How to Fish the Small Coastal Streams for Fall Chinook
The rain fell…then it fell some more. Another deluge from the Southwest had arrived, and promised to drop a couple inches of rain on the coastal streams of Western Oregon. It also would usher in a fresh batch of kings to my favorite streams! Sometimes I admit to getting a little depressed when the rains fall in earnest, yet when it’s fall Chinook time, let her rip!
From October through December, heavy rainstorms almost always bring in new waves of fall salmon, offering an opportunity to catch large Chinook salmon in small coastal streams. Fish averaging 25-pounds are not uncommon, and in certain watersheds the hopes for 40-plus pound leviathans are always present. Who couldn’t get a little jazzed about that?
While bobber fishing from the bank is a viable option for bank bound anglers, rowing a drift boat and back bouncing eggs, back trolling Kwikfish, and bobber fishing the slower deep sections are the go to methods of connecting with these ocean bright kings.
One of the biggest myths I hear about chasing these fall-fish is how anglers believe they need to wait for the rivers to turn green to begin fishing. As long as the rivers are safely floatable, I’ll fish water the color of coffee with cream in it. The fish are aggressive and on the move, and are often holding in the fast water at the top of runs and pools. These fish are almost always mint bright from the ocean, and almost always still sport sea lice.
These Chinooks are not the lazy fish you sometimes see as the water drops and clears, laying at the bottom end of holes, and in the slow water along deep banks, but are ocean strong and absolutely in-your-face chomping biters, sitting right at the top of the fast water slots!! It’s one of the coolest bites in fishing, pulling into the fast water at the top of a deeper hole and dropping a K-16 Kwikfish to the bottom, taking a crank on the reel handle and then nearly having the rod ripped out of your hand as one of these maniacal kings tries to obliterate your offering! It’s what keeps me coming back over and over again!
To try your hand at this fantastic style of fishing, pick your closest Northwest stream offering a run of fall Chinook, and anytime the water levels support floating, but especially as the water begins to recede following one of our fall gully washers, drift a section close to tidewater. Bring fresh eggs, sand shrimp, Kwikfish, sardines, and tuna bellies along with your favorite back bouncing rods, plug rods and of course, a bobber rod as well. Sometimes I feel like the porcupine boat this time of year floating these streams with a veritable arsenal of rods, reels and techniques!
For back bouncing baits, I start with G Loomis SABBR965C rod, with Shimano 300 Curado filled with 150 yards of 65-pound Power-Pro braid. I run a sliding weight set up on these rods tied to a 5 to 6-foot leader of 40-pound Maxima Ultra-Green, with a 3/0 to 4/0 VMC red octopus hook. This combo will easily fish anywhere from 2 to 10 or more ounces of lead. I start with a decent sized bait of eggs, along with ½ a sand shrimp. Position yourself at the top of a run or deeper hole and slowly work the bait back. Use enough lead to maintain contact with the bottom, but not so much that the bait races back without staying right along the bottom. If you don’t stay in touch with your bait, you can get grabbed without ever feeling the bite.
The technique is simply dropping the bait to the bottom where you feel the weight thunk on the river bed. Stop letting line out with your thumb, and lift the bait up off the bottom again 6-8″, then at the top of the lift begin letting line out with your thumb until you again feel the lead bump the bottom again. You have to let the line out in a very controlled manner to feel this, and once you figure out how to maintain close contact with the bottom and your bait, you’ll be fishing like a pro! If you’re trying to learn this for the first time, one trick is to use heavier lead than you might need. It’s harder to walk the bait along the bottom, but you’ll get the feel for the cadence of the drop, thunk…. lift, drop, thunk… lift, drop, thunk… that you get as you learn to walk your bait along the bottom. Once you get the feel, lighten your lead up to the point where you can walk the bait down in front of the boat. You have the perfect amount of weight when you are able to get the bait down 50-75 feet in front of the boat, and then maintain that distance as the boat slowly moves downstream.
