Tuesday, June 7, 2016

I see red for more Coho action

There is something to be said about those who have refined a fishing technique so well that their reputation is formed by it. I can easily name off fellow fishing friends who fish Lake Ontario and subsequently name their preferred trolling technique. Some (maybe even most) of them wish to keep their learnt experience, crafting their technique, a secret. In a humble way, those who rightfully deserve the reputation as a good ____ fisherman, will usually deny knowing enough about their beloved technique to make it the answer to catching fish every day, throughout the season.

From Misc

In some instances though, it becomes such a refined craft that your confidence in its use becomes the only path to your success. "Live by the sword, die by the sword". If your technique is less effective than another technique, then your catch rates also becomes less. Conversely, when your "tried and true" technique is only passively catching fish on other novice angler’s boats, you likely have a few tricks up your sleeves to elevate your success well above average. Further to that, with your refined skill, your success in fish catching numbers exponential grows over others when the fish are hands down focusing on your one technique over any other, that day. I write this thinking about how cutbait has become one of those refined trolling techniques that more folks have intently focused on and many of them completely rely on its success.

Talking to a fisherman who has the need to hold a fishing rod in hand and cast and manipulate the bait, are usually the first to turn up their nose to trolling. Saying words like “trolling is boring” in a tongue and cheek response. Trolling for salmon can be as regimented as you would like it to be, or as fluid and agile as you are comfortable with. Trolling is one big topic from which countless techniques are spawned.

A very quick list of merely salmon trolling techniques that I lean heavily on would look something like this...

-Shallow water LIVETARGET stickbaits off Planer boards in the late April.
-Spoons on downriggers in early May.
-Deep water Cutbait and MC Rockets in late May and June.
-Stealthy wide spread spoons in shallow in late June and early July.
-8 inch Flasher and ATOMMIK flies in late July.
-BlueZone speedy spoons on cores in early August.
-Pierhead stager cutbait and flies in late August.

Each of the above listed would have "parameters" that have crafted its technique on my boat. The parameters discovered through trial and error become like rules and are programmed in your style of fishing. Provided that you pay attention things like trolling speed, properly matched equipment, when and where to use the technique based on conditions, you can then begin to form your own parameters. Understanding the parameters to your technique adds to your level of comfort and helps you to prepare and be confident before lines go in the water. Some anglers may have their own list; some might say they only do one thing every time they are out. The point is, there are many options, much to learn, much to perfect, much to keep your attention to details and it’s certainly “not boring”.

Seeing Red

For years I have been intrigued by new techniques and eager to learn and add to my own list of "Go To" salmon trolling techniques. A technique often referred to as the coho rig, is not something new, just newer to me. I have been trying it out, here and there, in past years with marginal success and really no set parameters learnt with those, too few, opportunities. This spring it started out the same. I tried it and it caught a few fish, then I put it out on the next trip and it caught a few more. After trip trial number 3, the fish responded once more and it was time to pay attention. For the month of May I truly challenged myself to learn as much about this technique as I could possibly cram in while the fish were responding. In the spring the coho are congregated and within close geographic range of the south shore. Historically coho catch rates drop off once the lake stratifies in horizontal temperature bans. The coho seem to spread out, move East and off shore. In May they are here, close, congregated, hungry and it's about that time. Strike while the metal is hot, Red Hot!

If anyone who salmon fishes Lake Michigan reads this, they will be shaking their head thinking where have you been? It’s true, for us Lake Ontario Salmon fisherman, we have been living under a rock when it comes to targeting spring time coho. I think largely because numbers of coho stocked in Lake Ontario were very low. The only coho stocking on the Ontario side is from the Metro East Anglers Club and not from the government. New York contributes to the lake a few coho, and in the past, stocking was the primary catalyst to coho numbers and catch rates. Now catch rates for spring time coho seems to steadily increase with each passing year. The contribution to the coho numbers and catch rates are not from stocking but from the successful recruitment from natural reproduction.

The upswing in Coho numbers still hasn't turned “King” salmon hunters to switch techniques and focus on the smaller cousin of the black gum beasts of Lake Ontario. Even with the continuous ups and downs of catch rates for chinook salmon in the spring, anglers still remain devoted to targeting King salmon and ignore the best tasting red fleshed salmon on Lake Ontario, Coho Salmon.

From Photo_Gallery19

If the attention to fish coho was evident, without a doubt Lake Ontario salmon trollers would steal Lake Michigan anglers coho rig techniques and also start seeing red.

The coho rig consists of a 00 red Dodger and small 1 –to 1 ½ inch tinsel fly. Michigan spring coho fisherman run nothing but coho rigs on all the rods and flush out as many tasty coho from the surface waters of Lake Michigan. Along with the 00 Dodger there is also the mini Red SpinDoctor with the same small flies.

This year I read as much as I can find on how the Michigan anglers run coho rigs and duplicated those techniques even though it is entirely different from the boats trolling around me.

