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Fish deep for ocean coho and Chinook

On Oregon Waters by Larry Ellis, author badge,
oday, June 27, anglers north of the Oregon-California border may begin keeping up to two hatchery coho a day as part of their 2-salmon daily bag limit. As of late, Chinook salmon have been somewhat scarce (that's going to change soon), so being able to keep a couple of coho is definitely a shot in the arm for salmon aficionados.

So where have all the salmon been exactly? All I can tell you is that through my and other fishermen's personal experiences, if you want to hook up with a salmon, learn to fish deep. Most of the salmon have been between 6 and 15 miles from shore, with the most successful anglers trolling deeper than usual.

But how deep is deep, exactly?


One week ago, a friend and I decided to take advantage of the flat-calm ocean conditions that have been gracing the local vicinity and we did a little trolling near the infamous shrimp beds, approximately 6 miles from shore on a 270-degree heading from the Port of Brookings Harbor.
Mary Ballman holding lingcod and rockfish limits from Port of Brookings, Harbor, Photo courtesy of Larry Ellis
Mary Ballman of Eugene, Oregon was fishing with her husband Bob and boat owners Mark and Kathy Watkins on Tuesday when they limited out on lingcod and rockfish while fishing out of the Port of Brookings Harbor.

We were in 320 feet of water and trolled for approximately an hour and a half with our baits swimming anywhere from 60 to 80 feet beneath the surface of the water. Not even a line bump occurred.

There were current rips, trash lines, baitfish schools, color line breaks, 52-degree water and birds everywhere - textbook salmon conditions. There had to be fish around.

So I decided to send my anchovy down approximately 150 feet from the surface.

WHAM! The first take-down transpired with line screaming off the reel. But still, the savvy salmon managed to evade two needle-sharp hook points (I'm still in awe of how they can do that). I reeled in half of an anchovy, well-bitten with teeth marks still permeating the baitfish - stalwart salmon bites.

So down a new bait went to the same aforementioned depth.

SLAM! Within 5 minutes my rod was doing the heebie-jeebies inside its rod holder with the rod tip meeting the surface of the water. Up came an approximate 7-pound coho. Back into the drink it went.

Another savage take-down occurred later, with the rod tip dancing like the steps only a Chinook could craft - everything still 150 feet beneath the surface of the water. Like the first take-down, that salmon didn't stick either, but the action during that day gave me newfound hope - hope that the salmon were on their way.

I talked to two other people who fished on that very day in approximately the same place where we were. They caught 1 Chinook and released about 7 coho.

So my advice is not to be afraid of fishing deep for your salmon, whether they're coho or kings. If you can put 200 feet of wire on your downriggers, by all means do it, because later last week, it became evident that the slow salmon bite may have broken open.

Commercial boats were bringing in their 30-fish daily quota to port of Brooking's Harbor, Photo courtesy of Larry Ellis
They're getting closer. Large Chinook averaging 23 pounds were between 10 and 15 miles from the Port of Brookings Harbor and averaging 300 feet on the wire on Tuesday and Wednesday. Commercial boats were bringing in their 30-fish daily quota to port.

On both Tuesday and Wednesday, almost everyone in the commercial salmon fleet was bringing in their daily quota of 30-Chinook to BC Fisheries, a family-operated operation at the Port of Brookings Harbor.

And beautiful specimens of Chinook they were - plump, fat monster kings averaging 20 pounds, with an occasional 30-plus pounder thrown in for good measure. And that's a good sign. Fat salmon means that they had been gorging on some sort of bait all year, whether that bait was krill, anchovies, herring, sand lance, sardines or smelt.

To be specific, the fleet was fishing 15-miles offshore in about 550 feet of water. And they were fishing deep as well, with most of them fishing 300 feet from the water's surface.

Most recreational vessels are not equipped to fish 300 feet on-the-wire, but everything's meant to be beefed up. I remember a captain out of the Port of Brookings Harbor named Kenny who often chased salmon to the 15-mile mark if the need arose.

Tuesday's and Wednesday's efforts from the commercial fleet shows that the fish are out there, and sooner or later (probably sooner), the salmon will be coming in closer to shore to gobble all of that baitfish that is out there.

You can thank the commercial fishing fleet for doing all the hard work in locating the fish for the recreational sport boat anglers. But by the time this article hits the stand, their season may be closed.

So in the meantime, don't be afraid to go deep for your Chinook and coho, and remember that only coho with a missing adipose fin may be kept. Also, be sure to carry at least two trays of anchovies per person, because there are a lot of coho out there.

Meanwhile the Rogue Bay has been experiencing some light's-out late springer and early fall Chinook salmon action last week, according to two Gold Beach sporting goods store owners.

"I've really been surprised how good the fishing has been," says Sam Waller, owner of Jot's Resort on Wednesday. "There were boats yesterday who had 4 fish and were off the water by 9 AM. We're getting better fishing than we've ever had this early for this time of year. I can't remember the last time I've seen it this good by mid-June."

The action has been pretty steady for over 10 days now, with a few off days where bites were few and far between, a typical hit-and-miss Rogue Bay scenario.

"Actually we've had about a week and a half of decent fishing with nobody here," says Jim Carey, owner of the Rogue Outdoor Store. "We've been averaging about a fish and a half per boat, and the action has been on the change of the tides with the best action being early in the morning."

Most of these Chinook are averaging 18 pounds with quite a few in the 26-pound bracket.

"Most guides are commenting that we're getting those fat footballs (springers), but it's a predominant opinion that we're getting some fall Chinook also. And if the fall fish are going to be here this early with this low, clear water, we may be getting a good season."

Low and clear warm river water, and less scheduled water releases from Lost Creek dam may keep the bay kegged up with lots of Chinook from July through October.

Most anglers have been trolling the bay using home-tied spinnerbait rigs, or the Commercial equivalent called Rogue Bait Rigs.

Spinnerbait rigs use a quick-change clevis which allows you to change spinner blades easily. Don't be afraid to use number 3 or 3 1/2 copper or gold Hildebrandt Blades, or number 4 green-on-green- or Oregon Duck-colored number 4 blades, all available at the aforementioned sporting goods stores.

Drop into Jot's Resort or the Rogue Outdoor Store and ask Sam Waller or Jim Carey how to rig up.

Sam Waller of Jot's Resort also reported on Wednesday that for some lucky individuals, there was a 3-hour wide-open tuna bite only 56 miles out of Charleston Harbor in Coos Bay in only 57-degree water! And on Thursday, Russ from Pacific Ocean Harvesters said that the tuna were 30 miles from Charleston Harbor. So get ready - the albacore could be hitting the area sometime soon.

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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