet which allows you to only run the top hook through the mid-point of the bait.  I would also recommend that you shorten up your hook spacing to about 3 finger widths.  I didn’t get bit that day, but I ran a similar setup at Buoy 10 last summer with good results.

Knowing how and when to set the hook is another critical component to landing Salmon.  Anytime you’re using bait, be it Herring, Prawns, eggs, or even wrapped Kwikfish, it’s important to remember three words: Let them eat.  Leave the rod alone until it is buried and line is coming off the reel.  There is a theory that when a Salmon picks up a bait (specifically baitfish) it will chew it a few times then turn the opposite direction and swim off.  This is in an attempt to swallow the bait head first.  Salmon can’t swim backward so if you set the hook before line is coming off the reel, you run the risk of pulling it right out of Mr.  Springer’s mouth.  I will sometimes tell novices when they get bit to ignore their rod and stand over their reel and look down at it waiting for the drag to peel before picking up the rod.

News just broke that the Columbia River season will be cut short by one day so Friday the 8th will be our last chance at black-faced Springer for a while.  Hopefully you have a chance to get out and take advantage before it closes, if not there’s always the Willamette.  I’ll be digging razors since we have great tides this weekend.  Hope to see you down there!

Columbia River Spring Chinook update

ricks_springer.jpg

Columbia River Spring Chinook update

It’s actually happening folks.  After weeks and weeks of waiting and most of us putting in countless rod hours on the river with nary a nibble to show for it, we are finally experiencing what could be considered decent Spring Chinook fishing.  Now before you get all hot and bothered, let’s all take a deep breath and remember what ‘decent’ Springer fishing means for us mortals.  For guys like me, it looks something like trolling all day long with three buddies and having one or two chances at best.  So just because your favorite guide is blowing up your Facebook feed with quick limits, try to keep things in perspective.  That said, given that there is no finer Salmon in the world than the Columbia River Springer, it only takes a fish or two to have an excellent day so its time to get out and enjoy this fishery.

Nearly 1,300 upriver origin Spring Chinook were kept last week (up from 432 the week prior) which brings the total to just over 2,200 fish.  The total allowable impact before any run size adjustment is 7,130 upriver fish, which puts us at 31% of our quota.  The best catch rate took place in the Gorge were anglers averaged .5 fish per boat while the Portland, Troutdale, Westport and the estuary all averaged around .2 per boat.

Fishery managers allowed a 9-hour commercial season on Tuesday the 29th.  As of this writing, the results have not been posted yet but the season was modeled to allow about 71% of the total commercial harvest quota.  Depending on the outcome there may be another commercial opener on April 5th, but said date will be closed to sport fishing regardless.

In other news, ODFW just announced that beginning April 1st the popular 2-rod endorsement will apply to Salmon, and Steelhead on the Willamette River and other tributaries.  Kids under 12 do not need the endorsement in order to use a second rod.  This could make for a great family outing at Oregon City in late spring for a Salmon/Shad combo trip!  Check the ODFW Website for more details.

As we approach April and with warm daytime temps this week and the rivers continuing to drop, the Columbia should see a big spike in catch rate from the estuary all the way up to beacon rock this weekend.  Look for the Gorge to continue to produce as well as the other usual suspects; Davis Bar, I5, the Airport, and Caterpillar Island will put slabs on the grill.  Corbett and Rooster Rock are also great prospects for those looking to escape the ‘washing machine’ effect typically found closer to Portland.

While all the focus will be on the big river over the course of the next week and a half, its little brother the Willamette should stay on your radar too.  The turbidity gauge is reading at about six right now which means its cloudy but fishable.  In these conditions focus your efforts on shallow shelves or areas that fish will suspend such as the Portland harbor.  Springers will often stay in the top 10’ to 15’ of the water column and be aggressive.  Also, don’t be afraid to use a double flasher setup.  This will help draw them in a bit.  Good luck!

