It used to be that anglers just had one decision to make when buying fishing line and that was determining how strong their line needed to be. “Hmmm do I need 6 pound or 8 pound?”
Nowadays it’s a little tougher, there are lines that promise to do everything but clean and cook the fish! Tougher, smoother, more visible, invisible, stiffer, thinner, abrasion resistant, and the list goes on and on. Let’s forget about all of the features that are available across the myriad of brands and focus on one easy decision, why should I use fluorocarbon instead of traditional monofilament line?
Monofilament is actually the term that can be generically applied to all single strand fishing lines, the more accurate term when we are talking about “good old mono” is nylon.
Both nylon and fluorocarbon are essentially plastic lines that are made by extruding hot resin through tiny holes, taking what was once a hot soup of plastic and making it into a long thin filament of line. What makes the two products unique is the resin. It’s the stuff that’s in the soup that makes or breaks the line!
Several years ago, fluorocarbon lines had an issue with knot strength but this is no longer the case. More manufacturers coming on line with more advanced equipment and resins have resulted in a very high tech product with exceptional knot strength.
Ultraviolet rays from the sun, the heat of a hot car and cold winter fishing have an insignificant affect on fluorocarbon.
Fluorocarbon will last longer on the spool than nylon. You still have to re-spool when the line is looking bad or frayed, but with fluorocarbon you will have to do this less often.
When buying fluorocarbon lines and leaders it is important to know that even though you are buying the same brand name, you may not be getting the same line in each package. This is a good thing because leader and main line perform different functions and need different characteristics. The manufacturer may not be using the same resin or process to make both its leaders and lines. Leaders are often designed to be stiffer and with less stretch whereas that same manufacturer’s line may be flexible with little memory and since it is intended for use as main line it will have more stretch.
Fishing where the sturgeon are may seem like an obvious statement, yet I can’t tell you how many times I see anglers fishing in areas that just don’t hold sturgeon or aren’t holding sturgeon at that particular time. Sturgeon are a very mobile fish, they move on the tides, they move to follow food, and they move to stay comfortable. These fish move a lot and they aren’t always moving where you expect them to be moving!
One of the best tools that an angler can have when pursuing sturgeon is a very good high end digital fish finder, such as the new Lowrance HDS series or a digital Humminbird or Furuno. It not only pays to have one of these units, but it pays even higher dividends if you really know how to use it. Read the manual, go out on the water and practice with it (not while fishing), and then read the manual again. These units are complex but they aren’t impossible to use, and a little bit of practice and reading goes a long ways!
Another tried and true approach to finding sturgeon, especially sturgeon that are willing to bite, is fishing in water that has adequate flow. As a general rule of thumb, big sturgeon are found in big fast-moving water. If you go to Bonneville your going to find that the big fish are in the fast water and the little fish are in the slower moving side areas and eddies. If your on the Willamette fish closer to the center of the river, the middle of the river has more flow. Big sturgeon like to eat big food and it takes a pretty good amount of current to move big food!
Keeping your sturgeon bait fresh … again pretty simple stuff, but it doesn’t matter if I’m salmon fishing, steelhead fishing, or sturgeon fishing, I see anglers trying to use their bait for way too long. I can understand the mindset that causes this behavior, it’s one of two things or a combination of both; “Well the fish aren’t biting right now, so my baits fine” or trying to conserve on bait because it’s expensive. The end result is the same,you’re not as likely to catch sturgeon on old milked out bait, as you are on fresh bait, or fresh out of the package bait.
Three things make sturgeon bait fish well; guts , blood, and slime coat. If the guts are missing from your sand shrimp or smelt/anchovy then the majority of its sturgeon attracting ability is gone. The same thing goes for the blood, a huge amount of the blood is in the guts and gills, when the blood is gone then the bait isn’t bait anymore it’s just a little fish on your hook.
The third thing really only applies to smelt and anchovies, and this is the slime coat. The slime coat is the outer protective coating that each fishes skin and scales are covered with. This slime coat is their first line of defense against infection from parasites and other nasty things that want to hurt them. When we smell a fish after touching or being close to it, it’s the slime coat that we smell, it’s this same slime coat that allows other fish to smell it when it’s used as bait. When the slime coat is gone, the bait doesn’t feel slimy anymore; it just feels like wet bait. Freezer burnt sturgeon bait and bait that has been soaked too long on the end of the line have both lost their slime coat, and should be changed out.
