Try These Techniques For Fall Salmon Success
We are expecting another very strong return of fall salmon to the Hanford Reach this year. This is just another year where tens of thousands of these up river brights come home to our region. Every year there are anglers that take full advantage of this fishery and fill their freezers. Others still struggle to put fish in the boat. There is no lack of fish, so it is a matter of knowing how to catch them. I have written about the great fishing in the Reach for many years. This time I want to focus on the proven techniques that successful anglers use to catch them.
The most widely used lure in the Reach nowadays is the Super Bait. This hard plastic lure is hinged and packed with tuna to attract strikes, and is fished in combination with a flasher. It comes in the original banana shape, the newer Plug Cut style and the mini. All can be effective in a given day, and this is the typical set up: Most anglers load their reels with 20- to 30-pound test line, but first take these steps; wind on twenty yards of monofilament line to the bare spool, and then fill it to ¾ capacity with 50-60 pound braid. The braid lasts forever and you must put that small base of line on the bare spool to prevent the braid from slipping on the spool. You only need to add 50 to 100 feet of mono to have a full reel, and you can change that last bit of mono frequently to have fresh line and over the long run save money on reloading your reel. The reels are then mounted on a 10 ½ foot slow to moderate rod to give you a good shock absorber.
Your main line goes to your flasher, if you are using downriggers. You will attach your line to the clip on the mono, as it holds much better than the braid. From the flasher to the bait start with 44 inches of leader. You can always shorten the leader if the fish like a faster roll on the flasher. There are several ways to rig the Super Bait that goes on the end. Remember, this is a barbless hook fishery and the guides I know are trying all kinds of hook arrangements to cut down on the number of fish lost by their clients. Many of them are very new or brand new to salmon fishing. They often drop their tip when the rod is passed to them or do so when pumping the rod “like they have seen on TV”.
Most still rig their Super Baits like they come in the package. That is with two treble hooks. One goes in the hook “garage” on the underside of the lure and the second should be just behind the tail of the lure. Don’t skimp on the quality of these hooks. The stronger the better. A size 1 goes in the “garage” and a size 2 off the end of the lure. Treble hooks are a pain to get out of the net, but if you get both hooks into a fishes jaw you probably won’t lose it.
Another method of hook set up with the Super Bait is with two sickle hooks. These now come barbless and this shape hooks fish very effectively. A large bead is put on ahead of the first hook, which places it behind the “garage”. The second hook should wind up behind the tail of the lure. I use 5/0 hooks for both the lead and trailing hook. I like these sickle hooks. They penetrate well and if constant pressure is kept on the line and a good bend in the rod is maintained, the fish winds up in the net.
The last method of setting up a Super Bait is with a single siwash hook. You have to use beads and either black surgical tubing or colored tubing to space the hook so it clears the end of the lure, and I always put a barrel swivel on the eye of the hook so it will run straight behind the Super Bait. Use at least a 5/0 siwash hook and sharpen it. This will penetrate a fishes jaw better than other hooks, but it is the easiest to fall out. You really have to maintain pressure on the fish. There are no problems removing this hook from the jaw of a wild fish that you need to release.
Super Baits are typically trolled upstream on downriggers, against the current. You should be making some headway, but forget the speed indicator on your fish finder. When fishing in current on the Columbia your speed gage is your rod. Try to keep it at a pulse a second and see how the fish react.
Another very effective way to troll Super Baits is with lead balls instead of downriggers. On your main line attach a sliding barrel swivel, and then a 25-inch shock leader, and add your Super Bait leader to this. Attach an 8 to 16 ounce lead ball to the slider. Your flasher will work fine behind the shock leader. Many people prefer to troll this set up downstream. It will work either way, and in the Hanford Reach there are very long stretches of water that you can run this setup. I have found that the old Shimano Convergence rods I have used for years, that are rated for 12- to 20-pound line, are a bit light for this technique.
The next most popular method of taking kings in the Reach is with eggs. As the season matures these become more and more effective. Of course you need to have taken some females to have a supply of eggs. Have on hand a good supply as you will use an ample amount and they go fast. If you have not cured eggs before I suggest that you visit FishingMagician.com and click on the How To Page. There is an instructional video with Pro Cure on quick-curing eggs. On the Fishing TV Page of my web site at FishingMagician.com, you should check out the video with “Shane Magnuson on Fishing with Eggs at Vernita”. He gives a more advanced version of egg curing. The best egg presentation is behind a diver. These divers will put your lure near the bottom where the fish will take them, and use the large, 50-foot model. When using a diver always put a wire leader ahead of it, on a sliding barrel swivel. This will prevent the blades of the diver from nicking your line. Some use fluorocarbon leaders as light as 15-pound test to tie their egg leaders. Most people will use 20-pound mono or better. Hooks should be 4/0 or 5/0 with the large gob of eggs that will be attached above them. Some will put some yarn on the lead hook which can be an attractor and also will stick to the fish’s teeth and aid in hooking. Also above the hooks slide on some large Corkies. When the current is running swift these will help keep your bait from being right on the bottom. It helps put the bait in the zone and prevents hang ups, which can occur often when fishing eggs.
The other most popular method for taking fall kings is with plugs. The most popular lures in this category are the KwikFish and the Flatfish. These both have a similar look and action and some anglers prefer one over the other, while most experienced anglers have a good supply of both. For fall salmon KwikFish sizes that work best are in the K-14, K-15 and K-16. Flatfish sizes range from the M2 to the Mag Lip 4.5 to the even larger Hog Nose. One thing that is common between all of these lures is that they work best for fall salmon when wrapped with sardine. It is a simple thing to attach a small piece of a sardine fillet on the underside of the lure, which is kept in place with Magic Thread. It makes a huge difference in the number of strikes you will get compared to a naked lure. The larger plugs are designed to dive to a certain depth, and I know that the 4.5 Flatfish will get to 20 feet in good current. There are times when you can flat line them behind the boat while back trolling. However, I most often will run these behind the same diver and set up I use when fishing eggs. I use a four foot leader from the diver to the lure.
Whether you are fishing Super Baits, eggs or plugs I advise using scent. I put the scent directly into my tuna mix. I add scent to the eggs and plugs just before they go in the water. I add more scent every time I do a bait check or change lures. There are a bunch of scents available, but for fall kings I will have the Graybill’s Guide Formula, which was first developed by my brother Rick Graybill, in Salmon, Craw Anise, Sardine and Sand Shrimp on board.
If you want to see how the guides do it on the Columbia River for fall kings, there are several videos on fall fishing on my Fishing TV Page. Go to the Archives and you will find videos on fishing from Buoy 10, off the mouth of the Klickitat, the Deschutes and more. Also, there is an excellent guide to fishing the Hanford Reach written by my brother Rick Graybill. It has lots of tackle descriptions and even excellent maps of fishing areas. You can find out how to get a copy by going to www.hookedontoys.com. He was a guide, fishing the Hanford Reach and other area in Central Washington for 15 years and really knows his stuff.
Fish will be showing up in the Hanford Reach before you know it. The launches at White Bluffs and Vernita will be creating traffic jams as anglers line up to put their boats on the water. It is a wild time on the upper Columbia. When you hook into your first up river bright you will know why so many people are scrambling to get at them. I hope that my tips on tackle and techniques gives you an advantage this season. Now go out there and get at ‘em!