Trolling the Columbia for Spring Chinook

davis_springer.jpg

Trolling the Columbia for Spring Chinook

Year in and year out, trolling is by far the most popular method on the Columbia River.  Though it certainly isn’t the only technique by which to fill your freezer with arguably the world’s tastiest Salmon, there’s a reason so many anglers employ trolling.  This week, we’ll take a look at some of the conditions, and structure to pay attention to while chasing Springers on the Columbia.

2016 is shaping up to be vastly different than the previous year.  The Columbia basin has a far greater snow pack which will help keep the headwaters cool and reservoirs full throughout the summer.  This will translate to cooler water temps and higher flows than we had last year.  I don’t think however that the flows will be like the ones we saw in 2011, in which the Columbia surpassed flood stage for nearly two weeks.  This year looks to be more like an average, or slightly above average year in terms of runoff.  This should keep fish biting well throughout the season but not produce such heavy flows that we have no choice but to anchor in the bushes.

Looking back through my journal entries it seems that in years similar to this in snow pack, your efforts are best spent targeting shallow to medium depth flats such as the ones found near the airport, Davis Bar and Corbett.  In addition to the tides, I use the Vancouver gauge to help he choose what water to target.  Right now the river is hovering around 10’ which is a little higher than ideal for trolling the big river, but definitely not out of the question.  I’ve trolled up fish with the gauge as high as 12.75’.  Current breaks caused by wing dams, points, or other structure can help funnel fish.

Though the rigging may not change much, this technique looks a little different on the big river than it does on the Willamette.  Stronger currents put fish close to the bottom meaning that more often than not your lead should be dredging a trough in the sand as the boat maneuvers downstream.  Shorter lead dropper lines of 12-16” will get your gear down even closer to the deck.  Most guides will tell you than if the cut edge of your Herring isn’t sand-blasted after each pass, you weren’t fishing.  The one exception might come when the tide slows down during the incoming.  In this case I still like to keep my back rods banging the bottom, but might bring the bow rods a crank or two up as fish may suspend a little in softer flows.

 One feature that is unique to the lower Columbia is the rolling dunes found across its substrate.  When the current pushes hard, the low spots between these mounds can offer great shelter for weary upriver bound Salmon.  Many anglers will get lazy and just fish the tops of the dunes all the while passing their gear right over the top of aggressive Salmon.  Instead of passing up these fish, keep a close eye on your sonar and kick the motor into neutral about the time the boat passes the top of the dune. This will drop your baits into the low spot where fish hold.  Once you approach the incline, put the motor back into gear and repeat the process.  This may seem tedious at times, but it will pay off once you get the hang of it.

Because you’ll spend most of your time dragging bottom it is wise to change your Herring after a pass or two.  Bait will have a tendency to ‘mushroom out’ which after a while will cause it to stop spinning.  Another solution would be to use a Herring helmet such as the ‘Dick’s Sure-Spin’ to help keep your bait together.  These can also be used to add some color to the equation.

The vast majority of trollers will use some sort of rotating flasher such as the YBC Fish Flash, Short Bus, or other variety.  It’s best to let available light and water clarity determine flasher color.  For turbid water or low light conditions use contrasting fluorescent patterns while metallic colors reflect better under clearer water and sunnier weather.  Shades of green, Chartreuse, blue, and orange opposite chrome are hard to beat.

We have some nice holdover tides this week so if you have a chance to get out, now is the time to do it.  The Willamette looks like it will be blown out for at least 10 days so focusing your efforts above Kelly Point would be wise.  Good luck out there!

Beads, bobbers, and beating the crowds

downriver_steelhead.jpg

Beads, bobbers, and beating the crowds

Pulling into Riverside Park last Saturday, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of boat trailers in the parking lot.  Sure the river was on the rise after a shot of rain overnight, but it wasn’t the kind of freshet that would cause feeder creeks to puke mud and send the river gauge sky high.  This was just enough of a bump to bring some fresh recruits into the system.

