How to Get That Fish You Just Hooked on the String
So you’ve put in your hours on the river, bought all the
tackle, fished a float, drift fished, filled your tackle box up and now you’ve
finally hooked your first fish! That’s
the moment when you see that float down, and you feel the hard tug of a big
fish. Your adrenaline is pumping. You’re drag starts singing. You rod’s doubled
over and you’re knee deep in the water and just holding on. Now what?
Hooking a fish is hard enough, but when you get it on you
are only half way there. Lots of anglers will find that once they hook the
fish, they can have a hard time getting it to shore. Let’s talk about some of
the techniques that will help you get that fish on the stringer, rather than swimming
around in the river 30 seconds later with a sore jaw. Nothing is more disappointing
than feeling that tug and losing that fish.
Keep your Cool –
You’re first instinct when you hook a fish is to reel and
reel until he gets in. You’re going to have to suppress that instinct. When you
get that hook lodged deeply in the fishes jaw, yell “FISH ON!!!!” really loud.
This lets the other anglers around you know to reel up and let you play out
your fish. After that, take a moment before you start reeling to see what that
fish is going to do. It may make a line peeling run, or it may just try to sit
on the bottom, and what it does is going to dictate what you do next.
With the tackle that we’re using to hook fish, we’re
probably going to be fishing with light line and a lighter rod than you’d think
would be capable of bringing in such a big fish. This is when playing out the
fish is going to be important, because if you just try to yank it in, you’re
looking at broken leaders and bent hooks. Let the rod do the work.
Let the Drag and your Rod do the Work
It’s important that you set your drag for about half the
breaking strength of your leader. This is going to keep you from breaking off.
When that fish runs, your drag is your defense against a broken line. You’re
going to use the flexibility if your rod as a cushion against the violent
headshakes, taking the force of a powerful fish and spreading it out to your
rod likes a spring. Every time the fish pulls against the rod, he’s using up a
little bite more of the energy that he has, and the length and taper of the rod
is going to help you tire him out. A tired fish is a docile fish and much
easier to net.
Your rod is going to have the most power when it’s kept at a
45 degree angle to the water. If you hold your rod straight up, you’re putting
all of the pressure of the fish on the tip of your rod rather than pulling against
the entirety of the rod. The main strength of your rod is going to be in the
butt or lower section of your rod. Keeping your rod at 45 is going to use all
of that power to your advantage.
You’re going to look at the river and get the lay of the
land. Across the way there may be some stumps in the water. You don’t want the
fish to head that way. Downstream from you, you have the tail out, which
includes a large riffle with swift current and large rapids that will drag that
big fish downstream and spool you in seconds flat. At your feet Are some large
boulders, upstream you have fellow anglers with their floats still out. You
need to take control of that fish and direct him into the one place he doesn’t
want to go: your net!
When that fish starts to run downstream, the first thing you
want to do is bring your rod down and lay it against the water upstream. That
will pull its head around and send him towards you and turn him upstream. You’re
going to want to pull against the direction that the fish wants to go. When he
heads back upstream, turn your rod and pull in the opposite direction. Putting
pressure against the fish parallel to the surface of the water is going to
encourage that fish to stay in the water, rather than jumping up and out.
Try to avoid pulling straight up on the fish, because this
is going to pull his head up and out of the water. As cool as it is to see that
fish tail walk across the top of the water, there is a reason why they’re
jumping. It’s the best way for them to gain slack in the line to shake that
hook. Tension on the line is the most important part of the fight. If you lose
the connection between you and the fish, that split second is when the fish is
going to have the leverage to get the hook out of its mouth. Jumping is the best way for it to get that
leverage. A good technique for subduing a jumping fish is to lower your rod tip
and pull down on the fish, sending him back down into the water.
Pump the Rod and Keep Tension
You’re going to want to bring that fish closer to you. That
can be hard if you’re just reeling him in, he’s pulling too hard against the
drag and you’re still losing line. The way that you’re going to gain line on
the fish is by pumping him in. Raise your rod up to the 45, and as you bring is
back down, reel up fast on it ensuring that you don’t lose tension on the fish.
As you’re pumping him in, you’re going to continue directing the fish with your
rod angle. When the fish makes a run, you’re going to have to let it run. Reeling
against a running fish is going to twist your line up, and isn’t going to do
much to gain any ground on it.
