Let’s just get this out of the way, shall we?
Lessons learned this weekend. Me and Wild Bill headed to Elkton on the recommendation of the Caddis Fly to hunt for Coho salmon in the slack water of the Lower Umpqua River, between Bunch Bar and Sawyer’s Rapids. We drug our asses out of bed at 4am to be on the water at daybreak. Rowing upstream from the ramp, giant fish were slamming the surface. They were so shallow that Bill and I assumed they had to be bass. But after watching about a dozen 15lb fish hit the top, we knew they were salmon (otherwise, the next Bassmasters tournament should be here).
So lesson one: Get up early. There were active fish all over, hanging out in the shallows they seemed to be pretty aggressive. If we could have gotten the fly to them we’d have had a good shot, but we were focused on getting upstream.
Lesson two: Get a trolling motor. The bubbas were out in force with their jet boats and it was a nice surprise to see them slow down as not to swamp a couple guys rowing a wooden drift boat. They did roar up and down the river otherwise and covered a lot more ground than we could. The whole run is basically slack water and it takes a lot of pushing to go up or down. Bill did all the work going up and I had the oars on the way down and it wasn’t much easier.
Lesson 3 would be to go with fluorocarbon leaders. The fish are spooky. A lot of times it seems like they don’t care, but after reading a little and talking to my brother, I think that fluorocarbon allows you to go with smaller diameter, less visible, faster sinking line. I fished a 2-foot, 20lb mono leader with a loop knot off a high-density sink tip. I tried any number of flies in my box, including a rainbow of size 4 wooly buggers, some giant clouser minnows and other crap. The only thing that worked was a small comet I’d tied last year, chartreuse and gold.
Lesson 4: Focus on the pockets on the banks. The fish were working the banks pretty hard, and while I’m sure the rollers aren’t necessarily the biters, the ones in the shallows underneath them are. Dredging the bottoms of the deepest holes didn’t produce fish. When I was seeing any action (btw, watching a silver salmon dart out of nowhere to follow your fly is awesome), it was off deeper shelves near shore — not the middle of the river.
Lesson 5: Strip in short fast bursts. This didn’t dawn on me until I got my first follow. Barrett at the fly shop said he has a particular rhythm to his retrieve — a bip-bip-bip…pause. I’m not really doing it justice. Anyway, your fly has to act like a minnow that’s just seen the face of death. Really fast. If I’d have done that earlier in the day, we might have boated more fish.
At any rate, the fish were all over and if we’d have been able to cover more ground on the sneak and quietly given them the right retrieve, we’d have had an epic day. The learning curve. As it was, we landed one nice 24-inch, fresh hatchery female that I’ve been eating the past two days.
As a side note, when I kill an animal, I kind of blank out. I hadn’t done it in a while, so I spent some time thinking about this salmon. Looking at it dead in the bottom of the boat with its scarred face and gorgeous scales, it just looked like food. Like a still-life of a fish. But looking at its eyes in the photos here, it looks terrified. Not that I regret it, but it’s important to come to terms with the food we eat. I slit its throat and its gills pumped blood into the Umpqua, back to the Pacific. Thanks for the fillets pal.