On this particular day, I was fortunate enough to be jumping in the boat with pro guide Brandon Glass for a morning chasing Winter Steelhead on the Clackamas.  On tap would be a steady diet of 12 and 14 millimeter beads fished underneath 3/8 oz Beau-Mac floats.   Had there been more color in the water, we were prepared with ‘Bobber-Dogging’ outfits, but the river had maintained clarity in spite of the rising water level. 

We carefully picked our way from one hole to the next free-drifting our beads carefully through each slot.  The ones that produced a bite would get hit a second or third time, but for the most part Brandon kept us moving along once each piece of water had been properly fished.  Often this meant only a single pass.  The fish seemed to be scattered throughout the river but by day’s end we tallied five fish to the boat with three other opportunities. 

For his bead setups, Brandon uses a 3/8th oz sliding Beau-Mac float with a ½ oz inline weight followed by 2’ of 20# fluorocarbon tied to a swivel followed by three feet of 14# fluorocarbon to a size one Octopus hook.  Tie a short section of fluoro (about an inch) to one of the eyes on the swivel and pinch on a small split shot.   A small rubber bobber stop set about 3” above the hook keeps the free sliding bead from getting too close to the hook.  When he uses soft beads, Brandon recommends adding a small sequin between the two in order to keep the bead from sliding over the bobber stop.

The fluorocarbon leaders are important for two reasons.  One, fluoro is nearly invisible under water and since beads work best under low, clear conditions it’s only natural that they go hand in hand.  Secondly, fluoro is denser than monofilament therefore sinks better.  This is necessary in order to get the neutrally buoyant bead down into the strike zone quickly.

The premise of this method is to fish the split shot near or even on the bottom of the river.  This will allow the bead to drift naturally downstream like a single egg broken free from a redd.

Though the calendar still read “February,” it was clear that the Springer bug had already bitten some of the regular visitors to this tributary.  Just a couple weeks prior, the same stretch of water was loaded with sleds and drift boats.  And even though the conditions were optimal at the time, the bite definitely suffered under the weight of the crowds. 

As we transition into Spring Chinook season keep in mind that there will remain plenty of opportunity for great Steelhead fishing under far less crowded conditions over the next month.  

2016 Spring Chinook Primer

brandon_net.jpg

2016 Spring Chinook Primer

You know you’ve been thinking about it.  In fact, some of you have probably even taken the boat out of moth balls and made a few passes looking for a fabled February Spring Chinook.  But chances are very few have actually brought one to hand.  But staring in the face of long odds, and often miserable weather has never been much of a deterrent for Northwest anglers, even when other options might include having a banner day of chasing hard fighting Winter Steelhead.   Non-fisherman probably look at this act in futility as pure madness and in many ways, I would have to agree.  While the prospects of tangling with a fresh Columbia or Willamette River Springer over the next two weeks are slim as best, it only takes one gleaming specimen to make a memorable start to the season.

Right now a handful of die-hards are prying some of the traditionally best early season Springer holes in search of the leading edge of what fisheries managers from Oregon and Washington estimate to be a combined run of around 300,000 Spring Chinook.  Sellwood Bridge, the head of the Multnomah Channel, and Davis Bar are a few of the areas that hold fish throughout the season but hold a special place in our hearts as they are known to give up some of the earliest fish of the run.

In late January, fisheries managers from both states have set the season for the lower river to run until April 9th below Bonneville Dam, and until May 6th above.  Be careful to note the closures from Bonneville down to Beacon Rock for boat anglers.  As is typical over the last decade, there is a one clipped Chinook limit per angler.  This year there are only two scheduled (currently) closure dates for sport fisherman to allow commercial fishing: March 29th and April 5th. 

After a couple years of gross over-estimations in the late 2000s, it seems the departments have been a bit more conservative in their run size estimates.  With that in mind, it’s quite possible that we’ll see an extension or a couple of single day openers following April 9th.  This seems to be a sensible approach to fish management so as to allow some early fish to get over the wall to satisfy the tribes and upriver anglers before reopening the lower river and risk burning through our impacts too early.  If we have passage numbers like last year we will likely see it reopened in May through the end of the season.  Just keep in mind that there are a certain percentage allocated to each user group meaning if sport fisherman get more time, so do the commercial guys.