Palming or Thumbing the Spool
There will be circumstances where that fish is going to make
a run towards the sticks that you just can’t stop with the drag alone. This is
when the knowledge of the breaking strength of your line and rod are going to
be the key. To slow the fish you’re going to have to palm the spool, gently
pushing on it to add that additional drag on the fish to slow him down. A lot
of times that additional and sudden force on the fish can stop it dead in its
tracks and send him in the opposite direction. The danger here is that that
additional drag is going to have the ability to break your line. Knowing how
much pressure you can put on a fish before the line breaks is something that
you’re going to have to be able to feel out, and with a little time you’re
going to have a feel for your gear and know that lines breaking strength. Of
course this is going to be your last resort when trying to stop the fish,
because the risk of breaking off is going to be pretty high.
Take your Time and Tire Him Out
The object is to tire that fish out so that you can bring
him to shore and get him in the net. Don’t try and net the fish until its good
and tired out, because as soon as it sees the net, it’s going to run again, and
often that first glimpse of shore is going to summon the strength to escape
that the fish didn’t even know he had. You’ll often times get the most exciting
runs out of the fish the moment that he sees the gravel, and you’ll have to
hold on. Take your time and tire him out so that the fish is not going to be
thrashing around when that net comes for him.
Banking and Netting
When netting the fish, net it head first, and don’t net
until you know you’re going to get it. Missed lunges are going to knock that
leader free, and fish lost at the net are the worst type of fish. Have your
netter ready with the net halfway in the water, direct the fishes head towards
the net and use a fluid swift stroke to engulf the entire fish in the bag. When
the fish is in the bag, you’re going to pull it straight back and up, folding
the net around the fish, making sure that he can’t escape. Get the net and fish
up on dry land before you unhook him, and if you’re going to keep the fish,
give him a quick whack on the head to calm that flopping. When you’re looking
at nets, make sure that you get one that is bigger than you think you need,
because if you’ve got a bag that is too short and you have the fish only half
way in, he’s going to slide right out and break your leader.
With these techniques, you’re going to be able to bring that
fish to shore quick, and you’ll have more fish on the card than in the water.
Playing a fish is simple: keep tension, take your time, direct its movements
and pump him in.
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Posted: 10-28-2012, 12:32 AM
Skinny water Coho, Kings and Late Summer Steel
It’s been a while since I posted an update, so I figured I
better let you know where we’re at this summer. I say summer, even though we’d
like it to be fall, as we wait and hope for rain, we’ve still been enjoying the
heat. We’re getting great weather, but the drawback is that the fish don’t
enjoy it nearly as much as we do! Even so, this is an exciting time of year,
with the summer runs trailing off we have some great new opportunities on the
Olympic Peninsula, the Skagit and the Cowlitz.
As a lot of you have already experienced this summer has
been tough with the arrival of the silvers coinciding with low clear water. We’ve
been finding conditions on the Duwamish, Snohomish and Stilliguamish less than
favorable for these finicky fish to turn aggressive. With these fish locked
down and nervous, it can feel like you’re slamming your head against the brick
as you see rollers on front and feel nothing on the end all day.
All is not lost however, and we have been able to find fish
that are willing to come out and play, even in these dry and bright summer
conditions. We’ve spent a lot of time on the water in these past few weeks and
have found that a few things have helped to bring more fish to shore. Here are
a few tips that have been effective for us.
As traditional logic dictates, you don’t leave fish to find
fish, especially if you don’t have a guarantee that you’re going to find
anything somewhere else. This hasn’t been working for us lately. The fish are
starting to fill up the rivers, and as more fish come in behind, they’re
pushing out those fish that would like to sit in that bigger lower water and
moving them upstream. This means that there are fish collecting throughout the
system, and so you can find them in a lot of different spots. When we see a big
school sitting in a hole, it’s tempting to throw at them all day in the hopes
that one will break down and bite. However, what we’ve found is that if they
aren’t in the mood, they’re not going to be in the mood all day.
Covering water and showing our bait to a lot of different
fish has given us the opportunity to seek out those aggressive and willing
players that others have passed over. We’ve also found the the higher the
concentration of fish, the fewer willing players we’ve found. When we come up
on a nice little pocket that may only have a couple of stragglers witting in
it, these guys have been our best bet. The majority of the fish we’ve touched
have not even showed themselves, not really rolling around or hitting the top
of the water at all. We’ll hit one of these holes for 15 to 20 minutes, and
then we’ll move on. Some of these fish want to eat, but most of them don’t, so
seeking out the biters has been the key.
