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Oregon: Ocean salmon still on the way

On Oregon waters by Larry Ellis, author badge,

almon anglers fishing out of the Port of Brookings Harbor trolled anywhere and everywhere from the red can buoy out to 8 miles off of House Rock (also called the shrimp beds), but most fishermen came back with zero salmon to their nets.

However, six Chinook salmon were caught last week, according to port samplers and this eye-witness reporter, who saw one approximate 10-pound king meeting the sharpened end of a fillet knife at the port’s fish-cleaning station. I also talked to one individual who recently caught two Chinook.

The kings have been running a little on the smallish side, with most fish in the 8- to 10-pound category, with a few fish tipping the scales at 19 pounds. But I’ll take all those 10-pound mouth-watering kings any day of the week.

Del Norte Harbor in Crescent City reported almost non-existent salmon action in their neck of the woods, according to Loren Taylor from Englund Marine Supply in Crescent City.

But where there is 52-degree water, there is hope.

Gary Blasi, owner of Full Throttle Sportfishing out of Eureka always tells me that he never gets too excited about the salmon fishing until the third or fourth week in May.

Last Wednesday, he reported that the beginning of their salmon action was just getting started. That qualifies as the third week of May to me. The question is, what’s going to happen during week four, which is next week?

Since Eureka forms the southern end of the Klamath Management Zone, the Eureka salmon should be in the Crescent City and Brookings-Harbor areas by the end of the month, because once they start howling, salmon move like the wind.

“The salmon have been here for about four or five days,” said Blasi on Wednesday. “We’ve got limits quite a few days so far.”

And that statement should give salmon anglers in the local vicinity a lot of hope that the Chinook should be here any time.

Blasi stated that on one particular day when limits were not achieved, 11 salmon were caught by 10:30 a.m. After the 11th fish was landed, numerous hookups were achieved to try and limit out the boat. But no matter how hard everyone tried, the 12th fish kept coming unhooked.

“The guy had plenty of chances,” added Blasi. “Then I finally said, ‘Let’s just button the drag all the way down and horse that son of a gun all the way in.’ It was literally 5 feet away from the net when the thing turned its head and spit the hook. So by 1:30 I just said we’re done.”

Most days, Blasi has been traveling 15 miles from port to fish the Eel River Canyon, his go-to salmon spot when the fishing is a little on the slow side everywhere else.

“That’s where those fish live,” says Blasi, “in the Eel River Canyon. And they live right here in Humboldt Bay, too, most of the time. We’re just waiting for them to start to move in.”

So get ready, the salmon will be moving into the waters off of Crescent City and the Port of Brookings harbor any day now.

Meanwhile the lingcod fishing out of the Port of Brookings Harbor has been totally off the charts. While I haven’t seen a lot of 30-pound-plus lingasaurs like in years’ past, most of the fish have been averaging anywhere from 8 pounds to 25 pounds — and there have been lots of them.

Lingcod are biting anything and everything. Some days twin-tail plastics have been the hot ticket to Ling City, while other days the lings have been hitting leadfish, shrimp flies and whole herring used on mooching rigs.

Hitchhiking is a term used when a lingcod latches onto an already-hooked fish, usually a rockfish or a kelp greenling (sea trout).You’ll know when a hitchhiking ling has grabbed onto one of your fish because a rod that felt like it was only bringing up 5 pounds of fish suddenly feels 20 pounds heavier.
Alana Ordoyne from Tidewind Sportfishing in Brookings decided to take the day off one day and landed a monstrous 20-pound class ling that was hitchhiking on a rockfish.
Alana Ordoyne from Tidewind Sportfishing in Brookings decided to take the day off one day and landed a monstrous 20-pound class ling that was hitchhiking on a rockfish.

A lingcod has very sharp inwardly-curved teeth. When it grabs onto an already-hooked fish, it cannot let go of the fish if it wanted to.

So if you are bringing up some rockfish and your rig suddenly gets heavier, bring up the fish agonizingly slowly. The lingcod will only think that it is following the fish to the surface.

When the lingcod finally does get to the surface, if you give the lingcod slack, it will let go of the fish. So never let the lingcod break the surface of the water and always maintain a steady amount of pressure while another fisherman gets out a net or a gaff.

If the lingcod should suddenly let go of the fish while it is in the water, immediately kick the reel into free spool and let the rockfish slowly go back to the bottom. Nine times out of ten, the lingcod will not be far behind and will grab the same fish again. I’ve seen this “release-bite” procedure occur several times in succession. Most of the time, if you are patient, you will land that tenacious lingcod.

Rockfish limits have also been common at the Port of Brookings Harbor’s fillet station, with black rockfish being the most common variety. The next common species of rockfish has been blue rockfish. Remember that you may only harvest three blue rockfish per one seven-fish rockfish daily limit.

Anglers also caught plenty of large canary rockfish as well. On Saturday, one rockfish sang like a canary and a soprano quickly whacked it. When weighed on my Rapala meat scale, the canary weighed 6 pounds, 4 ounces.