Conditions always play a role in the early angler success.  Last season we had great catches early on with low flows and warmer than normal water temps.  This year the snowpack in the basin is shaping up to be higher than average so the catch rate may start off a bit slower as high flows and cold temps can slow the bite. 

Plunkers on lower Columbia beaches will be exited for the deep snow however.  Heavy runoff will push Springers into the softer water along the banks.  Backtrolling may also prove effective in the big river again if water clarity drops.  This method can help put out a scent trail and slower moving lure for fish to hone in on.

Of the nearly 300,000 scheduled to come back to the river mouth, about 70,000 are bound for the Willamette River.  Last year we had a forecast of around 55,000 and nearly double that number returned so prospects on the Willy look pretty optimistic as well. 

Hopefully by now you’ve procured your Herring for the season as when things get going in can be difficult or at the very least expensive to find quality green label.  Not all Sardines are created equal too so it wouldn’t hurt to try and find some that aren’t bloody or freezer burned if you plan to Backtroll, or anchor.  Don’t forget to stock up on Coldwater Prawns as these can be highly effective on the Willamette.

Hopefully you made it to the Sportsmen’s show and got stocked up on all your supplies because Springer season is just around the corner.  See you on the river!

High water Winter Steelhead action

screenshot_2016-02-14-17-38-35.png

High water Winter Steelhead action

On Wednesday, I took the opportunity to catch a seminar by Cody Herman at the Sportsmen’s show.  Some of you may know him as a former Co-host of Outdoor GPS, and current host of Day One Outdoors.  His seminar was titled: River Hydraulics and Fish Behavior.  As you can tell by the name, this was a fairly meaty topic.  But the science of how a river carves and meanders its way from headwater to mouth has always intrigued me as it should for any dedicated river fisherman.  Cody had some very good information on finding Steelhead in all water conditions, but water really had me interested was what he said about fishing in high water.

This is an area of Steelheading that has always eluded me.  Though I feel confident in low water, I’ve had a tendency to shy away from the river when the gauge gets a little out of my comfort zone.  Stained rivers and high flows tend to keep me home, opting to save my ‘hall pass’ for another day.  But sometimes waiting for those prime days can lead to frustration in the form crowded rivers.  Case in point, last Sunday I fished the Clackamas under clear blue skies, 13.2 on the gauge with a steady drop.  The stretch between Barton and Carver must have had at least 40 boats in it and needless to say, only a handful of fish were caught.

For the weekend angler it is important to adapt to whatever set of conditions Mother Nature throws at you or you might miss out.  With that in mind, let’s take a look at some keys to success in high water.

Ironically, one of the drawbacks to fishing in ideal conditions (3-5 feet of visibility) is that fish can hold literally anywhere in the river.  Take that same river and turn it into a raging torrent with a foot of visibility and it actually becomes quite easy to locate fish.  No longer will they hold in the riffles, runs, and tailouts where heavy current and sediment flows make it difficult to hold and breathe.  They will now gravitate to the banks and shallow inside corners where current seams and softer water gives them a place to rest and breathe comfortably.  These areas will also have slightly better visibility, making it easier to get your bait in front of a willing biter.

Plunking is one of the more popular and effective means of catching Steelhead in high flows.  Once you have located a likely traveling lane you’re in business.  Most of the time a long cast isn’t necessary therefore an extra long rod or specialized gear isn’t needed.  Your standard drift rod will usually work just fine since heavy weights aren’t typically used.  A simple 3-way swivel to a 12-20 inch dropper and 36 inch leader of 15-20 lb mono will do the trick.  Medium sized Spin n’ glows in solid colors such as black, white, glow in the dark or other primary colors are a good bet.  Pairing them with cured eggs, Sandshrimp, or Coonstripe Shrimp is the ticket.  Up size your hooks to 1/0 or 2/0 to fit the size of bait you plan to use.

