Salmon Behavior in the River
By: Chad Wiest
Salmon are similar to animals in many ways. Thinking of them in this way can
help you become a better angler. Understanding this behavior and thinking like they do
will narrow down large river systems into likely places you can find them. Perhaps, this
will make your job of catching them a little easier.
They desire a comfortable place to rest, just like animals.
Many of the most
productive fishing spots are such places. Usually, a spot where the current has a break
from the higher flows of the main current are utilized. If you had to swim against the
current, you would want to take a break once in while too! Tail outs, the inside of a bend
in a river, behind a hump, or any other structure creating a soft spot out of the main flow
are a few of those comfortable resting spots. This is especially true during big tide swings
or after a high water event. You want to look for “soft water” or any slower moving water
on occasions like these.
Like animals, salmon are also territorial. Surprises are just as disagreeable to
salmon as they are to us. When salmon are holding in their resting spots, the smallest of
intruders can upset them. They do not want to share their space and attack the unwanted
visitor. When you place your bait or lure in front of these resting fish they tend to snap.
These are reaction bites and are some of the most violent.
Many animals choose to travel along the same paths year after year and season
after season. Any deer or elk hunter will tell you there are beaten down trails running all
over the woods. They use those paths for the same reason salmon choose the same paths
year after year. Those paths are the easiest way to get from point A to point B. They want
to expend the least amount of energy to accomplish their goal. Once you have found
these places, chances are they will be there again unless the river changes.
Just like animals in the wild, salmon want to avoid predators. Looking at the
top of salmon they have a darker green back with spots transitioning to a silver side and
white belly. By staying close to the bottom seals and sea lions have a harder time seeing
them. It has also been discovered that salmon cannot see down, only forward and up.
Another reason they prefer resting on the bottom to avoid predators.
Salmon are in a lot of ways predictable if you learn some of their behaviors and
locate the places they frequent you will discover they are creatures of habit. This is just
one tool in my toolbox that has helped me increase my success. Although I applied this
to salmon the same can be said of steelhead. These wonderful fish have patterns and
learning them will help you put more fish on the line.
Flashers and the Myriad of Possibilities
By Captain Chad Wiest
Salmon fishing in the rivers has seen a lot of new possibilities in the realm of fish
attractors. In-line flashers or no-drag flashers have become very popular in the last few
years and for good reason, they work to bring the fish into your bait. Two companies in
particular are on the forefront of innovation with color choices and finishes, Yakima Bait
Company (Big Als) and Short Bus Flashers. From black to clear backgrounds and more
color/ size choices coming out regularly, you might never fish them all. But, when do
some colors work better than others and why?
Sometimes the water is clear or green, or brown and mixes of. This last fall a
dredge was working the mouth of the river stirring up a lot of sand, upriver there was a
red algae bloom and between them was a mix of clear ocean water, brown (tannic) river
water, and murky, sandy water. Last spring we had low clear water and a post rain event
muddy water. The visibility can vary from 5 ft to 6 inches. These variables impact my
color choice and leader length.
It is a well know fact the clearer the water the longer the leader and vise versa. As
a general rule my leader length from the flasher is no more than a foot and a half longer
than the visibility. If you can see your flasher 1 ft or less under water the leader should
be about 2.5 ft long. If you can see your flasher 4 ft. under water 5.5 ft. leader length.
These are approximates and should be used as guidelines. Another factor that needs to be
considered is size of flasher. The clearer water the smaller 6” flashers have worked well
for me and the 8” flashers in medium visibility.
I like to stay away from UV finishes in very clear water as well such as the Pole
Dancer and really like the more subtle colors such as half red/ half green. I also switch
over and use no flasher at all if a large amount of eel grass is in clear ocean water that I
am trolling during large tide swings in the fall. But when the water is murky, with two
feet or less of visibility these UV finishes are my go to. With 2-4 ft of visibility I like to
run the very popular chartreuse and variations of it. I also like to run flashers together,
one color on the front two rods, one color on the back two rods, or all rods with the same
As you can see the variety of water conditions and variety of flashers leaves you
with a myriad of possibilities. I hope this gives you a baseline to work with. These are
general guidelines and not absolutes. I have seen some strange tackle and techniques
work, but to increase my hookups I like to follow this regiment. Experiment on your own,
but, remember that confidence in your setup is the most important and good luck!