I had an experience a few seasons back, where one of my clients said they couldn’t feel the bait/bottom anymore. I asked her to reel up and start again so she could stay right on top of her bait, feeling bottom the with each bounce. She took about 5 cranks on the reel and the rod loaded up! The fish had swallowed the bait as it came by, but since she wasn’t staying in close contact with the bottom she never felt the fish pick up the bait. Often times you don’t get so lucky to have the fish attached after you miss the bite!!
The bites can be subtle at times, but most often you’ll feel a solid tug or two. Resist the temptation to immediately swing when you feel the fish first pick up the bait. It’s best to wait through the first tug or two, until you feel a solid downward pull . That’s point when you should set the hook.
For fishing Kwikfish I like to fish the same water as back bouncing bait. I start with a G Loomis SAMR1084C, or a IMX982C rods, with a Shimano Tekota 300LC’s, loaded with 200-yards of 65-pound Power-Pro braid. I use a lead slider with this rig as well, with a 24-30” dropper, and a 5-foot leader of 60-pound Maxima Ultra-Green. I use the heavier Maxima fishing Kwikfish for the ferocity of the grabs which can sometimes lead to a premature long line release of your fish (snapped line!!)!
You can also substitute a Luhr Jensen Jet Diver for the lead. I’ve used this before when there is only one angler on board so we can run two Kwikfish. The rod running the diver gets put in a rod holder (the rowers rod), while the angler at the front of the boat runs the rod with the lead dropper. This is also a decent set up to try if your anglers are having a tough time finding and maintaining contact with the bottom.
I like to run Luhr Jensen K-16 and K-14-X Kwikfish, and I always add a bait wrapper to my offering. I use sardines, but I also really like to add tuna bellies when I have them on hand. Both wraps are great bait additions to your Kwikfish, but you can use other baits like mackerel, sand shrimp, and even canned tuna. Sometimes breaking tradition and using a different bait is just the ticket to lighting the fish up, especially when the rivers are receiving a lot of traffic!
Position yourself in the same water where you’d back bounce bait, and run the Kwikfish to the bottom. When the lead hits bottom, take two cranks on the reel handle and let the plug works it magic. Make sure and check for the bottom again every 5-10 feet while moving downstream. I have gunnel guard all around my boat, and I want my anglers to rest the rod on the gunnel when running Kwikfish. The grabs are so vicious, that the rod gets yanked down hard, and if an angler is holding the rod they often immediately swing on the fish, which often results in a missed bite. If the rod rests on the gunnel, I find there are much fewer early hook sets.
It’s imperative when running Kwikfish to allow the fish to eat the lure. When the fish first grabs the lure you’ll see the rod load up, but it will generally be bouncing up and down. This isn’t the time to set the hook. The fish is already hooked, but trying its best to throw the offering by shaking it’s head violently. This is what you see as the rod bucks up and down. When you see the rod going from bouncing and bucking, to a solid downward pull, often with line peeling off the reel, its time to set the hook. If you wait through these bites, you’ll get 95% of the fish that grab your bait. Early hook sets drastically reduce the number of fish you’ll bring to the boat.
You can also flat line Kwikfish in the slots you’d normally think of as steelhead water. Anything with more than 5 to 6-feet of depth will hold these moving kings, and a set of flat lined Kwikfish will often derail them from their upstream mission. A standard K-16 Kwikfish, or the K-14-X Extreme Kwikfish are both wonderful candidates for flat-lining. In fact, the K-14-X can also be used in the deeper holes with good current flow as well. This plug excels at diving, just like all the Extreme series Kwikfish.
When fishing these slots and runs with flat lined Kwik’s, run your baits out to approximately 50-75 feet, and you’ll be fishing. Make sure all the plugs are running at the same distance, because it will drastically improve the number of hookups when the fish meets a wall of plugs coming downstream.
I use the same set up for flat lining Kwikfish as I do for fishing the bottom with lead. I use a Luhr Jensen Duo-Lock snap for my lead line, and I just clip it to the swivel on my lead slider and it’s ready to deploy as a flat lined rig.
This fall, give these techniques a try on one of your favorite fall rivers. Just make sure and hold on, because these aggressive fall kings really know how to put on a show!!