Egg-Citing Springer Options
September 24, 2010
With Pacific Northwest spring chinook runs reminiscent of the good ol' days, now is the time to hit the river with a variety of new and tantalizing ways of fishing roe.
by Scott Haugen
It began as one of those spring days when nothing could go wrong. Four anglers in two boats fished their way downstream side-by-side. A glowing sunrise gave way to azure skies that reflected off deep green water. The river was at a perfect level, and fish were on the bite.
By the end of the day, four of us would boat 12 salmon, releasing four wild fish. To top it off, we each landed a steelhead. The action didn't stop there. Over the course of the next three days, 45 fish would be hooked, 36 landed. All were taken from the same stretch of river by using three techniques, all of them having something to do with eggs.
Fishing with eggs is nothing new to the world of spring chinook tactics. In the heydays of the 1950s and '60s, both my grandfathers and my father yarded numerous salmon from rivers using eggs, though their methods were limited to drift fishing. As salmon runs declined over the decades - and the fishing became more competitive - anglers expanded their fishing repertoire to catch more fish.
Following is a detailed look at three ways cured eggs can be presented to spring chinook. Applied properly, these tactics will not only teach you more about salmon and their habits, but they will put more meat on the table.
Diversification in your approach to fishing eggs is the key to catching spring salmon. Photo by Scott Haugen
DRIFT FISHING By far the most popular means of presenting eggs to spring chinook is via drift fishing. From a boat or the bank, this is the most diverse style of fishing, allowing anglers to cover many types of water.
When drift fishing for salmon, the key is reading the water and knowing where the fish hold. In fast water, hit the seams where rapids and slow water meet. If salmon are observed jumping in the middle of a fast section of river, they're on the move. In this case, waste no time getting your eggs in front of them, no matter how swift the current. This may require the addition of more weight and result in an increased number of lost riggings, but if that's where the fish are, the effort will be rewarded.
In big, deep swirling holes, get the terminal gear on the bottom and keep it there. Many anglers find themselves struggling to fish big eddies for the simple reason they have trouble controlling their line. This is where a baitcasting reel comes in handy, as does an increase in the amount of weight being used. Slap on enough lead to quickly take the bait to the bottom, and keep it there; it's better to go too heavy than too light.
Once the lead finds bottom in these hefty swirls, continue spooling off line to maintain contact with the bottom at all times. When the line goes slack and the bottom is no longer felt, chances are the eggs have been lifted by the current and are being kicked out of the hole. Though the occasional suspended salmon can be caught when this happens, fish typically hang tight to the bottom in these swirling holes. Working a drift fishing setup is the best way to take fish from such holes.
BACK-BOUNCING One of my preferred salmon fishing methods is back-bouncing. This technique provides the angler total control, and when the bite comes the hookset can be one of the most eagerly anticipated in all of fishing. The key to this technique is having an oarsman and an angler working together.
Back-bouncing works well in slow, deep holes that are tough to drift fish or run divers through. Fast water - especially the seams - can be good for back-bouncing, though the oarsman works his tail off in these scenarios. Look for long, deep, slow flowing stretches of river moving large volumes of water. This type of water makes it easy for the oarsman to control the boat while allowing the angler to "feel" what's going on.
The oarsman must maintain a straight line, running about two-thirds the rate of the river flow. These two important steps will allow an angler to stand at the front of the boat and fish directly off the bow. If the angler finds the terminal gear wanting to be carried downstream faster than what the boat is moving, either the oarsman can let up a bit, or the angler can feed out line. A baitcasting reel will allow the angler to maximize his efficiency here.
Because salmon are holding on the bottom, fishing directly over top them is preferred when it comes time to set the hook. If the terminal gear is backed down too far ahead of the boat, the bait can be pulled from the fish's mouth during the hookset. I've had this happen far too many times, which is why I prefer running my line straight down.
Back-bouncing is not a passive sport. The angler must constantly be aware of the line's location, what it's doing on the bottom, and what the bottom is like. Keeping a tight line is crucial for feeling the bottom and adjusting to any change in relief. At the same time, bites can vary when back-bouncing. Work the rod parallel to the water and no higher than 45 degrees to maximize the feel. Aggressive bites that nearly rip the rod from your grasp are the exception rather than the rule. Nine times out of 10 the bite will be subtle, often nothing more than a tiny peck or one where tension slowly increases. This is because the salmon have time to seek out the bait and chew on it a while. If they like the taste, they'll swallow it or start swimming away with it. If your line begins traveling upstream, or if there's any question in your mind as to whether you're getting a bite, set the hook.
RUNNING DIVERS In waters too fast to back-bounce and too slow to drift fish, running diver and bait is an excellent option. Divers can even be run through prime drift fishing water if the conditions are right. Avoid high-speed sections of water where too much ground is lost to the drift boat. In these settings, running divers from a sled is more effective than from a drift boat.
Running diver and bait is very similar to plugging; the same rate of flow is held and the same types of water fished. The only difference in running a diver and bait is that a scent trail is being laid that salmon often thrive on. For this reason, working the baits straight downstream, or with limited side-to-side action, can make the baits easier for salmon to find.
One day last spring two buddies and I pulled over to drift fish a section of river. Not getting a nibble, we put on divers and bait and headed downstream. In less than 45 minutes, we landed seven springers from the same hole we'd just swung bait through. The diver kept the bait on the bottom, creating a scent trail that was easy for the fish to
follow, something we could not achieve with the drift-fishing angle.
When it comes to selecting a diver, don't be afraid to go big. Luhr Jensen's Jet Diver in a size 40 and even 50 series is not overkill. These large divers ensure the bait is kept on the bottom at all times, right in the salmon's path of travel. Magnum divers also take the pressure off the bait, meaning larger egg clusters can be used.
In addition to dispersing scent, divers are outstanding for allowing the use of big baits. A salmon's mouth is large, and I'm a firm believer in bigger baits being more effective. The larger the bait, the more scent can be carried into the water, the greater the likelihood of salmon locating it.
GIVE THEM A TASTE Salmon thrive on chemicals, so the more scents and attractants that can be applied to your egg cure, the better. This doesn't mean dump all your ingredients into one batch. It means to vary your cures. When heading to the river, take at least three different batches of eggs, each cured with its own recipe. Some days salmon will devour a sulfite-based cure laced with anise oil, the next day - or even an hour later - they may prefer a sugar cure with shrimp oil scents.
By taking the time to concoct an array of egg cures, then fishing them in the styles outlined above, there's no doubt your catch rate will rise. Study the water, assess what fishing method best suits what you're looking at and get to fishing. When it comes to presenting eggs, diversification is the key.
(Editor's Note: To order a signed copy of Scott Haugen's latest book, Egg Cures; Proven Recipes and Techniques. Send $15 plus $3 S&H to Haugen Enterprises, P.O. Box 275, Walterville, OR 97489. The 104-page, 5 1/2 x 8-inch book is packed with valuable information, nearly 100 color photos and more than two dozen recipes.
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