Another method to intercept moving Steelhead is to position your drift boat or jet sled in one of these traveling lanes and then deploy a variety of plugs and baits from anchor.  Though we don’t see it used much on Portland metro streams or the north coast, this is the go-to method for southern Oregon streams such as the Umpqua.

Though there may be times during a heavy storm you might want to wait things out while it’s on a sharp rise, as soon as the river crests and starts to drop you should be thinking about getting back out again.  Also keep in mind that the higher up you go in any given system, the earlier it will begin to get back into shape.

As I mentioned earlier, I had the chance to spend some time at the Sportsmen’s show this week.  I had the pleasure of meeting some great folks from local businesses about some of the new products they will be rolling out in the near future.  Hopefully I’ll be able to share some of those with you next week.  Good luck, and tight lines!

Trophy Winter Steelhead tips and tactics

sahnow_steelhead.jpg

Trophy Winter Steelhead tips and tactics

Though few have had the honor of catching one, every fisherman or woman that calls themselves a Steelheader has a very clear picture in their mind of what that ‘once in a lifetime’ Steelhead looks like.  That mammoth Buck with a tail wrist too big to get your fingers all the way around, its head and flanks clad with war paint.  Often times these marauding behemoths will refuse offerings that their smaller brethren fall victim to on a regular basis. 

After an absolutely stellar first half of the season we’re approaching the time of year when some of the biggest and baddest Steelhead in the region enter our rivers.  While it is certainly possible to land a trophy fish on any given method, there are a few that seem to produce more big Steelies than others.

Spoons: Bent metal may have accounted for more monster Steelhead than any other technique.  Lures such as the “Li’l Cleo” and “Stee-Lee” among others have been catching big fish for several decades.  A stout casting rod and low-profile reel paired with 15# test line is a good setup to start with.  Spoons can be fished in similar water to spinners, but they particularly shine in tailouts. 

A straight across or slightly downstream cast will put the spoon in position to ‘swing’ across the target water back to the bank.  Size of your spoon will depend upon the current speed and depth of the run.  The best Spoon fisherman will develop a sense for when the lure is just off the bottom where the fish will lie.

Pink Worms: as the popularity of these wiggly plastics rises, it’s becoming increasingly inaccurate to refer to them as “pink.”  Large tackle manufacturers and small-time garage based business are producing them in an ever expanding array of colors.  They are incredibly versatile as they can be drift fished, rigged under a float, side drifted, or even bobber-dogged.  Most bobber riggings involve a 4-6” worm with the tip snipped off just above the collar and threaded on to a white 1/8oz or 1/4oz jig head.  Fish them just like you would a jig, making sure to balance out the float with the weight and jig.

Pink worms are known for drawing savage strikes from big Steelhead. There is just something about these faux Nightcrawlers that drives Steelies absolutely crazy!  Drift fisherman usually add a cheater, corkie, or some other type of drift bobber in front of the worm to get a little floatation. 

Plugs:  along with tossing spoons, backtrolling plugs for Steelhead may be one of the most time-tested and proven techniques out there.  Sure, other methods may tend to put up bigger numbers of fish, but nothing will get your heart pumping like seeing (and hearing) a mint bright steelie nail your plug and come cart wheeling out of the water before you can even put your coffee down.

Diving plugs have long had a reputation of catching the most aggressive fish in the river.  The concept is simple; deploy a wall of plugs at the top of the hole at a distance of approximately 50-70 feet and back them down slowly (tip: the colder the water temp, the slower you should go) all the way through the bottom of the run.  Always make sure to fish them just a bit further down into the tailout than you think a fish will hold.  The reason being is that often time a fish will usually encounter the plugs higher up in the hole, but slowly drop back as the wall of plugs pushes them.  When the tailout is reached, the fish will be forced to make a choice to either strike, or retreat to the next hole.  Therefore it seems the larger, more territorial fish are caught with this technique.