The Value of Good Electronics for Salmon fishing in Oregon
By: Chad Wiest
When I first began fishing for fall Chinook salmon many years ago we had
just the basics. A tackle box, rod, spinner, and a net, was all the equipment we had to
catch fish in the little 12ft. aluminum boat. We caught some fish too. Although you can
get by without electronics, having them makes your time on the water safer and more
A good stand alone unit will have a variety of useful functions. I run a pair of
Lowrance HDS units in my boat (a 5” and 7” model). With the split screen option having
two units is not necessary but I like to have one on chart and one on sonar for a larger
display. These have helped my confidence and catch rates. Since purchasing five years
ago they have performed flawlessly under wet and windy Pacific Northwest weather
The ease of operation of these units makes life easy. When you are responsible for
navigating busy rivers and watching five rods in the boat to make sure they are fishing,
this is imperative. With an easy format of operation and 8 buttons and a directional pad,
the system is very intuitive. You can quickly switch functions from gps to sonar or zoom
in and out on the large screens. It also has a variety of features that you can add on like
mapping upgrades, Sirius radio and weather, radar, and NMEA 2000. Another feature I
love is the easy upgrade of the entire operating system. I just downloaded the 4.1 upgrade
to a SD card, popped it in and presto! I now have an upgraded system.
Safety is my primary concern having guests out on the water, everything else is
secondary. Having a good reliable chartplotter/gps unit helps provide a higher level of
safety. The salmon often bite best in the very early morning. To get from the dock to
where they are, it takes leaving in the dark so you can be fishing at first light. While a
gps is not a replacement for a vigilant captain, it can help. Visibility can be down to less
than 10 ft. in the heavy fog our coastal river systems see. It is here that the tracks from
yesterday can easily be followed to the holes that are holding fish. Without my Lowrance
helping to show the way, life would be a lot less safe.
Salmon really like to hug the bottom in a lot of areas, and knowing where that is
as the depth changes has increased my hook ups. Another reason I love my Lowrance
HDS units is the ability to change the color schemes of my sonar. In low light, the whites
are too bright, in the sun the low light settings are difficult to see. With this feature I have
easy viewing of my screen in all conditions. I have learned to trust my sonar, and when
you are marking fish that area usually produces bites. I can even make out harbor seals
and bait balls. The water temperature feature has also helped increase my catch rates.
I realize now that during my early years I was at a severe disadvantage without
any electronics. The new breed of electronics is so user friendly and reliable that not
spending a little extra money on the top of the line electronics will cost you in the end
with less fish in the boat. Give them a shot, you will not be disappointed!
Using herring for Salmon Fishing:
Whole or cut plug herring is an effective and popular technique for catching
salmon in many fisheries along the west coast. Here are a few tips that might help you
produce more bites.
1. Choosing the right bait.
There are multiple suppliers of herring along the west coast. Sizes vary by
color. From smallest to largest: Red, Green, Blue, Purple, and Black. The most
commonly used sizes are green and blue but there are times when the little reds
and large purples can be used. When purchasing your bait it is important to look
at the bait itself. You are looking for clear (not cloudy) eyes, no visible blood,
vacuum sealed, and missing very few scales. Unfortunately, the next feature of
the perfect bait will not be clear until opened and cut. When cutting the herring
for use you want to see only blood inside the belly cavity. Often suppliers sell
herring that are in spawn and the cavity holds milt(sperm) sacks or skeins of roe.
These herring have put most of their energy ie oils, into creating these and have
lost some of their scent helpful in enticing a bite. Avoid these herring if possible.
There are as many formulas for brines as there are fisherman who use them.
Everyone has their own variation but many have Salt(non-iodized). Salt firms
up the bait and helps to keep it on the hook longer. Powdered milk is another.
This helps to keep the scales on the bait which will eventually fall off after being
dragged through the water. These scales are like little mirrors that help bring the
fish to the bait in murky water. Mrs. Stewarts blueing (found in the detergent
aisle in grocery stores) is also found in many brines. This helps to bring out the
shine and iridescent colors in the scales. These are the three main ingredients and
after this many other scents can be added. I like Pautzkes Nectar, Anise, and krill.
People also like Garlic, shrimp, vanilla, and tuna. There are times when each one
of these scents will produce more than any other and also times when they want
them straight out of the pack. It is important to not over do it with any scent and
usually less is more. Experimentation is key here to find what combo you like
3. Keep it clean.
Salmon can smell exceptionally well. Keeping your bait cooler, knives and
cutting boxes can increase your odds of a hook up. A popular soap is non-ultra
lemon joy. It helps to carry away stale odors and leaves no trace of foul odors on
your bait. A bloody knife and box sitting in the sun can go from clean to ripe in a
short time. This is an easy fix.