By Larry Ellis
Pilot staff writer
The ocean coho salmon season south of Cape Falcon opened Sunday, June 22, with 138 coho up to 8 pounds being harvested for the entire coast. One hundred forty-five coho and 171 Chinook were released.
Out of the 10 ports on opening day, Brookings had the second highest amount of coho retained, with a total of 23 silvers, with Winchester Bay topping all the landings with 57 coho.
As of Sunday, that put the percentage of the quota taken for the entire coast at 1.5 percent. That figure is expected to rise as rough seas subside and anglers become more familiar with the coho haunts.
andquot;Right now they're catching them about 3 miles out,andquot; said Mike Ramsay, co-owner of Sporthaven Marina on Tuesday.
Upon visiting the fish cleaning facility at the Port of Brookings Harbor on Thursday, I saw a group of four anglers had just finished cleaning six silvers, some of which approached 8 pounds.
Silvers of this size at such an early part of the season are an indication of an abundant food supply. This time last year, the coho were not as large. If the fish keep growing at this rapid a pace, it is very likely that they could average from 15 to 18 pounds by the end of the season, if the 9,000 fish quota is not met before August 31.
Most of the fish were reported being hooked 3 miles offshore and slightly uphill. Many boaters reported having to escape the dirtier water inshore and actually fish in 47-degree blue water before they got any strikes.
Later in the week the fish were found as close in as 2 miles offshore, the dirty water actually having been freshly churned, nutrient-rich ocean water, the color caused by upwelling from steady northwest winds.
With many of the coho, thousands of tiny crab larvae were found in their stomachs.
The usual scenario was to troll about 2 to 2 1/2 knots, and the closer to the surface earlier in the morning, the better. A typical rig might consist of a Deep Six or a Pink Lady Diver, then a dodger leading to about 30-inches of leader with a hootchie tied at the end of the line.
Between 17 and 25 pulls was the typical method of letting out line. Remember that a pull is a relatively fixed amount of line. To ensure accuracy when using the pull method, always start from the beginning of the reel and pull all the way the first guide, making sure each pull matches the same precise distance.
The dodger imparts a side-to-side action into a lifeless hootchie, giving it an animation of its own. Anglers who were using lures designed to dive and wobble on their own, such as Apexes and spoons, are better suited using flashers instead of dodgers.
As the sun starts hitting the water, the coho will often sound a little more, requiring running a larger Deep Six or Pink Lady Diver, or, using thinner braided line which has less water resistance and the capacity of diving deeper with a shorter length of main line.
Because of rough seas on Thursday, almost everyone reported losing more fish, mainly because it was harder maintaining their rods with steady pressure in the 25-knot winds.
According to the National Weather Service, winds and seas will weaken gradually today and into Sunday as a thermal trough over northern California moves farther inland. Today and tomorrow's winds are supposed to subside to about 10 to 15 knots, which should make fishing more pleasant as the ocean starts laying down.
But the best change will be Sunday and Monday when the whole system is supposed to turn southwest with winds as low as 5 knots. This could be some of your best salmon fishing of the year, as warm water starts to move inland, possibly even bringing the coho with it.
I would say that this weekend and the first part of next week will provide some of the best ocean conditions for salmon and bottomfishing as well, as warm water and calm seas start moving closer to shore. I'm no weatherman, but that's my forecast and I'm stickin' to it.
One of Captain Jim Bithell's hottest coho rigs - he works out of Sporthaven Marina - is a small Christmas tree hootchie with a twinkle skirt attached. Both Jim and Charthouse Dave like to use a half of an anchovy, used head first, with the guts just trailing out. I tried this rig last year and it was a real killer outfit.
Don't forget to use bright things like shocking pink hootchies, or Perry's Mag Spinners with a pink hootchie trailing behind.
If the wind does subside Sunday and Monday, carry an extra spinning rod with you with the aforementioned lure attached, or just a 1-ounce pink/chrome Krocodile, and be ready to throw it directly at the swimming coho as your buddy's reeling his fish in. Often coho travel in large schools and you can pick off one or more classmates this way. It's nothing shorter than a kick in the pants.
Bottomfishing should get better - expect a few in-season changes:
If this week's extraordinary forecast comes to fruition, expect the bottomfishing and lingcod fishing to go through the roof. Get your licks in while you can.
As of early Friday morning, the bottomfish limit was still six groundfish plus two lingcod over 22 inches. There have been a lot of meetings this week monitoring the status of our rockfish and from what I have been seeing, there MAY be an in-season adjustment.