As some of you know, I’m a big advocate for light tackle,
and that has been paying off. We’ve been using a lighter presentation, with
less weight, smaller hooks and not a lot of flash. When drifting, we’ve had our
best luck running 10 lbs. main with 8 lbs. fluorocarbon leader. Small beads or
corkies will impress those wary fish while not giving them a reason to run when
they see a big black slinky running across the rocks next to your bait. Natural
colors in pink and egg orange have worked, green infertile egg bead imitations
with a small tuft of purple yarn has been a favorite for these Coho.
When float fishing, we’ve been using jigs, Dick Nites and
bait under a small clear drift floats have been. With water like this, stealth
is key right now. Small 1/8 ounce jigs with a healthy amount of marabou to give
a sweet little tail twitch have actually been working quite well. Add a tiny
bit of prawn to the tip for scent and you’ll have a good chance. When you can
use bait, small sand shrimp tails have been working the best. Drift them under
a float like a jig for the proper presentation. We’ve been working right on the
bottom, an inch or two above. Getting that bait to bump right into their head
has been our best bet. I know that we all love the hard hit of a big Coho on
hardware, but we’ve found that if they don’t hit it right away, they’re not
going to hit it. We follow a protocol, float bait through, jigs and drift
fishing water depending, and then we hit it with a spinner. If that doesn’t
work, we move on.
While the fishing has been tough, the big fish are in! We’ve
had the opportunity to play with some teeners lately, so it’s totally worth the
On the more optimistic front, we have been having
spectacular luck on the trout front. Summer steelhead, Dolly Varden and sea run
cutthroat have been more than willing to play, and with most of the angling
pressure focused on the Coho in the lower river, it has made for a great change
of pace. Stealth again is key, sneak up on your favorite hole, go light on your
tackle and give a proper presentation and you’re going to be pleasantly surprised.
There is something to be excited about though. My favorite
spots on the Olympic Peninsula are starting to fill up with fall Chinook! I’m
booking trips out there for the first week of October, and it’s a time of year
I look forward to from January. If you’re tired of fighting the crowds on the Puget
Sound area rivers, these may be the trips for you. Learning the river early in
the season will give you the edge when the run is in full swing later on, and
you don’t want to miss these wild and scenic fish. Some of the biggest fish I’ve
caught have come from these rivers, the Humptulips, Queets and Wynoochee offer
relief from the shoulder to shoulder days on the Snohomish.
If you don’t mind hanging out with some fellow anglers, the
Cowlitz system is probably one of the best places to learn to salmon fish with
a high chance to bring in our favorite fall kings. With big numbers, both in
the return of fish and pounds on the scale, the Cowlitz can quickly become your
favorite river relatively close to home.
So if you’re looking to get into fish this year, now is the
perfect time to get out and hone your skills. Book an early trip on the Oly Pen
to get the edge when that run is in full swing! I have some openings in the
next few weeks, but they’re filling up fast. Good luck on the water, and I look
forward to fishing with you in the coming weeks.
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Posted: 09-25-2012, 09:20 AM
Hook Sets and River Reports
I know it’s been a while since you’ve heard from me, but we’ve
been so busy! With the majority of rivers in the west side opening up
and summer steelhead and kings filing in from the ocean, there hasn’t
been any shortage of fishing opportunities. I’ve been focusing on the
Cascade and Skykomish rivers, for summer Chinook and steelhead. While
the action hasn’t been red hot by all accounts, it has been steady. With
every warm spell the rivers put out snow melt and rise drawing in a
fresh batch of fish.
On the Skykomish, the summer fish have been spread throughout the
system. While the end destination is Reiter Ponds at the hatchery side,
with the high water, these fish are fearless. Reiter has been getting a
lot of fishing pressure, so the fish get caught up fast. They usually
bite well and fast, so if someone hooks up, odds are there are a few
more fish that came in. But new pods of fish move through sporadically,
so the bite has been a waiting game. With the gate open on the intake,
fish are not stacking up in the river to get caught, the high water lets
them easily get into the hatchery. This makes for a search and destroy
fishery, and fish can be holed up all throughout the river, so a hit and
run approach while covering a lot of water has been the most productive
tactic for bank anglers.
A very nice dolly
On the Cascade front, we’ve been waiting for high water, and it is
definitely a morning bite. By the time you roll up at 10 am you may find
the parking lot empty. Although the best action can be had during the
wee hours of the morning, you will find that there will be fish all day.
