Oregon Coast: Coho Make A Comeback

Four rods bouncing at the same time. Rods arch down against rod holders. Four excited anglers grab on and set hooks hard. "Fish on." We have hooked into a quadruple of coho salmon!

Delta divers trip as feisty salmon flash to the cobalt blue surface of the Pacific Ocean, off of the Oregon Coast. Chrome flashes, under the surface, remind us why these fish are fondly called "silvers."

As my fish streaks along side the boat, two more silvers are swimming with it trying to get at the colorful spinner. The spinner pops free and shoots into the air! Now it’s up to my three companions to land theirs.

Lilli Koskela with a pair of coho.

Coho Hard To Land
"Fish off," Noah hisses. The last two come un-hooked at almost the same time. We sit and stare at each other in disbelief. Four fish on at the same time, and we lose them all. None of us have ever experienced a quadruple hook-up before, and here we lose them all!

So it can be, fishing with barbless hooks, for these aggressive coho in the ocean. Barbless hooks are required to protect wild fish that must be "released unharmed."

We are fishing out of Depoe Bay, Ore., with Devon Pearsall, of Great White Hooker Fishing. Pearsall has been consistently hooking good numbers of coho during the first weeks of July.

Limits Of Coho
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has predicted over a million coho will return to Oregon rivers in the fall of 2009. In fact, so many are cruising along the coast, that the department has increased the daily bag limit to three fish. Talk about a turn around. A year ago, coho fishing was closed!

Donald Koskela’s favorite coho spinner. The one on the left hooked over 50 coho. Note missing paint and broken upper hook.

It is July 17. My fishing partners are: Bob George, Noah Wright, and Pearsall’s brother-in-law, Brad Stuvenrauch, who is serving as 2nd mate.

We spend the morning trolling around in heavy fog. We frequently hear other boats, but can’t see them. We hook an occasional stray fish, but can’t seem to find the schools Pearsall is expecting.

Noon and we have one hatchery fish, a fat 8-pounder, in the box. "That fish would have only been 4- to 5 pounds a couple of weeks ago," Pearsall explains. "They are gorging themselves on baitfish, gaining about a pound a week."

We release three wild fish. Pearsall continues searching for a rip tide. "A rip tide is where two currents come together," Pearsall explains. "The two currents brings together concentrations of bait. That means feeding salmon."

Find A Rip Tide
At about 1:30 we temporally break out of the fog and find a rip. Pearsall turns into it and almost immediately a rod goes down. "Fish on." Over the next hour we are constantly into fish, including the quadruple. We lose count of the number of hits and misses.

Koskela with a fat coho.

We got a phone call from Donald Koskela — of Pastime Fishing Adventures — who is fishing out of Newport, about 15 miles south of us. They are hooking up consistently. They have moved out 15 miles to find fish.

End Of The Day
By quitting time, we have four keepers in the box. We have released six natives, and lost a total of 15! Not a good percentage.

The combination of divers and barbless hooks can make it a challenge to land fish. You are only able to reel in the diver so fast. If the fish decides to make a run toward the boat, and starts thrashing, it is possible to get slack in the line.

Two Successful Systems
Pearsall and Koskela are very successful guides. They utilize different approaches.

Pearsall: Prefers to locate riptides and fish them.

Koskela: Looks for specific water temperatures (52- to 55 degrees).

Pearsall: Uses Delta divers and Shimano reels with line counters. He has clients let out to different depths. He also feels divers prevent tangles with multiple lines out.

Koskela: uses 8-ounce trolling sinkers, and has clients let line out 14 "pulls" from the reel.

Terminal Gear
Both use Good Day Fishing spinners with a small chunk of herring on the hook.  "That small chunk of herring is vital," Pearsall said. "You get a hit and don’t hook-up, reel in and put on another chunk." Koskela is in total agreement.

"Wayne Parker of Good Day Fishing is on the cutting edge of spinners for salmon technology," Koskela says. "His spinners catch fish." Pearsall buys GDF components and puts them together. "Most of the guides I know prefer GDF spinners for coho."

Four coho that didn’t come unhooked. (Left to Right) Noah Wright, Bob George, and the author.

Estuary Fishing
In late September and October, coho begin moving into estuaries, preparing to stampede upriver with the first freshet. Due to high numbers of fish ODFW allowed limited numbers of wild fish to be harvested in some estuaries. Quotas were quickly filled.

More Wild
Than Hatchery Fish

With a lack of rain and freshets, coho continued cruising around in tidewater. Numbers of natives hooked and released were amazing. Cliff Stiffler and Scott Hatcher tell of hooking 20- to 30 natives a day in Winchester Bay and not catching a single hatchery fish. Similar scenarios were played out up and down the coast. 2009 has truly been the year of the Coho Comeback.

For More Information
For more information contact:
Bob Buckman, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife Biologist
2040 SE Marine Science Drive
Newport, OR 97365
541-867-4741

Devon Pearsall
Great White Hooker Fishing
503-569-7534
www.greatwhitehookerfishing.com

Donald Koskela
Pastime Fishing Adventures
503-767-2792
www.pastimefishingadventures.com

Wayne Parker
Good Day Fishing
www.wayne@gooddayfishing.com

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