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OR salmon/halibut seasons open Friday

On Oregon Waters, Larry Ellis author badge for

regon and California anglers in the Klamath Management Zone (KMZ) who have been awaiting an agonizingly long 235 days to catch a Chinook since the closing of last year’s general ocean salmon season will finally get their chance to hook up with an ocean king in the KMZ Friday, May 1.

The KMZ is divided up into the Oregon section and California section.

The Oregon KMZ spans an area from Humbug Mountain, Oregon south to the Oregon/California border, while the California KMZ denotes a wide area from the California/Oregon border south to Horse Mountain, California.

The “all-salmon-except-coho” seasons for both the Oregon and California KMZ will remain the same, from May 1 through September 7. Both sections of the KMZ will be open seven days a week, with a limit of two salmon per day.

But it is important to note that the Oregon and California sections of the KMZ have a different minimum size limit for Chinook.

Ray Walthall from Medford limited out on striped surfperch, 5 in a row, photo by Larry Ellis
Ray Walthall from Medford limited out on striped surfperch last week on small pieces of raw shrimp while surf fishing in Harbor. Photo by Larry Ellis

In the Oregon KMZ, the minimum size limit for Chinook is 24 inches total length, while in the California KMZ, the minimum size limit for Chinook is 20 inches total length.

But seriously, I doubt that any angler would keep a 20-inch Chinook, which to me would be like keeping a trout in the ocean.

The two main questions are, will the salmon get here by May 1, and where will they be hiding out? Everything depends on several factors.

First, you will be looking for water temperature between 51 and 53 degrees, with the ideal temperature being 52 degrees, a salmon’s comfort zone when they tend to bite the best.

Second, anglers should be looking for signs of bait, whether the bait is crab spawn, krill, Pacific sand lance (needlefish), anchovies, herring or sardines. Be sure to scan the horizon for birds, which will be feeding on bait and baitfish and then be sure to mark the bait with your fish finders.

Set the depth of your rods so that your anchovies will be about 2 feet higher than the marked schools of bait. You will be able to visualize this change by reading your downrigger balls on the screen. The reason for performing this little trick of the trade is because a salmon’s eyes naturally tend to look upward, and they will be slightly above the bait school. If you don’t get bit by using this tactic, then place your downrigger ball slightly below the baitfish school. One way or the other, you’ll be in the strike zone.

Third, look for current rips, also known as trash lines. A current rip is a long very identifiable piece of water that contains two sides. One side will look like a slick, glassy-flat water formation, while the other side will be paralleling it with pieces of debris such as kelp, foam and driftwood. These current rips will often go on for miles.

If you find 52-degree water, with birds working schools of bait or baitfish, and current rips all located together — you’ve hit the jackpot. Drop your baits and start trolling.

If you don’t get bit in the center of the current rip, try trolling on one side or the other.

Another really great tactic is to make 30-degree turns. After driving your boat straight for a spell, angle your boat 30-degrees to one side of the boat’s wake. After your lines straighten out again, angle your boat 30-degrees to the other side of the boat’s wake.

This tactic causes baits on the inside rods to sink slightly and slow down in speed, while the baits on the outside rods will rise up in the water column and speed up. This technique drives slow-biting salmon nuts. Usually the inside rods are the ones that get hit first.

The ideal trolling speed is going to be somewhere between 1.8 and 2.2 miles an hour, depending on the strength of the current. If you are going against the current, troll slower, to keep your baits from getting ripped up. Conversely, if your boat is going with the current, you can afford to troll faster.

Also, it is important to note that if the fish are deeper than 150 feet, definitely brine your anchovies or they will get ripped up. I find the best brine on the market to be Pautzke’s Fire Brine in the color chartreuse. You can put a package or two of anchovies (10 to the pack) in this stuff overnight in the fridge, and they will be ready to fish the next morning.

In addition to the salmon opener, Pacific halibut aficionados in the Southern Oregon Subarea (Humbug Mountain to the Oregon/California border) will also get their first shot at catching a big flattie when the season opens May 1 as well, and the season will continue through October 31, or until this year’s quota of 7,318 pounds is attained.

Last year’s quota was 3,712 pounds, so this year’s quota is double that of last year, minus 106 pounds.

Rockfish action continued to be stellar last week, with a lot of the fish hugging the bottom. So if you are using leadfish combined with braided line, after your leadfish bottoms out, only lift your rod up about 1.5 feet to keep your lure in the strike zone.

There’s a fine line between keeping your lure in the strike zone and losing it to a pinnacle, but you have to fish where the fish reside if you want to catch them. Rockfish are often underneath overhanging rocks. Most of the rockfish we caught last week were hugging the bottom so closely that they did not even show up on the fish finder.

Surfperch fishing still remains to be the hottest action of all. Limits upon limits of striped and redtail surfperch were hitting the fillet stations, and the action should only continue to get better in May. The best bait was small pieces of raw shrimp, with some folks catching their redtails on Camo-colored Berkley 2-inch Sand Worms.

Tight lines!

Larry Ellis, author, writer, columnist and photographer has had a 50-year passion for fishing in California and Oregon's saltwater and freshwater venues. He is a well-known writer for Oregon, Washington and California Fishing and Hunting News, Northwest Sportsman, California Sportsman and Pacific Coast Sportfishing. He currently writes monthly for Salmon Trout Steelheader Magazine, and is the weekly fishing columnist for “On the Water” for the Curry Coastal Pilot Newspaper. He particularly loves living in his hometown of Brookings, Oregon - The heart of salmon country and gateway to fishing paradise.

On the Water in Oregon by Larry Ellis is posted with permission of the Curry Coastal Pilot of Brookings, Oregon.

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