We have been picking up a lot of Dolly Varden and wild steelhead
lately, the steelhead have been vicious and jumpy, so that can be
exciting. When picking up your gear for the Cascade in high water it
doesn’t hurt to go a bit heavier. We’ve been using Lamiglas medium-heavy
1000 series rods with 15 pound test. They have been biting on
everything from yarn balls to spoons, with plastic mini-worms drift
fished or stuck on a jig under a float working well when the bite slows
down. Roe and shrimp are the stand-by tactic for the fishery, and we
throw it with good success.
With the Skagit river Sockeye opener, we will see some action in that
lower section of river. There haven’t been many fish, but the few times
that we’ve scouted it out have been hit and miss. The fish usually show
up in more number end of June early July so the fishery will come to a
peak near the end of the open season. They are moving through, usually
not spending too much time in one place, so plunking and waiting is the
stand-by for this fishery. It will be interesting to see how it pans
out, since it hasn’t been opened in the river for some time.
The Green/Duwamish has a nice little run of summer fish, with number
of smolt planted equal to the winter run fish, so this has been a good
option for those on the south end to get out and fish closer to home.
It’s not the best run of fish, but the convenience and scenery often
make up for the slower action. It also has some monster sea run
cutthroat that show during the summer, so we also focus on presentations
that get their attention as well as the steelhead sharking about in the
log jams. Last season we pulled out a 6 pound cutthroat that rivaled
the fight of a steelhead twice that size! While most of the cutts range
from 12 to 20 inches, the Puget Sound puts out some very interesting
fish every once in a while.
In the south west front, the Cowlitz has been predictable, with a
steady push of spring Chinook and a building number of summer steel, the
trick to break that cold spell can sometimes be throwing something new
that the other guys have been neglecting. Eggs and shrimp tails under a
float work well around the barrier dam area, and increasingly we have
picked up moving fish further downstream. This is definitely a jet boat
fishery first, but bankies have always been able to pull a successful
haul out of the river at times. Another fishery that we have been
targeting is the Cispus above Lake Scanewa. While a long drive into
nowhere, the hatchery drops excess Chinook from the barrier dam above
Yellowjacket Creek. If you can catch the river at the right time you can
get into a lot of fish all by yourself. The fish tend to disapear
either falling back into the lake or heading upstream to the closed
waters, so it helps to fish around the time they dump the fish. In the
lake you can troll for the linger kings, and that makes for another fun
and easy fishery that can be pretty exciting on a good day. Even when
you miss the kings in the Cispus there are some monster whitefish and a
few resident trout that we bring the ultralight gear to play with and
it’s a beautiful atmosphere.
Increasingly I’m starting to focus on the upper Wynoochee, for summer
run steel and resident cutts. We’ve had good luck up there and it’s
only going to get better. This is a super fun fishery, with several
unique river style to fish, the rolling flats, riffle pool canyons and
lazy coastal style drifts make for interesting days, allowing a lot of
change ups in gear from drifting bait to throwing spinners. Look for
more on the Nooch to come, it’s one of my favorite rivers.
Throughout the month the main lesson to take home from our trips has
been hook-sets hook-sets hook-sets! When you get that bobber down, yank
back hard! There is very little worse than working all day for that hook
up, only to have a faulty hook-set have that fish roll off and away
halfway through the fight. Remember that there is a long length of
stretchy mono between you and that fish, and the more line you have out,
the more stretch you have in it. Your leader comes into play as well,
where it may not be straight and if there is slack in your leader you
have to make up for that with your set as well. Combine that with the
bend of the rod as you load it up with your yank, and although you may
be moving your rod tip up three feet, that may only account for three
inches of movement at your hook.
These chrome fish have jaws on them that are pretty much solid bone.
With the steelhead being the hardest and bright salmon coming in close
second, it takes quite a bit of pressure to get good penetration into
that thick jaw. Next time you bring in a fish, take a hook and try to
push it through that jaw and you’ll get a good idea of how vital that
hook set is to making the difference between fish on the line and fish
on the bank. Work on those reflexes, don’t be afraid to set on anything
that looks fishy, be it rock, line on the bottom, snag or simply your
float rolling in a mini-eddy.
With float fishing being well suited to most types of water, and the
easiest technique to pick up and master, this will be your go to gear
for the novice angler. It is also the easiest technique to give you
wimpy hook-sets. When float fishing it is imperative to keep up with
your float and stay connected with your gear through a tight line. The
seconds that you lose flipping that bail and reeling up the slack line
before you can finally load your rod into the fish can make or break a
hook up. When you’ve got hardware under the float, e.g a jig, spinner or
pink worm, it’s even more important to catch up with that fish because
they are less likely to spend a lot of time with that gear in their
mouths. Another thing to look out for is “jig creep”. This happens when
using the popular slip floats, you start to see that bobber stop start
riding up and pulling your gear up off the bottom. I see this a lot,
with guys on the long-line downstream while trying to keep up with their
slack, there stop rides up while their gear gets pulled up off the
bottom essentially rendering half of their drift useless. If your gear
isn’t on the bottom, you’re not fishing, and every time that jig rides
up it interrupts your natural presentation.