The difference between a 3-, 4-, or even a 5-pound canary rockfish and a 6-pound canary rockfish is quite striking. This fish was huge!

Remember that you are only allowed to keep one canary rockfish in your seven rockfish daily limit.

Also remember that May is the month when rockfish often come up to the surface to feed, if the water is calm enough.

So keep your eyes peeled for any unusual signs of splashing on the water’s surface, especially near the kelp beds.

If you do witness any wake-like activity, splashes, or boils on the surface of the water, throttle down and creep in slowly. This is the time to start throwing surface plugs like Rapalas and Yo-Zuris, or metal spoons such as 3/4-ounce Krocodiles and Kastmasters.

Catching rockfish on the surface is an absolute kick in the pants, and there should be another week’s opportunity at getting in on some of this action.

Pacific Halibut Action
Leonard from Englund Marine in Crescent City reported that the Pacific halibut action right in front of Del Norte Harbor in 220- to 240-feet of water was very good until the season was shut down.

In California, the Pacific halibut season will be the first 15 days of each month until September, after which the season stays open from September 1 through October 31, or until the quota is met.

In Oregon, in the Southern Oregon Subarea (Brookings area), the Pacific halibut season lasts seven days a week until October 31, or until the quota of 7,318 pounds of halibut are caught. That quota is dressed weight, which is a halibut minus the head and guts. At this point in time, none of the quota has been touched, so now is the time to start dragging the bottom with 2 pound sinkers and hunks of squid and herring.

This fishery was first centered off of the Thomas Creek Bridge in 300 feet of water, but it has now moved in shallower venues, in 180 feet depths off of Bird Island to the Thomas Creek Bridge.

Most of the time, folks will be using 80-pound Power Pro braided main line running to a spreader bar. The bottom part of the spreader bar snaps to a 2-pound sinker and a leader of 80-pound monofilament is used with a 2-hook halibut rig. But there are as many halibut rigs as there are halibut fishermen.

Once your rig hits the bottom, you’ll want to keep letting out line so that your bait remains on the bottom.

Halibut fishing is a lot of work but it is well worth it. It’s a long way up from 300 feet, and that’s a lot of cranking. So a lot of anglers are now deploying electric reels when they go halibut fishing, which allows them to pull their rigs up quicker and cover more areas in a shorter period of time.

When I do get a bite, I like to feed the halibut some line until I am sure that it has swallowed the bait and hooks. At that point, I’ll reel up as much slack as I can, and then point the rod tip toward the surface of the water. Because you are often dealing with two or more currents, I will set the hook several times. The first hook set is to straighten out the line, and the second and third hook sets are to punch the hooks through the fish’s mouth.

The Chetco Outdoor Store sells plenty of halibut setups.

Surfperch Fishing
Surfperch fishing is still dominating local-area beaches, with plenty of limits of striped and redtail surfperch still being filleted at the local cleaning station.

The best bait is hands down, small pieces of raw shrimp used on a number 8 hook. I like to use small hooks because they will catch finicky-biting surfperch, which may be large or small. You can catch a large surfperch on a small hook, but rarely will you be able to catch a small surfperch on a large hook.

I like to use a long and stout surf rod, which are sold inexpensively at local sporting goods stores. I also like to use a large spinning reel loaded with 20-pound monofilament.

On the end of my line, I will tie a heavy pyramid sinker ranging from 6 to 10 ounces, for one reason. During heavy-current situations, your sinker will likely remain where it has been cast. If you use too light of a sinker during strong-current scenarios, the heavy rips will take your sinker up and down the beach. So I like to use a heavy sinker in which I have the confidence that will stay where it has been cast.

I will tie my heavy sinker directly on the end of my 20-pound monofilament mainline. About 20 inches or so up the mainline, I will tie a dropper loop. About 20 inches up from the first dropper loop I will tie a second dropper loop.

Inside each dropper loop, I will insert one pre-made, size 6 or size 8 snelled hook, which will be dangling down from the mainline.

Small pieces of raw shrimp are my number one choice of bait. To keep them from flying off the hook, I will tie the bait onto the hook using three wraps of Miracle Thread, which really works wonders.

My next-best choice of bait if you can get them is live sand shrimp, with live sand crabs being my third choice. Fresh mussels always makes great bait, as well.

For artificial lures, I like to use the Berkley Camo 2-inch Sand Worms.

A strong rod holder is always a good thing to have, as well. After making my initial cast, I’ll place the rod in the rod holder, reel up the slack, and then watch the rod tip like a hawk until one of the slabs hammers the bait. Most of the time the fish will have set the hook itself.

Good beaches for surf fishing are Crissey Field Park, one mile up the beach from the Winchuck River, McVay Park, Sporthaven Beach in front of the motels, Chetco Point Park, Mill Beach, Pistol River, Kissing Rock near Hunter Creek just south of Gold Beach, the southern nook of the south Gold Beach Jetty, the south Gold Beach Jetty spit and just south of Nesika Beach.

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

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