Beyond the Twitch (More than just a Coho Crusher) by Lucas H.
From a deadly niche-technique, to a West Coast phenomenon, “Twitching” has added a new tool in many coho (silver) salmon anglers arsenals. This technique has been covered in STS before, and there are many excellent resources to learn more about the basic twitching technique.
An upstream cast, with a fast-twitch & rip back to the driftboat, resulted in the hardest fighting coho I've ever landed. This was after I had already covered the hole from above.
This article, however, pertains to some lesser-known twitching techniques, as well as multi-species distinctions. My information comes not only from 7 years of twitching experience, but perhaps even more from discussing it with guides and other angler friends. It may give you a few additional things to try on the river.
Here is a quick breakdown of basic twitching.
- Cast into your target water
- Do not allow your jig to hit bottom, instead twitch at least 12 inches from bottom and up.
- Lift the rod tip quickly and drop it immediately. Your line should fall slack for a natural drop. Do not slowly drop your rod tip.
- Reel after the drop and twitch again. If you’re in danger of touching bottom (for instance, when casting upstream) reel in more line. If you’re upstream of your jig, you may not need to reel much at all. Just make sure you don’t let it snag on bottom.
- Cover water quickly and try to cover the hole from a few different angles.
This could be expounded upon dramatically, but let’s move past the standard twitching technique to look at some other ways to fish twitching jigs.
Why change it up? When I started twitching I rarely saw other anglers using the technique (I was the first!!! Just kidding…), but now almost every angler I run into has a rod tied up for twitching. By utilizing some other styles, you can give the fish something different to look at.
This is a boat-only way to fish twitching jigs...unless you climb out on a tree over the water. Vertical jigging is no secret and especially popular in the ocean with butterfly jigs, but a twitching jig suspended above the bottom can really produce some bites, especially in chinook holes.
This technique can be tricky, because in a deep hole you may need to get down near the bottom - which can require dropping it to the bottom, then reeling a few cranks up. If the bottom isn’t snaggy it’s not much of an issue.
Once you know you’re within a foot or two of the bottom, start doing light twitches, still letting the line slack on the fall. I like to start with a subtle approach: light twitches to entice a lazy chinook or coho to take a snap at it, without having to expend a bunch of energy to get to it. If nothing happens, I will start to get more aggressive with the twitches, lifting it higher and letting it drop to elicit an response. If still no bite, now I will reel about 3 cranks up and give it some good twitches. If salmon are suspended in the hole, you can keep trying a few cranks - a few twitches, a few cranks - a few twitches...until you’re within a few feet of the surface. Keep an eye on the jig as it comes into view, as sometimes a coho will follow it all the way up.
Chinook tend not to come as far up for it, but they love to grab the jig when its closer to the bottom. A salty fresh Chinook might move quite a ways for a jig - but in general Coho are more of the "chaser".
One nice thing about this technique is that since you are vertical, you could stop twitching and let the jig hang for a bit without it hitting bottom. You’re probably not going to get bit much doing that, but you can give it a rest for a second and then surprise the fish with another twitch.
Vertical jigging is one situation where I would play around with adding bait and scent to the jig. The fish have more time to look at it and adding a spawn bag, a piece of shrimp or adding some Pro-Cure Water Soluble scent to the jig will provide a little extra incentive to snap.
The “Turn & Burn”
This technique really isn’t “twitching” at all. When a hole has been “twitched-out” this is a deadly way to get one more bite.
Cast in, and let your jig sink to the “target zone” - if you’re fishing a 3 foot riffle, that probably means let it sink for .03 of a second, if it’s a 15 foot hole maybe let it sink for 4-6 seconds...but once it is there...reel that jig in as fast as you can! Plugs retrieved at rapid speed are a deadly salmon technique, and this is just about the same, except the jig does not have a diving bill, so it should come in a straight line back to your rod tip.
This is especially deadly if you try it from a few different angles. If casting upstream, you’re going to need to reel like your life depends on it, but it will fly past the fish and make them respond immediately. If casting across or downstream, you may not need to burn it in quite as fast, but still should be retrieved quickly.
This can be deadly effective in not only deeper water, but especially casting across riffles diagonally. Don’t underestimate a salmons ability to give chase, and hold on to your rod because the fish will try to take it home with him. I don't think you can reel too fast with this technique.
I had my first experience with the turn & burn technique accidentally. I casted into the target water, twitched a few times...no bites, so I looked back at my buddy, talking to him while reeling in my jig as fast as I could so I could make another cast.
All of the sudden...I had my baitcaster bass rod absolutely slammed by a dime bright coho...five feet from the boat! I wasn’t looking, nor expecting it, so the grab was truly unforgettable. My buddy Keith Johnson, a guide, didn’t believe I had a fish on until he saw it too...and we both breathlessly landed a gorgeous Washington Coast coho.
The jig still maintains movement on this technique, as the body...be it marabou, rabbit fur or another material will drive a chasing coho mad.
The Swinging Twitch
I remember the day that I, and two of my buddies pulled up to a prime riffle and deep hole in the raft. Two anglers were bobber fishing eggs in the back of the hole so we asked if they didn’t mind if we fished the riffle. They said “Go ahead, it’s been slow since this morning.”
Chum specifically react well to a swung presentation. Fly anglers know this and it holds true with twitching jigs.
Being the the water was low and clear, it was the perfect recipe to push these coho right into the riffle. We’d been pounding on fish in shallower water with cover, and so we figured we might be able to get one out of the riffle before moving on.
My buddy made his first cast to the far side of the riffle and as soon as it hit the water it was fish on! No twitch, no reel...just one of those immediate bites. After landing a nice wild coho and letting it go, I stepped up to the plate with a ½ oz jig.
