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By Jason Brooks
Approaching a point that jutted out into the saltwater along an otherwise typical ocean shoreline of cobblestone beaches and rocky cliffs, a familiar orange and blue blob on the sonar appeared. It was a school of baitfish held tight into a ball to keep safe from predators. Blue arches below showed Chinook salmon that shoot up through the bait and gorge on the anchovies. The point we were fishing was a current break from the incoming tide and the baitfish were attempting to seek refuge from the strong currents and, in doing so, fell right into the feeding Chinook that lay in wait.
Fishing the saltwater can be a bit overwhelming, but there are a few things that can increase your chances at finding fish. When it comes to fishing near shorelines, it is best to watch the tides and look for current breaks. Baitfish are small and often get tossed around in strong currents. Bays, coves, and point breaks offer some security, but also tend to condense the bait. Just after tide change and during the swing is when you will find feeding Chinook taking advantage of the bait being pushed to a certain area.
When out in the open waters, it is best to look for current seams where the tides will often swirl and create a washing machine affect. It’s here that bait gets tossed around and become easy prey. However, it is the birds that often give away a baitfish location.
After crossing the buoy markers that led to the open Pacific Ocean, we made our way north and kept an eye in the horizon. We weren’t heading anywhere in particular rather we were searching for bait. The tide was on the flood and current flowing north so it was easier on the motors to head that way. Soon we found diving birds splashing into the ocean. These birds can dive a long way so don’t always assume that the bait is right on the surface. Instead, rely on the sonar unit to show you where the bait is located then fish those depths.
Ocean fishing for salmon is very rewarding once you learn some tips that will help you find the fish. Once you find them it then becomes more of a game on what will get them to bite. The quickest way to figure this out is to, once you do get a Chinook aboard, look at what it is feeding on. Herring, anchovies, squid, and sand lance are the preferred diet for Chinook. Fresh bait such as herring or anchovies are the most common baits used by salmon anglers but when you find feeding Chinook using bait can be a detriment due to needing to constantly re-bait hooks. The Mack’s Lure Wiggle Hoochie is a huge benefit when it comes to putting more Chinook in the boat.
Depending on what bait the Chinook are eating will determine which color of UV Wiggle Hoochie to use. The Wiggle Hoochie comes pre-tied with 4/0 hooks with 40-lb. test on a 72-inch monofilament leader. When rigging the lure, it is best fished behind a flasher such as the ScentFlash UV Paddle Flasher, though due to the amount of action the Wiggle Hoochie Bill puts off, it can be fished with a longer leader, typically 48- to 56-inches. The extra-long 72-inch pre-tied leader allows the angler to tie it to just about any length. UV glows under water by reflecting the UV light which penetrates deep so the deeper you fish this lure the better it is. It’s great for cloudy days or when the marine layer fog never burns off.
Last year while fishing in Neah Bay, Washington we found the early morning, foggy days fished better with UV enhanced lures. Utilizing UV lures is a natural way to add attracting light to the lure and make it stand out. When squid are the diet of Chinook, the Wiggle Hoochie in Nuclear Glow/Clear outproduced all other lures and baits. Not only do squid have a natural UV to them but, again, the darting and dancing action of the Wiggle Hoochie mimics a squid being chased by a salmon when trolled with a ScentFlash UV Paddle Flasher in Clear UV. Another great squid color is the Black/Pink UV Glow/Clear. When rigging them to imitate squid, shorten the leader as squid will dart around more than a baitfish and this will give it a realism and create the instinctive “must bite now” trigger in Chinook when they approach the lure. Be sure to fill the hoochie skirts with Pro-Cure Super Gel Squid scent.
If anchovies are on the menu, then give the Blue Spatter Glow/Clear Wiggle Hoochie a try, as the dark back and light bottom resemble the anchovy. For a herring bite, try the Green Spatter Glow/Clear. The Glow Gator/Clear is a good all-around color, as well. When rigging the lure to trail behind a ScentFlash UV Paddle Flasher, use a longer leader in that 48- to 56-inch range as the Wiggle Hoochie Bill will add action and you don’t need it darting erratically behind the flasher.
When it comes to the ScentFlash UV Paddle Flasher, anglers often use canned tuna and add their favorite scents. For me, I prefer to do this when using water soluble bait oil as the tuna holds the scent longer and creates a strong and lasting scent trail. However, if I am out searching for salmon and don’t want to have to change out the scent often, then give the super sticky sauces, such as Pro-Cure Super Sauce in herring or anchovy a try. Regardless of which scent product you like to use, be sure unsnap the ScentFlash’s patented lid at the end of the day and give them a good washing in a grease cutting detergent like Dawn dish soap to remove the scent, gels, and sauces. Not only can these become “off” scents by the next morning, but they can also act as a glue to other things, such as dirt, dust, fish slime and other substances. It is easier to clean the flasher at the end of the day than it is to wait until the oils condense and become a yucky, grimy mess.
Now, back to finding the fish. Once you locate a bait ball with feeding Chinook, do not leave it. Last year, while at Neah Bay, we were trolling along the 120-foot line, like everybody else. Then, I noticed a bait ball on the sonar and decided to circle around it and we quickly hit a double, making for an exciting few minutes. After the fish were landed, we found the bait again and, once again, picked up another fish right away. This was not an anomaly, as I learned this “trick” from a friend years ago while fishing in Westport – we found the bait and made figure eight patterns through the ball until we hooked up and did this all day long, having one of the best days on the water we’ve ever had. Since then, it has always been a “find the bait, find the salmon” rule on the boat.
Using the right gear and locating fish is what makes the difference in salmon fishing and, more importantly, salmon catching. Enjoy the time on the water, look for birds and know how to use the tides. Finding salmon is the hardest part, but using the right gear, such as the Wiggle Hoochie paired with a ScentFlash UV Paddle Flasher, will definitely help you get them to bite.