Each of these tactics have one thing in common.  Erratic action.  Bill Herzog once likened spoon fishing versus other methods to throwing an old soup bone over a fence in an attempt to entice a Rottweiler to come grab it.  He may not even bat an eye and just go back to sleep.  Now if you throw a snarling, frantic cat over the same fence, you’ll probably get a more positive response.  I think the same could be said about any of these methods.  Disclaimer-don’t throw any cats over your neighbor’s fence.  

The rivers should be a little on the high side, but still very fishable this weekend, so get out and chase that fish of a lifetime.  Also, I’ll be at the Sportsmen’s show this coming Wednesday checking out all the new gadgets and gear so be sure to say hi if you spot me!

Mid-Winter Crab and Rockfish combo

crab_cooler.jpeg

Mid-Winter Crab and Rockfish combo

In case you haven’t noticed, we happen to be right smack in the middle of one of the best Winter Steelhead seasons this region has seen in recent years.  Not only in sheer number of chrome rockets coming to boat and bank, but size as well.  I’ve been seeing some real pigs showing up on social media and from friends thus far and given that larger fish traditionally don’t show until February or March, It seems we could be in for a bumper crop of trophy Steelies in the weeks to come.  With all that in mind it’s pretty hard to imagine taking a weekend off from chasing chrome but sometimes nothing beats a trip to the coast for primetime Crabbing and Rockfishing.

We’ve all heard the old adage that crabbing is best in months that end in ‘er’, and while that may be true to an extent, I’m here to tell you that crabbing is still very much at peak season.  That combined with the fact that Lingcod and other Rockfish species are making their way close to shore to spawn, one can put together a pretty epic combo trip.

With domoic acid levels on the drop, recreational crabbing is open coastwide both inside the bays and in the ocean.  I’m a big proponent of getting outside anytime conditions allow but even when things are too rough to cross the bar you can still do just fine inside.  Try to avoid strong outgoing tides or periods of high water in the tributaries when planning your trip.  Any incoming or high slack tide will help the crab bite.

When it comes to bait, there seems to be one clear cut winner, and then a whole bunch of other various piscatorial carcasses that work fine but don’t really compare to Albacore Tuna.  I experienced this first hand at Tillamook Bay last weekend when fishing traps baited with Shad (my previous favorite) a short distance from those with Tuna carks.  The difference was shocking, not only in the vast number of Dungies in the Tuna baited cages, but in average size.  Often the Tuna-filled cages were stuffed with keepers and near keepers while the Shad stuffed traps were lucky to scrape up an occasional keeper.  It’s clear now why I have heard tails of guys dumpster-diving for Albie carks at Tuna ports.

What to do once all those traps are deployed and soaking?  Go fishing of course!  Tillamook, Depoe, Yaquina, and other ports have good bottom fishing available just a mile or two off the beaches.  Search for NOAA charts for the area to plan to fish and take note of rock piles, reefs, or any sudden change in depth.  If the bar is too sporty for you, just stay inside the tips and work the south jetty with jigs or stacked bait rigs.  Even Lingcod show up inside the jetties in winter so be ready for anything!

 

 

Darts, Diamond Jigs, and Shrimp flies are just few of the more popular lures for these species.  Depth, wind and current speed are the main factors that dictate the size of the offering.  I usually start at around 2 ounces and go up as needed to maintain a vertical presentation.  Lowering the rig to the bottom, reel up 1-2 cranks then begin briskly raising and dropping (on about a 36” swing) the rod tip to create a ‘fluttering’ action on the drop.  Be careful not to get line wrapped on the rod tip as you drop it.  Using heavier monofilament as your mainline will aid this but I like to run braid since it has no stretch and minimizes the effect of current. Once you begin jigging, keep an eye on the depth finder in case you move over a drop off.  The best strategy is always to stay as close to the bottom as possible without hanging up.

As Spring approaches, crab will begin to move offshore as they prepare to spawn so now is the time to load up the family and head to the coast for a multi-species adventure.  Good luck out there!