Don’t be this guy, “My bait looks just fine, I don’t need to change it.” I hear this all the time from my customers, many of whom have their own boat and are avid fishermen, and every time I smile and say “It’s not how it looks, it’s how it smells.” At least half of the sturgeon baits fish catching ability lies in the way it smells, and for you salmon fisherman out there, the herring’s flash and vibration attracts the fish but it is the smell of freshly baited herring that seals the deal.
Again don’t be that guy, change your bait often! Change your bait twice as often as you think you should, and if you want to catch even more fish then change your bait three times as often as you think you should! This is super effective and it’s not a secret, it’s just work, and yes, extra bait money.
Sturgeon fishing on anchor is not the same as salmon fishing on anchor. The old adage of “Well they have to come through here sooner or later”, which is often applied to salmon fishing, simply does not hold true with sturgeon. If you’re not catching sturgeon for at least 45 minutes, then you need to move. Don’t sit there with all the other boats that are around you, (who are also not catching anything) and announce that “well the sturgeon must just not be biting”. Wrong. The sturgeon are biting somewhere, and they are biting for somebody, make that somebody you.
Even if you don’t know where to move to, still get up and move. Anything is better than staying where the sturgeon aren’t, at a minimum you will learn some new locations or be able to eliminate some locations.
Red hooks stay sharp the longest, but they don’t stay red, the red gets worn away and you see a goldish silver plating. Black hooks work almost as well as red hooks and they retain their black coloring. Personally I prefer black hooks over red hooks when sturgeon fishing.
Sturgeon leader material doesn’t have to be Dacron. Dacron has long been the de facto standard for sturgeon leaders, the only problem with Dacron besides being moderately expensive, is it just doesn’t last. Dacron has a tendency to fray under normal use, and has a strong tendency to fray when rubbing up against the head of a large sturgeon. In the last year I have switched from Dacron leaders to leaders made from braided line such as Tuff Line, Power Pro, or Sufix. I only use 120 to 130 pound braided line. After switching to nothing but braid for my sturgeon leaders, I have found that these leaders outlast the hooks, which is a new problem, typically the Dacron would get fuzzy and require a whole new set up to be tied long before the sturgeon hooks ever got dull.
Sturgeon can be very light biters, and if they’ve been pressured hard then they know that the resistance they feel when they pull on the bait means they’re in for a quick ride to the surface. You don’t want sturgeon to feel resistance when they are biting the bait. Using a really stiff rod hinders you in two ways, it keeps you from seeing the light bites, and it makes the sturgeon spit out your bait because they feel the rod.
Sturgeon fishing in some areas such as the Columbia below Bonneville Dam require a heavy sturgeon rod, but a heavy rod doesn’t have to have a really stiff tip. If you’re going to fish Bonneville, find a rod with lots of backbone but with a tip that has similar flexibility to your salmon rod. If you’re sturgeon fishing other areas such as the Willamette or the main stem Columbia then use your medium action salmon rod.
Just one quick note on being a good sportsman, these light tipped medium action rods can definitely land big 8, 9 and 10 foot sturgeon, but it’s extremely hard and very unfair to the sturgeon to try to do so while remaining on anchor in all but the slowest water current. There is a reason you have a buoy ball on your anchor line and it’s not just to help you pull in your anchor; throw the rope, drift out, fight that big sturgeon quickly, and then come back to your anchor. Getting these big sturgeon in as quickly as you can is what is best for the sturgeon’s health and best for the longevity of our sturgeon fishery.
When sturgeon fishing, some people don’t know how long they should fight big sturgeon, a good time frame of should be less than 30 minutes anywhere outside of Bonneville. Bonneville sturgeon fishing requires heavy lead in deep fast-moving water and this can make landing those big sturgeon in 30 minutes much harder. However it can definitely be done, my rule at Bonneville is to not fight a sturgeon over an hour. If you can’t pressure a sturgeon hard enough to get him in an adequate amount of time then you need to hand the rod off to someone else and take turns fighting him.
In general we have two choices when it comes to spring Chinook fishing. Do we anchor or do we troll? On any given day in March and April you will find boaters up and down the lower Columbia employing both methods, and both of these methods produce fish, so how do we decide which is better? Let’s do a side by side comparison of the pros and con’s of each fishing method.
