Salmon action hotter than ever

By Larry Ellis, fishing columnist July 19, 2013 08:40 pm

Fishing columnist Larry Ellis and his catch.

In spite of 3- to 5-foot wind waves, anglers ventured out to sea to troll for Chinook salmon. This is without a doubt, the hottest salmon action I have ever experienced in 32 years.

In fact, the action was so hot and heavy, people were calling out their favorite sports idol’s jersey number in order to determine how deep to send their downrigger, or how many pulls to use with their divers.

I started out with the undisputed most-noted Giant of all time, Willie Mays. Seconds after the downrigger hit number 24, my rod went off and I battling a nice Chinook.

After catching a Chinook at 24 feet, the next logical choice was to go down to the 27-foot mark, Juan Marichal’s famed jersey number. That became my go-to number for most of the season. If you can’t catch a Chinook with a Marichal, the fish just ain’t biting.

After a while, I started to experiment with other depths. The next logical step was to employ the Sandy Koufax and set my downrigger at 32 feet, another popular depth used in the ocean in recent months. 32 feet seems to work just like magic, as in Magic Johnson — take your pick!

My friend Robert Phillips, whose wife is a diehard 49er fan, landed a Jerry Rice a week ago when he sent his bait down 80 feet.

But the last Chinook I caught and landed was a Gale Sayers last Tuesday. I sent the downrigger and my bait down 40 feet. Just as the depth number hit 40, I stopped the downrigger and began taking up the slack when a bear of a chinook grabbed my anchovy, doubled over my rod, and made several line-peeling runs.

The fact of the matter is that there are so many salmon in the ocean, and big ones at that, it doesn’t really matter much what depth you decide to fish. At least on most days. So pick your favorite sports athlete and, just for fun, send your bait down to the depth of his or her jersey number. When the fishing is as good, as it is right now, you can play around a little bit with your depth.

Anglers are starting to fill their combined angling tags, so by all means, purchase a Hatchery Harvest Tag. For a mere $16.50, you can mark up to 10 fish that have a healed adipose missing fin. That will save you from tagging out on your combined angling tag. After you’ve tagged out on the Hatchery tag, you can purchase more tags till the cows come home.

A good grade of salmon have been hitting the fillet tables this week, with many over 20 pounds and some beasts approaching 30, like the one that Robert Phillips caught last week. His wife Soon Ae caught one that easily went 25 pounds. Most of these fish are age-4 Chinook.

A mixture of 3-year-olds have been interspersed with the 4-year-old fish, and many anglers have been releasing the 3s in order to have a chance at catching one of the larger 4s or perhaps even a 5-year-old king.

Slow trolling is the ticket because Chinook like their baits presented very slowly, about 1.2 knots, give or take.

If your downrigger wire is angled too far behind the boat, you’re probably trolling too fast.

Make sure that your fish finder is marking some kind of bait. You don’t have to see Chinook on the screen, but where you find bait or baitfish, Chinook won’t be far behind.

If you’re using a Les Davis Dodger, like me, don’t make your leaders more than 40 inches. You want the action of that dodger to whip your bait around and impart some action to it.

The Rogue Bay is just starting to see the beginning of the fall Chinook action and the tail end of the springer run.

“They’re stockpiled so thick in here right now, they’re boiling everywhere,” said guide John Anderson of “And these are late springers and early fall fish. I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like in August and September when the real run gets here. The fishing should be absolutely red hot.”

Tight lines!