A twitching jig often resembles big wet-flies like the ones used for salmon & steelhead, except that it has a jig-head.
With this in mind, I like the idea of “swinging” the jig through, almost like you would a spoon, spinner or a fly. The actual presentation is of course different, but the idea of swinging the jig through the run, in front of a holding fish, is the same.
I cast into the far side where my friend had got his, and started slowly retrieving it through the riffle. Through out my “swing” I gave short little twitches of the wrist to give the jig a little jumping action...and BOOM! Fish on.
After this fish, we caught quite a few more out of the hole...and of the three that I caught, all were on the “twitch and swing”. This technique is something I usually reserve for fishing riffles or tail-outs, as it can really pick apart those areas with finesse. I would argue to use this often for chum and sometimes for coho when the opportunity seems right.
Coho (Silvers) can sometimes be so aggressive they’ll hit almost any color, but there is no doubt that certain colors will stand out from year to year.
One thing to be sure of however, is that contrasting colors are a good thing. I tend to go with a contrast between head and body/tail. Either a bright head and subdued body/tail, or the other way around.
If you’re going to try some colors without previous experience, here are 5 colors that I trust, which can be utilized for the head or the feathers. Any combination of these 5 will generally work pretty well on Pacific Northwest streams, although you’ll see certain colors standout from system to system.
Alaskan twitching anglers use a lot of red in their jigs, and in 2019’s Washington coho season, red really seemed to work well. Pink is a favorite in many places, but is not always the answer it may seem to be.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few others like peach and cerise...let’s not forget the straight up black jig either. You’re going to find jigs that just make it happen, and others that seem to not. Be open to changes in temperature, seasonality and river systems, as a color may all of the sudden become the hot ticket!
I would say that Chinook are more picky on twitching jig colors than their coho counterparts, and though twitching for Chinook isn’t as popular, it one of the most effective artificial options there is for the King of Salmon!
I had caught a few chinook while twitching, but didn’t really put two-and-two together on it being a viable chinook lure. I just assumed I annoyed an aggressive king. Perhaps that’s true, but if you’re getting bit, something is going right!
Last year I started to target kings and caught some very quality fish doing it. I talked to a few guides about the best chinook colors and found a few of my own favorites.
There are some guides quietly twitching for chinook with their clients that don’t want to talk about it, but they are putting fish in the net because of it. A few years ago I heard of anglers using chartreuse and black twitching jigs for Spring Chinook, and now I know that’s a particularly good color, but that’s not the only color to use.
The best Chinook Twitching Jig colors are:
- Blue (Light blues especially)
- Chartreuse (other greens as well)
My best color last year was a chartreuse head with dark purple body, and some flashy tinsel (or whatever it is) mixed in. It’s called the “XXX Choker” jig, and I had a bunch of them, so it’s also the jig I used the most for chinook. Of course, the jig you fish the most has the most chances at getting seen by a fish, but I caught enough chinook on it to develop confidence in it.
One that I will be trying this year is an absolute chinook-stacker for a guide buddy of mine. It’s got a chartreuse head, black body and chartreuse tail. I’ve not used it yet but saw enough enviable pictures to get the idea.
I’m stocking up on that color ASAP. I just got myself a little 14 foot aluminum boat for my local river, and if it’s anything like last year, the kings will be snapping on the twitching jigs (even when the coho are not).
Fish see UV (ultra-violet) light. We humans don’t.
Fish don’t have eyelids (or don’t wear sunglasses as Roger Hinchcliff would say) and thus they require different sight capabilities, especially in direct sunlight. The fly-world is very keyed in on using UV in their designs, and it can be a difference maker for getting noticed.
UV materials in the collar or tail of the jig can be a beacon to bite for a salmon, steelhead or trout. It is worth exploring the possibilities with UV...and if your jig is not tied with UV, there are UV sprays and solubles you can try.
Shorter, one-piece spinning rods are the most popular twitching rods on the west coast, but you’ll find anglers using a variety of different rods on the river. One thing to watch out for however, is the action of your rod. A fast, sensitive tip will reveal to you bites that you never knew you were getting.
A lot of bites occur on the fall, and a lot of fish miss the hook or let it go quickly. If you have a slower action, softer rod, you won’t feel those bites on the fall unless the fish absolutely smashes it. I personally enjoy my Lamiglas Bass Rods for this purpose. I use a 7’2” MH Baitcaster that is ultra sensitive so that I can feel if a fish considers taking the jig. You may think you’re missing more fish, but in reality you’re just feeling the takes that happen.
Stay away from long, soft float rods and such. You will absolutely miss fish. Go fast action. Go sensitive. Go strong...because if you hook a 30lb chinook on the twitch...you don’t want to lose it!
A Technique to Remember
As an avid bass angler, its hard not to look forward to twitching for coho and chinook. It’s effective and it’s a lot of fun. Until you get your first fish on it, it’s a little weird and awkward, but once it happens - you’re going to keep coming back to it.
Bass fishing prepared me for this fish. I casted onto a horizontal log a foot under the surface, pulled it off the log and immediately had this giant silver come from underneath the log and pile-drive the jig.
A couple of the suggestions in this article may help you, but don’t be afraid to try just about anything with a twitching jig. Switching things up with twitch height, retrieve speed and colors can lead you into developing your own twitching style.
There really is a lot of variety in twitching. On one trip I was looking at my buddy funny for doing massive upswings on the twitch, but he ended up catching fish. I wasn’t going quite as far but was catching a bunch of fish too...every cast that you don’t get bit, try something a little different.
Dial it in, and don’t be afraid to go beyond the twitch.
- written by Lucas Holmgren