This is huge! The fact that a fisherman can go back through the same fish holding water over and over again allows them to pull multiple fish out of one location and when that location stops producing he can then attempt to follow the salmon upstream or find another holding area.
One of the biggest mistakes that I see anglers (both pros and novices) make is that they don’t go back through an area where they hooked up! I see it all the time, a boat will hook up, throw the fish in the box and keep trolling until they are out of sight. Don’t be this guy! Mark that spot on the GPS, go another 200 – 300 yards and if you haven’t hooked up again then you need to run back up and troll back through the same path you just took. Do this once or maybe even twice and then if you haven’t hooked up, you will have some decisions to make, you can keep going or you may want to run farther upriver to see if you can get back in front of the fish.
The salmon will eventually start moving rather than holding in a specific spot and the ability to realize that this movement is happening and in turn follow the fish upstream is one the best aspects of trolling. It’s simple, staying on the fish is going to put more fish in the boat.
Changing direction can also be a method that triggers fish to strike. I used to troll like a drunken man staggers, because at one time I really put a lot of stock in varying my trolling pattern, believing that more changes in direction equaled more strikes. Well after a while I figured out that this was important, but it wasn’t as critical as I thought. One of the reasons I stopped religiously trolling an “S” pattern was because it made it harder for me to line up on the spots that I knew the fish were holding in. I haven’t thrown this method away but I’m more likely to use a change in direction as just one of the many additional tools that I use at the right time to get the Chinook to strike, it’s like a change in speed, if I should be getting bit and I’m not, I will often change direction.
I like to think of these changes in direction and speed as “finessing the fish” or “working them”. These are just little things that might get me that bite that maybe wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and they are things that you just can’t do on anchor.
How many of you are like me? You get in the boat and expect to catch salmon right away and when it happens, well that is great because you were expecting to catch them right away. But sometimes it doesn’t happen this way, and no matter what you do you can tell it’s going to be a slow day of fishing, slow days happen, I had one back in ’89 so I know they exist! It’s times like these where trolling really shines, because it’s active; you’re at least moving around and seeing new things, working your rod, trying to find the fish etc. On anchor … well you’re going to be sleeping, and dreaming about fish is as close as you are going to get to one. A slow day of trolling isn’t nearly as slow as a slow day of anchor fishing.
What it all boils down to is this, “I get bored!” and I feel like I’m not being effective and my customers also get bored. I also feel like I’m not working hard enough to get into the fish if I’m anchored up. On a slow day of fishing I will take a tiller handle anytime! Trolling is extra effort but it seems like the harder I work the luckier I get and this really rings true on a slow day of fishing where the difference between a good day and really bad day might be just one fish.
What this really means is that you can quickly adapt to changes that present opportunity or to get out of the way of something negative.
When you’re trolling you often see another boat hooking up, fish jumping, or a real fishy looking tide rip or current seam. All of these things say “Hey get over here!” to a good salmon fisherman. Keep your eyes open and react quickly to these opportunities and you will find yourself in the fish.
On the other hand, salmon fishing on big water like the Columbia River also occasionally presents risks to your safety. Logs, ships, tugs with barges, pilings, shallow water, rough water, bridges, other boaters, etc are all inherent risks that go along with the territory when you’re on the Columbia and your ability to quickly react to them is critical in keeping your day safe and fun. When you aren’t tethered to an anchor you are able to more rapidly respond to situations that require you to get out of harms way.
Trolling requires you to run your trolling motor all day and periodically firing up your main motor to move to another location or to repeat your pattern. This is going to consume fuel and add to your fishing expense in a major way. Depending on your boat you could find yourself burning anywhere from 6 gallons to 40 gallons (give or take) during a day of trolling.
Trolling for spring Chinook means mostly using bait and when you’re using bait you need to be changing it often. I generally allow for a dozen herring per angler per day on my boat, I don’t like to be short on bait when the fish are really biting and I like to keep it fresh. No matter whether you are using bait or spinners, inevitably you are going to be snagging up and losing tackle which adds to the overall expense of your fishing trip.
Trolling for Chinook salmon is definitely not as easy as anchoring for them. To really be good at trolling requires a lot of focus, attention to detail, and constant manipulation of the gear and the boat. This technique can be flat out tiring, frustrating and not at all what many people envisioned a nice easy day of fishing to entail. The learning curve is steep especially when weather and large numbers of other boaters are thrown into the mix.
Copyright 2013 Total Fisherman
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