To counter this frequently encountered problem, there are two easy
fixes. If you’re using a spinning reel, that added moment of bail
flipping can be the most difficult part of a solid hook-set. As you’re
letting out line, try to use your rod holding pointer finger to control
the line letting so your free hand can flip the bail. This lets you do a
1-2 punch in a split second, increasing your hook-up to crackered fish
Dink floats can make the difference
Even better start to hone your skills with a bait casting rig. Even
for the die-hard spinning fans, we have a growing selection of left hand
retrieve reels to make the transition more comfortable. I work with a
lot of experienced anglers with their float fishing with casting
set-ups, and it really helps with there fishing success. A well oiled
reel will allow you to control the line leaving the reel in the
downstream drift with your thumb, keeping a tight line for the extant of
the drift. When that bobber goes down, you can thumb the spool hard,
allowing near instantaneous hook-sets. And with float fishing, you can
use excess weight so casting your rig can be easier for those just
learning to baitcast.
The other trick that I like to use to control the “jig creep” is to
simply use a dink or cheater float. These wrap around floats don’t slip,
so they are more forgiving when mending line. These are especially
useful when you are fish shallow areas as casting a long leader while
fishing deep can be difficult and involves lots of snagged branches,
four letter words and frustrating rat nests. But with a moderate depth,
this technique can ensure that your time with your line out is spent
fishing, rather than wasting those precious minutes of first light with
your jig miles above the fish’s field of vision. Even when fishing deep,
the experienced angler can learn to whip a ten or twelve foot leader,
bobber bait and all through the air with a little bit of skill and
patience. The trick is to get that bait moving and the line tight with a
round-about your head before you make the final casting motion.
I cannot emphasize the need for a solid hook-set enough! Don’t worry
about looking silly when you’re on the water, set that hook often. Even
when you’re not getting a bite, just give it a good yank every once in a
while, just to make sure you’ve got the chops and you’re on your game.
Even the best of us can get lazy on a slow day and miss the bobber down
by seconds and it will make the difference between a net that smells
like skunk and one slimy and fishy! So whack that bobber every once in a
while, just for the heck of it. Who cares what the guys around you
think, when they miss their strikes and you limit out, you’ll be patting
yourself on the back while they’re explaining to their wives why they
spend the gas money without filling the freezer for the grill.
So if you’re interested in working on these techniques, don’t
hesitate to give me a shout through email or give me a good old
fashioned phone call. This is a great time to hone your skills on some
of the more scenic rivers, catch some energetic summer steelhead and get
your skills ready for the summer rush of fall chinook that will be
filling our area rivers sooner than you think! I’ll be on the water
nearly everyday, and my schedule is filling up fast, so when you’re
ready to take your fishing to the next level, give me a holler and we’ll
get you set up!
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Posted: 06-22-2012, 12:36 PM
Return to the Olympic Penisula
Fished our favorite spot on the Queets system today. My father caught his first keeper salmon, a giant sized hen that gave us five pounds plus of quality roe for steelhead season! I had no idea that he'd never kept a salmon, but apparently after I was born he took to steelheading, which is what I grew up on. I never fished for salmon with him succesfully until today! We've gotten tons of steel, but a big Chinook just doesn't fight the same. When he got that big brute on, it was great, he turned to me an said "It's pulling really hard."
He's become accustomed to a drag set for eight pound mainline with six pound leader, not twenty pound main and fifteen pound leader. Was pretty exhilarating, had to coach him on how to pull the fish in, keeping her under the water, bringing it to the net.
It was a good day for both of us. I caught five kings and one silver. They weren't chromers, but we found the hole with the brighter fish, a two mile hike through the river. They gave terrific fights. My dad only managed this one fish to shore, but he had four hookups. The majority of the bites came on live sandshrimp drifted along the bottom.
I love the wilderness. there's something about being miles from anywhere civilized that draws me to to crazy things. The water was a bit high to get to the spot. But we made it, and it was worth it. Great day on the water.
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Posted: 11-07-2010, 12:45 AM