West Coast Salmon Fishing E-mail
Written by Allen Bushnell   
Saturday, 23 June 2012 00:05

When kayak anglers dream about fishing for salmon, the wilds of Alaska may be first to come to mind. And, while it's true that salmon fishing gets better and better the further north one travels, there is quite a bit of happy hunting grounds in the lower 48 as well. We tapped into the knowledge  of a few West Coast kayak fishermen who are well-known for spectacular salmon experiences. Their stories reflect not only successful techniques and strategies, but each angler evidences a love and respect for their locale. With this level of fishing, how could anyone NOT love it?


LandingTheKing Angler: Eric Stockwell
Location: Loleta, CA
Website: NorCalKayakAnglers.com
Events: Gimme Shelter Kayakfishing Tournament Series

Around here we are able to start fishing for salmon along the coast in April or May, and a good season lasts until Labor Day or longer. This year we have a great season going with lots of fish, some good size showing early, and it'll be a long season compared to many recent ones. Fishing for salmon during the summer is a favorite memory from growing up. We'd go out in my Dad's boats powerboats. I prefer my kayaks, but those memories of mornings with Dad out there are a big part of why I go.

I prefer launching out of Shelter Cove, which is along the Southern Humboldt Coast, just south of the western most point in the Continental US. Along this "Lost Coast" of Northern California, we are lucky to have some of the most beautiful scenery and extreme relief along the coast of North America - the highest first ridge-line peak on the continent is just north of Shelter Cove- King's Peak at just over 4000 feet. With that topographic relief comes extreme relief below the surface too. There are deep canyons near shore as well as heavy influence of currents and winds from the farthest western point in the United States - Cape Mendocino north of Shelter Cove. These factors lend to great bait production, as upwelling of deep, cold water nutrients is the basis of a robust food chain. It's not uncommon to be trolling alongside porpoise with whales also feeding nearby. The beauty and utter Naturefest available to us here is truly magnificent.

California requires barbless hooks - no more than two and only allows the use of one rod. If you're trolling, which the vast majority of us do, you are able to use a slip-rig which adjusts to the hooked bait - usually anchovies or herring. Mooching, which is drifting under no power with hooks down, must be done with circle hooks fixed on the line no more than 5 inches apart. The retention rules vary, but this year is typical - you can keep two Chinook per day and have 2 in possession. The ocean is a big place, but you can't fish around the river mouths, and in-river fishing is an entirely different pursuit than the ocean salmon fishing I'm writing about today.

We're only allowed to target Chinook. Plenty of Coho are caught here, but they've been off limits to keep since the late 90's due to low stocks. The Kings hatch and go to the ocean quickly, and they usually grow to 15 to 50 pounds in 3 to 5 years before returning to their natal stream to spawn and die. The Silvers stay in their natal stream system for a year before going to the ocean. Problems with lack of water and lack of habitat have led to the decline of the Coho. A big Coho would be 15 to 20 pounds, and they run around 6 to 8 average. The Coho we hook in the ocean will tend to run to the surface and jump more than Kings, and they will often have a greenish look in the water, whereas the Kings are usually bluish. I t's important to be able to distinguish between the species, and there are other more reliable indicators that seasoned fisherman use such as gum color and ridges on the tail.

So many people see me with kayak and gather that I'm salmon fishing, and most of them ask, "Oh, are you mooching for them?", because they think it would be too hard to troll for them I suppose. It's pretty ridiculous really, because mooching is done after you've traversed enough water to have found a bait ball or birds working. If all you were doing is mooching it would mean alot more paddling per fishing time than trollling!  The fact is that trolling is not difficult from the kayak. I've caught Kings up to 38 pounds from 5 different models of SOT kayaks over the years. My typical trolling speed is around 1.5 to 2.5 mph and I'll cover 10 to 12 miles in a good session.

I usually use a "DeepSix" diving plane which helps me get down where the fish are. Behind the DS I have a flasher or dodger about 3 feet back, and then my terminal hooks another 2 feet or so back. I like the slip rig with an anchovy, but lures like the Hotspot Apex and Luhr Jensen Crocodile are known to be effective. The cut-plug herring is known to be a very effective method as well.

