Ocean salmon opens Wednesday

By Larry Ellis, fishing columnist April 27, 2013 12:14 am
Larry Ellis holds a near 6-pound black rockfish and a 12-pound ling he caught out of the Port of Brookings Harbor on Thursday while fishing with Robert Phillips aboard his boat High Hopes. Photo courtesy of Robert Phillips
Larry Ellis holds a near 6-pound black rockfish and a 12-pound ling he caught out of the Port of Brookings Harbor on Thursday while fishing with Robert Phillips aboard his boat High Hopes. Photo courtesy of Robert Phillips

For the past several months, everybody was wondering where all the black rockfish have gone. They don’t need to wonder any more. When the ocean laid down on Thursday, limits of black rockfish averaging between 2 and 4 pounds were finally being filleted at the Port of Brookings Harbor fillet station. With even calmer seas on Friday, the bottom-fishing action continued, and this week could be seeing similar action as well.

I was fortunate to have fished with Robert Phillips, owner of the boat High Hopes on Thursday. We easily got our rockfish limits before finally getting all of our lings.

And there are some rockfishzillas out there waiting to inhale your twin-tail plastic, shrimp flies or leadfish, as evidenced by the one I’m holding in today’s photo. Bob and I both caught rockfish in the 5- and 6-pound class, although most were in that previously mentioned 2- to 4-pound category.

My all-time favorite bottom-fishing lure is a leadfish, which is a generic term for a lure that is made out of lead, usually unpainted, weighing between 1 and 4 ounces, and somewhat resembles the shape of a fish. 

You use the lighter models in shallow water, and the heavier versions in deeper water or in water where there is a strong current. They are available in all the local tackle stores, and at a price that won’t break your budget if you lose a few.

Leadfish don’t have to be painted in order to be deadly effective on rockfish, lingcod and kelp greenling, but Bob makes and paints his own leadfish, which we use (and lose) on a regular basis.

The leadfish is tied directly onto your line. My preference is using 65-pound PowerPro as my mainline and splicing a 10-foot piece of Sufix 40-pound fluorocarbon to the mainline using a double uni knot. If you can’t get Sufix fluorocarbon, you can’t go wrong with the Seaguar brand, which is readily available in most tackle shops.

The braided mainline gives you a direct feel of the lure and the bottom, which is exactly what you want when you’re bottom fishing. The fluorocarbon leader is nearly invisible and acts as a shock absorber, allowing for a minimal, but perfect, stretch of the leader. Using this system, you can feel every rock, reef and pinnacle. When you get snagged on the bottom, one quick thump on the rod butt will usually get your leadfish un-hung.

The basic technique is to let your leadfish settle all the way to the bottom, and then use a lift-and-drop method. Almost always, your bites will come as the leadfish is settling to the bottom, resembling a wounded baitfish. So it’s more important to focus on the bite as the leadfish is dropping, rather than when the lure is being lifted from the bottom. A lot of times you’ll hook a fish as you lift up on the leadfish, but only because the bottom-grabber has already inhaled the lure as it was sinking. I like to work my twin-tail plastics in exactly the same manner.

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Salmon fishing will finally open in the ocean this coming Wednesday, May 1, and according to commercial fishermen, the ocean is looking great again this year for massive numbers of krill and baitfish.

The biggest dilemma about salmon fishing in the first week of May is finding the fish. While this excellent fishery doesn’t usually kick in until the end of May, my advice for salmon anglers wanting to target early-May ocean Chinook would be to troll fairly close to shore and try to intercept Rogue River springers. The only thing that fights and tastes better than a springer, is a springer that is caught in the ocean.

The Pacific Halibut Fishery will also open on May 1, and is open seven days a week for Oregon anglers fishing south of Humbug Mountain.

Tight lines!