Coho Salmon - Drift Fishing

By far the most popular and productive method for river fishers, drift fishing is easy. The typical set up of float, weight and lure will vary with water levels and size and/or type of fish, yet is basically the same.

Low water drift set up.... typical of early Coho fishery; Main line ...10#-12#, Leader...8#, Float...4"-5"x 3/4", Weight... pencil lead 1/4" x 2". Low water Coho are best fished with small lures or baits. Fish above the bottom, do not drag the bottom and keep the drift of the float as free as possible. Single Jensen eggs, egg sacks and roe are good bait choices. Small wool ties in pink, peach and orange colors are good attractors. Keep the hook size down to a number 2 or 4 for these often hard to hook fish. Be aware of even the gentlest of takes especially when fishing bait. For the stealthiest approach to light line tackle the use of clear floats like the Drennan "piker" or "zeppler" are the choice. Leader is also another choice to be made, regular monofilament line although clear will still be visible simply because it is not water. Fluorocarbon leader is different in that it may appear to be the same as monofilament yet once under water it has almost the same light refraction as water and therefore becomes somewhat invisible. I seldom fish for any trout without it after having numerous occasions where the fluorocarbon line out performed monofilament substantially. For even the most finicky Coho this can be the difference between catching and fishing, I prefer catching.... fishing is fun but catching is way better. Swivel spinners, either Colorado, Indiana or French in size 4-2 can be fished under a float with great success. The gentle push of the current will give the blade action, whether spinning or fluttering. Spinners will cover a lot of area and will often result in a very aggressive hit. Small, thin spoons can also be fished under a float, again a slight current will give the spoon plenty of action to provoke a fish. The Gibb's Gypsy spoon is ideal for float fishing, in deeper and stronger current the Ultra lure in 1/4 ounce is ideal.

General drift setup....typical of main season fishery for Coho, Chinook and Chum; Main line...15#, Leader...10#-12#, Float...6"x3/4", Weight...pencil lead 1/4" x 3". Once the season is under way the fall rains will increase the water volume. Under these conditions the fish are less wary and heavier line will be needed to win the battle against both fish and current. Lighter line set ups will likely out produce, however with larger Chinook and Chum around be prepared to use up a lot of hooks in battle. The choice of lure or bait remains the same. The size can be increased along with the hook size. For Coho, a #1 is plenty big, for the much larger Chinook, a #1/0 or 2/0 would better set into the larger "jawbone". Keep in mind that you will really have to get a good hook set with the larger hook. Also the more finicky Coho will often ignore a large bait and hook.

Heavy drift set up....typical of main season fishery for large Chinook and Chum; Main line....20-25#, Leader...15#-20#, Float...6"x 3/4", Weight...pencil lead 1/4 x 3"+.  Targeting the larger Chinook in October takes some heavy gear! Weighing up to 50 pounds plus, these brutes put up quite a battle especially if water levels are medium and higher. Lighter tackle can still withstand a big fish, however if you do not want to keep the fish you are catching it is hardly fair to totally exhaust a fish with light tackle only to release it. Often exhausted fish will fair poorly in surviving their upstream migration.  Fish big fish with heavy gear!....Play them hard!....Play them quickly!...and above all, make sure they have revived before releasing them! Chinook salmon are powerful fish and are not intimidated by strong current. The prime holding water of most pools and runs is where you will find them. Heavier weight is usually needed to break the current and reach the fish. Used to being on the upper end of the food chain, Chinook are not very leader shy. A larger hook of size 1/0 - 3/0 would be the best choice. Keep in mind that you are now fishing for Chinook salmon. It is not common to do very well fishing Coho with heavy leader and big hooks so the choice of one or the other has to be made.

Leaders, their length and strength are often debated. Generally, for Coho, a light leader will out catch a heavy one. Of course there will be the odd Coho that seems to have a death wish and will be caught while focusing on Chinooks. A heavy leader is a must when fishing big hooks as the strength is needed to set the thick hook into the hard mouth. On the flip side if you have heavy leader on a small hook when fishing for big fish you will likely pull way too hard and simply straighten the hook. Also the smaller gap of a small hook will not bridge the jaw of a large fish, with the hook point stuck into the hard cartilage it is almost certain to straighten. The length of leader will vary with water clarity and turbulence. In clear water a light leader is needed and the length should be about 30". If there is a lot of turbulence in the water it will be better to shorten the leader to about 15". Longer leaders get caught up in the boils and upswell of current and often get pushed to the surface or are moving around so much that even the most aggressive fish can't catch it.

Spinning.... an ideal fishing method for spoons and spinners. The ideal spinning set up for Coho starts with a medium or medium / light action spinning rod of between 8 1/2' and 10'. The line rating should range between 6# and 15#. For casting range the lighter the line, the further you can cast. I prefer a main line of 10# and a leader of 8# when fishing for Coho. If there are a lot of Chum around I go a bit heavier with 12# main line and 10# leader. There are hundreds of different spoons to choose from when it comes down to it. With my experiences there are a few which I prefer, they are as follows; Koho spoons in "Blue scale", "Green scale", "Blue, Black, and Green Illusion". In low water a size #35 and as water volume increases up to as large as a #55. Rainbow Crocs in 1/4, 3/8 and 1/2 ounce sizes in hammered nickel or brass fire stripe are old stand bys for Coho. By far my favorite is the Ultra lure which is quite hard to find. In silver plate finish and 1/4 to 1/3 ounce size, it is always my first choice in spoons for Coho. For heavier sizes, the Ironhead has the same shape but is much thicker and heavier. Don't think of the lure in size as much as weight... a heavy lure will "bottom out" in shallow water and correspondingly, a lighter lure will not sink fast enough in deeper water. Even a small Coho will slam a big spoon. Spinners are very effective on Coho and again there are tons of choices, my favorites are Vibrax, Aglia and Silvex . The blade finish is always debated, some prefer brass, some silver. Be sure to have both, as water clarity changes and light conditions vary you will definitely find that one or the other will work better. Body coloration is again something you have to judge yourself, given the choice, blue or green are always good for Coho.

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