My biggest King came on September 11, 2006 down at Shelter Cove. It's a 1.5 hour drive from my home to the Cove, 1.25 hours if I'm speeding like I was that day!  I had a 4 hour window before I needed to be back for Daddy Duty. I decided to go for it even with the 2.5 to 3 hours driving roundtrip. I arrived at the Cove to find the ramp covered in water by a huge 8'+ tide. It was me and a surfer in a BMW SUV at the bottom of the launch road, looking at a nice ocean. I lamented that I didn't know why I even came with a one hour fishing window and nowhere to park. Surfer Dude says, "just park right there - it's not like the tide's going out in the hour you have."  I'm so glad that guy said that; I decided to follow his advice. I geared up and got on the water quickly. Once I was out about 2/3 of a mile toward my favorite trolling grounds by the Bell Buoy I dropped my 'chovy. Picked up a smallish black rockfish right away, which is common there, and put out a fresh 'chovy. I thought I had another black on when it started tugging harder. Then it went to the surface about 40 feet from me and started running!

I had my thumb on the spool trying to slow it down when I had the full realization that I had a nice salmon on!  It ran hard and I thought it would spool me at that rate, but then all tension was gone!  Had I lost it?!  I reeled so fast, freaking out, and then realized it had run toward me. I caught up to it, and it made another hard run away from me. Again I had my thumb on that spool!  And AGAIN it came back at me, and this time it was tired. It had only been on my line about 5 minutes and now I could see it starting to turn sideways on the surface about 30 feet from me.

I knew it was big, but I didn't realize it was huge!  I fought it over to the boat, readied the net, and scooped it up with a primeval yell. I paddled in, packed the fish on ice inside my wetsuit (since I didn't have a cooler with me) and drove home with a huge grin. It wasn't until I got to my Dad's place that I realized how big it was. Growing up, we'd caught plenty of 20 to 25 pounders on my Dad's boats, and I figured this was one about that size. My Dad puts it on his scale and exclaims, "38-pounder! Nice!!" I was blown away, and my grin just got bigger.


Bryce Molenkamp Salmon Bendo Angler: Bryce Molenkamp
Location: Seattle, WA
Websites: www.TheSlayride.com

I'm normally in the Puget Sound or the Strait of Juan De Fuca. It starts in June with some Chinook filtering in, and then species after species comes through. From Chinook to Pink (odd years), then on to Coho and Chum. They usually end around November but if you look you can find some late runs into Christmas. I think the sheer amount of fishing water makes this area great for salmon. There's lots of different rivers that they're returning to and each has their own unique characteristics. It not only makes it fun but there's always another place and technique to try out. Definitely doesn't get stale!

WA regs are absolutely nuts!  The Puget Sound area is broken up into 12 "areas" and each has different regs throughout the year. T hey also can change from day to day whether or not they are running on a quota system. Rigs allow only 2 single point barbless hooks.

Most of the time I mooch for salmon, but I also use a downrigger too (see Bryce's on downrigger here). Mooching (or drifting with a cut plug herring) just makes sense for a kayak. There's minimal effort involved in getting to where you need to fish and you drift your gear through the largest concentrations of fish. Mooching, no question it's a northwest classic and the most fun and effective way to fish for salmon in my opinion. I run a sliding sinker on a 12 pound mono mainline with anywhere from a 1-6 ounce cannonball sinker on it. That goes to a chain swivel. Then I have pre-tied leaders of 6'-8' leader of 15 pound mono leader to two 4/0 quality hooks. Well cooled brined bait is always essential so I bring along a small bait cooler.

Other than what I'd mentioned earlier you keep the rod and reel in your hands 100% of the time. I love feeling the fish take the bait and waiting until it's just burning line off the reel. If the run isn't in full swing then a down rigger let's you cover a lot of ground. It can be tiring but then again getting a good workout is one of the reasons that I like kayak fishing so much.

