July 2010

July 2010
July 2010
July 2010
July 2010

TROLLING OFTEN SAVES THE DAY

A common statement heard from many salmon anglers is that trolling is boring. I’m inclined to agree, for I prefer casting flies, drift-jigging or mooching; however, when conditions don’t permit anchoring or drifting, trolling is often the only option. Also, when fishing new water, or if salmon can’t be readily located, trolling is the most efficient way to cover an area while you conduct your search.

The greatest mistake anglers make while trolling is to simply put their lures or bait in the water, then drive their boats around at random in hopes that a fish will bite. They never come close to the success of anglers who pay attention to details like light intensity, water conditions, temperature ranges, and the types of forage available. Those “lucky” anglers also pay attention to their terminal tackle. For example: someone trolling for coho might tie a selection of hoochies on leaders measuring precisely 22.5 inches from hook eye to loop (or whichever length works best), so they can be quickly snapped onto a dodger or flasher. A spoon aficionado might go systematically through his collection of matching those that work best together at specific speeds, and then identifying them in sets with a waterproof marker or nail polish.

When Comox Bay still had a world-class tyee fishery, I spent hours lubricating the throats of a few old-timers with enviable track records for catching big Chinooks. Jeff (Tex) Lutrelle, claimed that the weight and density of wood used in the construction of plugs created noticeable differences in the action between identical models of the same size and shape. In order to speed up a plug’s tail-wagging motion and increase its arc, Tex carefully scraped paint from the rear portion along each side of the body, then scraped off equal amounts of wood from each side. When it was close to the desired shape, he swim-tested the plug by walking it back and forth along a wharf. Determining the right amount of wood to remove usually required several tests before a plug was ready to be thoroughly dried, after which the exposed wood was repainted.

Later, after modifying a few of my own wooden plugs, I realized what Tex had really accomplished by altering his plugs: decreasing the rear taper of a plug’s body exaggerated its tail-wagging speed. While the increased swimming action might have been of benefit at normal trolling speeds, its real value was while trolling dead slow, for a plug would not only continue its swimming action while barely moving forward, it would even do it while dropping back in a tidal current.

The introduction of downrigging in the early 1970s did much to increase the popularity of trolling, mainly by eliminating the need for short broomstick rods and winch-like reels capable of dragging a pound or more of sinker weight or a deep-diving, heavy-pulling planer. Typical downrigging outfits now consist of long, limber rods with lightweight reels, which provides much more excitement and fun while fighting and landing fish.

Despite the popularity of downriggers, flatline trolling remains alive and well with folks who tow streamers, cut-plug herring, spoons and plugs. Sometimes, however, switching back and forth between techniques results in problems. A friend who did a lot of downrigging off the Comox Valley once complained that of seven Chinooks he had struck while flatline trolling at Alberni Inlet, all had broken his line when they hit. He was using brand new premium nylon monofilament, so thought that it might be a bad batch. After losing two fish -- and two Tomic Plugs -- he raced back to town and bought some new line. Then he went back out and broke off five more times.

When it turned out that he had been using 20-pound test line, I suggested that he up it to 40- or even 50-pound test, explaining that nylon monofilament has a stretch factor of about 27 per cent. Towing those large plugs with sinkers ranging from 4 to 8 ounces had used up much of his line’s stretch, which reduced its shock-absorbing elasticity dramatically. Although his 20-pound test line was quite capable of handling big fish once they were hooked, it was overstressed to the point where even a relatively small fish might have snapped it on the strike. On a return trip his reel was filled with 50-pound test, and that time he came home with fish.

Some of the most successful anglers I know are those who are not afraid to flaunt tradition and experiment. How else can you account for someone discovering that a ShadRap plug -- a deep-diving crankbait more closely associated with bass and walleye -- works quite well on feeder Chinooks in the Campbell River area?

When trolling for schooling fish like Pacific salmon, locating baitfish concentrations generally leads to your target species. For more solitary fish like halibut or lingcod, it’s best to locate areas that offer the most attractive combinations of structure and food availability, and then troll through those areas.
When fish are plentiful, virtually everyone becomes an instant expert; however, when things slow down it seems only experienced anglers continue producing results. Many do so by trolling, secure in the knowledge that those long periods of boredom are frequently punctuated with flurries of excitement and fast action.
 

July 2010
Huxley’s Run: 

So you give a friend a tip on a fishing spot. It's not lightly given. It is given like a man having a baby. Don’t want to think about it. But you do because your heart is light one large day, and the sky and wind smell as one. It is something you must do, especially when the friend is younger, more eager, and will do that secret spot more justice than you will from memory or keyboard.
And he goes.
"How was it?” you ask, knowing the report should be somewhat good.
“Fantastic,” he says. You hear that with trepidation. "Good?"
Yes.
"Pretty good?"
Yes.
"Great?" A cause for concern.
"Fantastic." But fantastic?

You think of the keyboard, the computer, the many other useless things that prevented you from going. Yet you gave the information to this thankless, young whelp and what had been, at best, "pretty good" for you, turned into fantastic for him.
You push your feet deeper into your slippers and then ask the question.
“Oh, seven or eight nice cutties,” he says in answer, reporting with a smile like some company clerk saying profits were up in the first quarter by 33 per cent. You want to fire him, but need more just cause.
You ask again.
“One had to be over 20-inches and the rest were between 16 and that,” he says.
You stare at him, thinking that not only is he fired, but the severance will be a pittance. Then you think again. You confirm the Secret Creek’s location with him, making sure he was in fact at the location you specified.
The next day you are there. The Secret Creek mouth is as you would expect it. And you fish. And you catch one massive cutthroat of about 13-inches. You fish and fish and fish and fish and that is it. Two nights later young friend comes round and uses "fantastic" twenty million times about his most recent visit there. Nineteen inches, 16-inches, 18-inches, and one of unknown behemoth proportions that took him far and deep before spitting the hook.
He is, obviously, a liar. You confront him. He denies it. You call him a liar again. He becomes silent, knowing, you think, that you’re on to him. He guiltily reaches into his pocket and pulls out his digital camera. He shows you picture after picture after picture of the beauties. Your slippers are gone, you’ve stepped out of them to get a better look at that small but verifying screen. You become a bigger man then. You ask methods, flies, tides, creek levels. He tells you all what you told him and sent him out with.
Frustrated, you say, “You caught these where I told you north of the creek mouth?”
He gets sheepish. “No,” he said, “south.”
“South?” you ask perhaps a little too loudly.
“Yes,” he says, “I couldn’t remember which way you said to go. So I went south of the creek mouth.”
“South?” Years of fishing and you had gone north.
“South,” he responds.
“South?”
“South,” he’s quieter.
“South?”
You go the very next chance you get. South. And you realize that not only are these fish fantastic but they are real and they are spectacular. You realize then that should you weaken again as an angler and decide to reveal this spot to anyone, under any duress, from gunpoint to single malt, you will make sure that they definitely go north.

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