Off-the-chart salmon action teaches valuable lessons

By Larry Ellis, fishing columnist July 27, 2013 01:03 am

La Pine resident Ron Herring was rewarded with a limit of Chinook last week as he and his brother Chuck fished out of the Port of Brookings Harbor for the first time. The Pilot/Larry Ellis
La Pine resident Ron Herring was rewarded with a limit of Chinook last week as he and his brother Chuck fished out of the Port of Brookings Harbor for the first time. The Pilot/Larry Ellis
I’ll never forget the first Chinook I lost some 30 years ago. As I was bringing the salmon to the boat, I thought the fight was quickly over as it glided toward the net. Mr. Chinook, however, knew otherwise. It saw the boat, the net and my lily-white mug, and decided that it wasn’t ready to be scooped up. As it insidiously turned 180 degrees away from the boat, the hook popped out of its mouth as I tried to turn its head, a term often referred to as “horsing”.

The fact is, most of the time Chinook have control of the angler, not the other way around, and if you decide that you have control over the whim of a Chinook, you’ll probably lose them every time, especially the big ones.

Now, I’m not talking about hooks that suddenly pop out of a salmon’s mouth while it is being fought. That fact has been a commonality this season, and most often there’s nothing you can do about it.

What I’m talking about is when a salmon appears to be tired and is coming to the boat, and then an angler tries to turn its head, or horse it in. The fact is, salmon fight differently than other fish and you have to get used to fighting them on their own level. So there are a few basics of how to fight a salmon and bring it to the net successfully, and both beginners and experienced fishermen need to become familiar with a salmon’s fighting eccentricities.

Very often, salmon do come to the boat fairly rapidly — at least the first time. This is when a salmon often appears to stall for a brief instant, a time period that usually lasts between 1 and 3 seconds. During this brief instance in time, anglers often get the feeling that the battle is over, when in fact, the real battle has just begun. If you try to turn a fish at this moment, you can kiss your salmon goodbye.

Fish this year are averaging between 15 and 30 pounds. If you try to horse one of these salmon into the net too quickly, nine times out of 10, the hook will either pop out of its mouth or break the line, and most often will be very close to the hook.

So the question is basically, what is the correct way of fighting a salmon? The answer to that question is that you have to give in to the whim of a salmon and adjust your techniques accordingly.

I know a lot of anglers who won’t even get the net out of the boat as the fish comes to the vessel the first time, because they know what’s in store for the angler.

Most of the time, when a salmon first comes to the boat, it will perform that previously-mentioned stall, and will then slowly turn away from the boat. That’s the time to loosen your drag a little because this is the time when a salmon will make its first long, thumb-burning run.

With some of these larger Chinook, a salmon may make three or more long runs after they are brought to the boat. You may have to repeat the drag-loosening procedure several times before the fish begins to tire.

For many people, this exercise might at first appear as though you’re fishing like a wimp or a weakling because many people might think that you’re babying the fish. Well, in a way, you are babying the fish, but what you’re actually doing is fighting a salmon on its own level; but if you want to land those larger fish, this technique has to be performed. The more experienced fishermen know this tactic all too well and use it to their advantage as often as possible.

The netter has the most important responsibility. When you get the net out, grab hold of the bottom of the netting with one hand and pull it toward you, so that the opening to the net hoop will present as large and unobstructed target to the Chinook as possible.

When you do think that it’s time to net the fish, the netter should always be vigilant for sudden turns of the fish, and be able to pull the net back instantly when this occurs. Always make sure that your drag is loose enough in case the Chinook should decide to make another sudden run or sound toward the bottom.

Netting is simply a practice of laying the net in the correct position while the angler gently lifts his rod and pulls the fish in one motion toward the net’s opening.

When the salmon finally tires, lead the fish into the net and gently lift your rod while pulling the salmon head-first toward the net. If you practice patience, nine times out of 10, you’ll bag you’re quarry.

Tight lines!