About 3 years ago I was though a drift in 180' of water. I wanted to get back to the drift so was zinging up the bait at full speed. I look down and out of no where there's a big flash and a Chinook smashes my bait 15' below my kayak. Since then I've been ending my drifts like that and getting hookups. It's not the most reliable technique but it's starting to prove that it's another way to get them to bite. I call it "Z Mooching" as in ZING!


Ron Sauber Columbia Salmon Angler: Ron Sauber
Location: Oregon
Website: GroundswellKayakFishing.com

With the exception of the winter months, kayak anglers have the opportunity to chase salmon for the majority of the year in Oregon. Access is also excellent for the kayak angler. Oregon's largest spring salmon run heads up the Willamette and Columbia river both of which are within or border the city limits of Portland, Oregon's largest city. I have caught salmon within sight of the downtown heart of Portland. The ocean and a large portion of Oregon's tidal bays are within a two hour drive of Portland. This gives the kayak salmon fishermen easy access to some of the best salmon fishing in the lower 48.

I split my salmon fishing between three areas: nearshore ocean in the summer and early fall as fish stage outside river mouths before pushing inland towards home spawning rivers; tidal bays/tidewater river and inland river in the fall (Tillamook, Trask, Nestucca, Columbia, and Nehalem rivers and bays): and the inland rivers for spring salmon (Willamette and Columbia rivers)

Best bet is to know where you want to fish then visit the Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife website http://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/fishing/ for current regulations and any "special notices" that may pertain to that fishery. The regulations are not complicated but do require an angler to take  time and determine the rules that pertain to the particular area they are fishing.

I fish for Chinook and Coho salmon (other species are present but not often targeted by kayakers). The Chinook salmon arrive in basically two runs: Spring salmon, prized for their high oil content and tasty flesh (they push up the tributaries then wait to spawn in late fall, hence their higher levels of fat). The Springers begin to arrive in local rivers in March with the tail end of the run arriving towards the end of June. A second wave of salmon includes both Chinooks and Coho. People begin targeting them in the ocean in early summer and then follow them into freshwater starting early August and continuing all the way to November.

The two main methods I use are trolling or anchoring, then deploying bait/hardware. I use other methods specific to individual fisheries, but day in day out trolling or anchoring in the current, and fishing bait or hardware puts fish in the net. T he Hobie kayaks excel in both these methods. The Mirage drive is absolute magic when it comes to hands free trolling. It allows exact speed control and is easy to master even for a complete novice. The Mirage drive also makes anchoring in heavy current easier and safer by allowing your hands to remain free and ready to tend the rope and floats etc.

Whatever method that's working on a particular day is my favorite, but if it came down to it I love pulling hardware in shallow coastal bays for big fall Chinook. When fish approaching 40 lbs slams your spinner in seven feet of water and than erupts on the surface only to burn off ion one of many smoking 75 yard runs it is one of the most exciting kayak salmon experiences you can have.

The best tip I can give is to rig everything at home, only bring what you need for that day, and keep it organized. For every fishery I guide on, I will pre-rig all the terminal tackle long before I ever get near the water. I organize the rigs into individual "packages" so once on the water it just becomes plug and play. Everything is pre-tied and rigged with snaps etc. If a client snags up and breaks off, I can have them back in the water in minutes with at most one knot to tie. On a kayak it's the little things like that which makes a trip run smooth and keep clients happy. Nobody is paying to watch you tie knots. Plus, the more time your gear is in the water and fishing, the better.

My favorite salmon story mas to be the time I took a client out on the local coast for Coho salmon. The technique for the day was to troll weighted spinners (#4 Blue Fox Vibrax) over the shallow flats in the middle of the bay where Coho often stage waiting for the next tide. We had been fishing all morning and had caught a few, then decided to head over to a sand bar to look for clams and have our lunch. The client reeled in, and hooked the spinner to the lure keeper at the base of the rod, then laid the rod in the tank well pointed out the back of the yak. Apparently what happen is the spinner slipped free and fell into the water and was dragging about eight feet behind the yak when a aggressive Coho slammed it. Scared the hell out of both of us! We would have lost the rod and all if it hadn't been tethered. My client pulled the rod in on its leash, then fought and landed the fish. It was a fire drill to say the least, but we were both laughing like kids the entire time.



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