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Baitfish thrill anglers in Brookings Harbor

On Oregon Waters by Larry Ellis, author badge for

ast week, sardines, herring, smelt and American shad were being caught in copious quantities by anglers at the crab pier on the south jetty at the Port of Brookings Harbor, and anglers are all using sabiki rigs to catch them.

A sabiki rig is not a brand name, but a generalized name denoting a type of baitfish rig commonly used to catch herring and sardines. They go by numerous brand names, but they all consist of at least 6 very small hooks. Some sabiki rigs have wings and others only have colored beads. Sometimes you will find that the baitfish will hit the rigs with wings, while on other days, they seem to go for the beaded varieties.

A trick of the trade: If baitfish are hitting rigs without wings and you only have winged sabiki rigs on hand, simply tear off the wings and you’re loaded for bear. If this is the scenario, I would only tear the wings off half of the jigs and let the baitfish tell you which ones they want.

Anglers are having an absolute blast catching a plethora of baitfish that are available in the harbor, in addition to a few extra surprises.

Roland Hart of Stockton (left) holding catch of lingcod, Tommy Berg (right) rod loaded with baitfish, phto by Larry Ellis
To catch big lingcod and rockfish like Roland Hart of Stockton (left) did last week with close friend Howard Jones while fishing out of the Port of Brookings Harbor with Captain Jim Bithell of Charthouse Sportfishing, it often pays to jig for your own baitfish like Tommy Berg (right) did on Wednesday while using a sabiki rig at the Port's crab pier. The harbor is
presently plugged with herring, shad, sardines and smelt.

Right now, you can expect schools of herring, sardines and smelt to be dominating the action. But this is the time of year when American shad also start making their appearance in the baitfish schools. Anytime between Mother’s Day and Father’s day, the shad enter the Port of Brookings Harbor en masse.

In these parts, shad are anywhere between 4- and 6-inches long, and look almost exactly like Pacific herring, except for one very important telltale feature – the bellies of a shad are quite sharp when stroked toward the head – so sharp that they can even cut you. Of course on the Umpqua and Coquille Rivers, shad will achieve weights between 3 and 6 pounds, but not in the Chetco River.

I decided to take a trip to the crab pier on Wednesday and proceeded to catch sardines, herring, shad and smelt about as fast as I could cast. In addition, I also caught several juvenile black rockfish on the sabikis.

But that wasn’t all that was caught on these tiny sabiki hooks. One angler caught and landed a Pacific mackerel, which was about 10-inches long. When you hook one of these members of the tuna family, you can expect some harder tugs and maybe even a run or two, especially if you’re using ultra-light fishing tackle.

All of the aforementioned baitfish, with the exception of the juvenile black rockfish (and I heartily recommend releasing all of these puppies), make great lingcod bait. Pacific mackerel make the best bait for the lingasaurs, because they are so shiny and not frequently caught in this neck of the woods.

Smelt probably makes the best table fodder if you get can jig enough of them, which most people had no problem accomplishing last week.

If you want to try some of this exciting fishing, make sure that you bring an ice chest or a bucket loaded with plenty of ice inside. You’ll also want to sprinkle a liberal amount of table salt on top of the ice. When the salt hits the ice, the temperature inside the ice chest plunges below zero, which then turns the ice chest into a freezer.

When you catch one of the aforementioned baitfish, tossing one of the fish on the ice/slurry mixture immediately stops the baitfish from wiggling, thereby enabling it to keep its scales. It is these highly-reflective scales that do most of the attracting when it comes to catching lingcod and salmon.

In addition to baitfish, a keeper-size lingcod was caught on one of the sabiki hooks, but its razor-sharp teeth cut the line.

A standard freshwater rod and reel used to catch bass and trout is all you need for a rigging. Load up your reel with plenty of 6-pound test in order to achieve longer casts. But sometimes the baitfish were only within 15 feet from the shoreline.

You’ll want to have plenty of one-half, three-quarter and one-ounce sinkers on hand.

In addition to the baitfish action, limits of rockfish and lingcod were also common at the Brookings fillet station.

Roland Hart from Stockton, California decided to pay close friend Howard Jones of Sporthaven Marina Bar and Grill a visit last week, and the two anglers easily caught limits of rockfish and lingcod on Tuesday morning while fishing with local guide Jim Bithell of Charthouse Sportfishing.

Anglers from Brookings also towed their rigs across the border to California to cash in on the spectacular rockfish and lingcod action that the reefs outside of Crescent City was experiencing. Most of the action was occurring in 80 feet of water.

Chinook salmon have yet to make their appearance in fishable numbers outside the Port of Brookings Harbor. And although I know it sounds redundant, they will be showing themselves any day now. I’m sticking to Mother Nature’s calendar. She’s just a few days late this year.

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

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