From Photo_Gallery19

A few parameters I have learnt about running in the red...

00 Dodgers require speeds of less than 2.4 mph and I discovered this while running one on a wire diver and watching the cadence of action the rod tip twitches with every sway of the Dodger. Fast shakes of roughly 2 per second would tell you the Dodger is dodging back and forth. If instead the rod tip pulls back and forth slower at 1 per second, then the Dodger is spinning. 2.3 mph will insure a perfect speed before any type of spinning out even on the fast side of a turn. I have slowed the boat down to 1.8 mph and still got bit on 00 Dodgers, but if you are mixing in spoons on the riggers or on leadcores, they are likely not getting many bites at those speeds.

Where the experiment went viral on my boat was using walleye style inline planer board rods with braid line and a 15 ft of 20 lbs Trik Fish fluorocarbon leader. I tested out the new White Diamond OKUMA planer board rod and was thoroughly impressed. An inline planer board needs to run smoothly for Dodgers so not to interrupt the dodging action. My best results were on water that was less wavy and with the White Diamond OKUMA planer board rod with the proper action for inline boards, the boards tracked perfectly without bobbing or jerking. Smooth as silk.

From Misc

Because the coho rigs work when running them shallow beneath the surface (<15 feet down) braid line only requires a small amount of lead to bring the 00 Dodger down below the surface. The Lake Michigan guys use a inline keel weight 5 feet before the dodger. Instead I like to use snap weights and used the 50/50 technique so common for walleye trolling. 50 feet back then the snap weight pinched onto the line and then 50 more feet of line let out and then attach the inline planer board. Adjusting the amount of weight between 1 oz to 2 oz will keep the Dodger in the top 20 feet. My most consistent weight size was 1 ½ oz. and estimate that to pull the Dodger at the 15 foot mark.

The trouble with Dodgers having to run at no faster than 2.4 mph, it means finding baits that also run well at that speed if you are mixing up presentations for other species such as Chinook Salmon and Lake Trout. With great success I found running cutbait on the riggers and deep set wire divers on the rods near the boat in the centre of the spread to target Kings and Lakers with “happy” speeds that the 00 Dodgers worked on the inline planerboards out to the sides of the spread. Now you are fishing for Red, Greys and Black mouths all at the same time.

Those days when you're slower trolling and centre spread with cutbait isn’t getting kings and you require a faster spoon bite, the Dodgers come out and the mini red SpinDoctor and flies go in. 2, 3 or 4 colour leadcores will bring the mini SpinDoctors to the productive under the surface depths. On Friday June 3rd fishing off the Niagara Bar, one rod with 3 colours of leadcore accounted for 7 coho on its own and the total catch with the other 5 rods accounted for only 4 others running spoons. The mini SpinDoctor and flies worked slow at dodger speed, but also fast with spoons running 2.7 mph.

From Misc

The red 00 Dodger or red mini SpinDoctor are the most important part of the rig, but there are some interesting discoveries when experimenting with the flies as well. The leader length of the fly is absolutely critical. I tried longer (like 20+ inches) and kept trying shorter until I discovered the optimal length is between 12 and 13 inches to the head of the fly.

From Photo_Gallery19

I use my ATOMMIK tournament flies and trim them shorter and slide them on the leader before a bead and the size 2 treble hook. 20 lbs fluorocarbon Trik Fish leader line is all you need and it's plenty strong for those coho in the 4 to 8 lbs class.

To experiment a little and to reduce the fly size a little smaller, I began tying my own "make do" coho flies using the tinsel from Craft Cord. Be sure to look for craft cord without filler yarn mixed into the metallic finish tinsel. Looking around the house for ever dead ball point pen and then pulling them apart and using the ends of the ink tubes that were void of ink. That was the tube to tie the fly and to allow the leader line to be pulled through.

From Misc

Not uncommon to fly tiers, the tube is placed in a vice and then thread is tied on the tube first. To keep the thread in place and not spin around the tube, apply a drop of crazy glue. Then the tinsel from the cut craft cord will be pulled out as single strands to form the fly body with a nice skirt. Simply wrap the thread to tie the tinsel on the tube, add a little crazy glue and finally add some black nail polish on the threads to give it a shine. Trim the tube with side cutters to the head of the fly and run the fluorocarbon leader through the tube and tie it off.

I experimented with a few colours and found great success with Green, black, and blue tinsel as well as adding a little orange marabou to the inside of the fly to add a bright colour to the fly body.

From Misc

The coho rig doesn't just catch coho salmon, we have taken a few rainbows and the odd chinook salmon as well. I am confident now to say if I see the fish feeding on the surface chasing bait and splashing about while we troll past, the coho rig will produce.

From Photo_Gallery19

If you think “Trolling is Boring” then you are not challenging yourself to learn a new technique. If you want to add a new technique to your repertoire, give the Coho rig a try and start seeing Red.

Shane Thombs


  1. Well written Shane. There's actually enough info here for 3 or 4 articles. Great read