Like I said, nothing has been carved in stone, but please keep your eyes peeled to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Web site - www.dfw.state.or.us - and check all the News Releases.
I don't like to say that anything has been changed until an actual deed is done, but I would look for a possible reduction in the rockfish bag limit from six fish to five, with lingcod remaining the same.
There is also a possibility that our rockfishing may be moved inside of 120 feet, which would not hurt us in the least.
I spoke with Don Bodenmiller, Marine Recreational Fisheries biologist for ODFW on Thursday, who said it is always a good idea to keep your eyes peeled on the ODFW Web site for any possible in-season adjustments. If there are any possible news releases, they probably would not be available on ODFW's Web site until Tuesday.
Emergency closures - you have to take them as they come:
It's been hard for many anglers to adjust to the in-season closures that have already occurred. For instance, under normal circumstances, the Chetco River opens up to the retention of steelhead, Chinook and cutthroat trout after Labor Day. During Labor Day, I did mention that the retention of Chinook was permitted.
That was before all the laws were finalized regarding fishing for Chinook in the Chetco.
Right now the law reads that there shall be no retention of Chinook until November 1. That will change the way people will fish both in the bay and in the mouth come early fall, or even if a batch of bait moves in between the jaws of the Chetco.
In months past, there have been days where hordes of anchovies have moved into the mouth, providing a light's-out Chinook fishery in months ranging from June through August. Should that scenario occur this year, we're all just going to have to bite the bullet and refrain from fishing for Chinook, since they are off-limits until November first.
The same goes for the estuary fishery. Unless the emergency closure rule is changed, there will be very little fishing for Chinook in the bay this year as well.
I don't know what to say except I guess we all gotta bleed a little on this one. But there is something people can do to enhance a possible bay fishery in the future.
Great Fourth of July fish ops:
For exciting action for redtail surfperch and striped surfperch adrenaline rushes, start fishing one-half mile uphill from the Winchuck Wayside. Get to your destination at least three hours before high tide and fish through high slack.
Use two dropper loops spaced 18 inches from each other, with a 5-ounce sinker on the bottom to ensure your cast stays where you put it.
This last part cannot be overemphasized. I have seen flat-calm water with unseen rip currents move 4-ounce sinkers with no trouble at all. It may seem like overkill, but remember, you're fishing the ocean conditions, not for the size of the fish.
Pieces of raw shrimp, fresh mussels or sand crabs and Berkley Gulp! Sand Fleas work great for bait.
Other hot spots are at McVay Beach, Sporthaven Beach (if you don't get bit within a few minutes, MOVE), the south jetty, Chetco Point Park, Mill Beach, Pistol River, Hunter Creek, Kissing Rock and the Gold Beach south jetty spit are all great places to fish for surfperch.
Jetty lings and snapper:
If the dredge hasn't moved in, then now is the time to hit the Xs on the river side of the south jetty for lingcod and rockfish. Bring a gaff - you'll need it. Fish the two-hour window from incoming tide through high tide. One-ounce, white, twin-tail plastics should get you bit.
Mill Beach lings, cabezon and rockfish:
Mill Beach is once again opened to fishing. This used to be my favorite tide pool spot of all time. While some people like fishing high tide, I prefer to fish the turn of the low tide here.
At low tide, all the real rockfish holes are exposed. What you see at low tide, you will also see at high tide. Here, I like pitching Texas-rigged plastic worms. Thread a 1-ounce egg sinker up your main line, tie on a 3/0 bait holder hook and Texas-rig a white twister-type tail on the end.
Get into your spot an hour before low and get out no later than an hour after low, to prevent getting trapped by the incoming tide.
I have literally caught limits of rockfish, lingcod and cabezon in these tidepools. For those who like to catch surfperch and kelp greenling (sea trout), use size 6 hooks and either mussels or shrimp for bait. Throwing a few quick wraps of Magic Thread on the mussels will keep them from being thrown off the hook when you cast.
Since not many people will be fishing for salmon right now at the Gold Beach jetty mouth, try fishing the south jetty spit at low tide. Last year the fishing was awesome.
Underfished and plentiful, Pacific Sanddabs can be found in the sand in depths starting at 140 feet or greater. Use three, size 6 dropper hooks and fish right on the bottom. You often have to move several times before you find a school, but when you do, you'll have no problem limiting out on 25 of these extremely tasty flat fish.
Use squid and strip anchovies for bait.