Last Tuesday I made my rounds at Crescent City Harbor (CCH) looking for signs of herring. A fellow had just pulled his kayak out of the water. Inside of the kayak was a rod loaded with herring jigs. Outside of the kayak was a 6-gallon bucket half-filled with Pacific herring. The beginning of the herring run had finally arrived.
Doug Cooper from Petaluma, California sights in a steelhead he caught on Sunday while fishing with guide Kirk Portocarrero. The Pilot/Larry Ellis
I couldn’t wait to call Captain Jim Bithell of Charthouse Sportfishing. On Thursday we were making tracks for the harbor.
It’s not very often that anglers get to observe the beginning of the herring run, so when you are able to witness this annual event, it’s a treasured moment.
Although we weren’t the first anglers to slay the fatted herring of 2013, I can say with certainty that we were some of the first Brookings residents to pluck the scaled baitfish out of CCH.
For those looking on, it may have seemed like I wasn’t catching any herring at all. That’s because when you fish with Jim, everything goes into slow motion. For every herring I caught, Jim caught 10, in fact, he had caught a herring on practically every cast.
Here’s how the Pacific herring run in CCH breaks down.
The first stragglers begin entering the harbor and then seek shelter around things that break the wind; things like the small cove formed by the rectangular public boat launch facility, and things like the small unnamed island you immediately approach after launching your boat.
Herring generally hit these two places during the first week they enter the harbor, which would have been from last Sunday through Thursday, so they will probably be there this weekend as well.
After a week or so, the herring start entering the commercial boat basin.
These first herring of the season are fairly large. Most of them averaged between 7 1/2 to 8 inches in total length. Some were 9 inches and I am sure that there were several 10 inchers lost by Jim, me and some of the other jigging populace. To put the size of these herring in perspective, Oregon begins stocking catchable rainbow trout when they are 8 inches long.
These herring have “lingcod” written all over them, but in order to provide the best lingcod fodder, they must maintain all of their scales. It is the shimmering scales of a baitfish that attracts other fish to eat it. Each scale can be considered an individual lure.
Although this subject of scale preservation was talked about previously, it is more important now than ever to recap the process.
After a wiggling herring is caught and then placed into a bucket, it continues wiggling. This flopping motion knocks the scales off of the herring, rendering it useless for lingcod bait. So to prevent scales from being knocked off of a herring, you have to kill the bait immediately after it gets into the bucket.
I always like to keep an ice chest on hand loaded with layers of ice and salt, but hauling a 40-gallon ice chest down a jetty is not only unfeasible but dangerous.
So what I like to do is to haul a 6-gallon bucket down the rocks that has a little ice-and-salt mixture in it. You can use regular ice or that great shaved salted ice you can buy for a pittance at the Port of Brookings Harbor. Even though the shaved ice is already salted, I still like to sprinkle some salt on top of the shaved ice.
When a herring hits this ice/salt slurry, it dies immediately and keeps its scales, giving you a high-quality product for lingcod bait, salmon bait or for food.
When your bucket starts to get filled with herring and/or the ice-and-salt salt mixture starts thawing, you merely transfer the nearly-frozen herring to your ice chest, and replenish the bucket with more ice and salt.