Coho are easily accessed from the banks of big rivers, small streams, even some lakes, throughout much of their range in Alaska, as they routinely migrate close to shore. They can be targeted in tidewater, too.
Trent Meyer made his first trip to Alaska last summer, and is heading back this season. Coho continue to grow in popularity among Alaska’s salmon anglers, as king runs are still struggling.
It’s no secret king salmon runs are declining in Alaska, and they have been for many years. I won’t get into the reasons behind the decline.
Suffice it to say, based on my personal experience of salmon fishing throughout Alaska for over 30 years, I’ve seen some of my favorite king streams, close. Others have run numbers measured in days, not weeks or months, like they used to be. In some rivers, returning kings are small, weighing only a few pounds, not upwards of 30 pounds like they once did. Other rivers have restricted fishing days, some even shutting down at mid-season. Add in restricted daily and possession limits and there’s no question Alaska’s king salmon are in trouble.
So why keep fishing for them? Why not give king salmon some time, and hope, for recovery? For sport anglers, silver salmon could be the answer.
Whether you’re a resident looking to put meat in the freezer, or a traveling angler from out of state, consider targeting coho instead of king salmon. One of the biggest hurdles for many anglers to overcome is breaking routines. Everyone who fishes in Alaska wants a mighty king salmon, just as every hunter wants a big bull moose. The starting point to preserving king salmon runs starts with a change in thinking, so forget about kings, at least for a few years, and focus on silver salmon.
Silver salmon runs are later in the summer than kings, they’re plentiful, and coho occupy many rivers and streams. This means you don’t have hordes of anglers congregating in small sections of a river, as you do with king and even sockeye salmon. Coho runs are also much longer than kings, too, lasting months instead of a few weeks. August through October is prime time to catch coho, but there are rivers in Alaska where you can catch them in late July, even into early November. Limits are also generous when it comes to silvers, meaning you can put a lot of meat in the freezer or canner.
As for the fight, if a 70-pound king battled as hard as a silver salmon, you’d be hard pressed to land it. Not only do silvers jump, they dive, twist, turn and make long runs. Coho can be caught in very remote waters, where battling 50 fish a day is common, and you’ll never see another angler; it’s the ultimate Alaskan fishing experience when you think about it. They can also be caught along many of Alaska’s road systems, where access is easy and cheap.
With Alaska’s king salmon numbers continuing to decline, changing the focus to coho could be what you’re looking for. On many rivers coho can be caught and released all day long.
Coho can also be fished for in multiple ways, adding even more to the adventure and fun of catching them. Tired of dragging bait or backtrolling heavy gear in rivers all day for kings? Not a problem with coho. Coho can be caught on jigs–both twitching and beneath a float–as well as on a variety of spinners, even by casting shallow diving plugs. They can be caught on topwater plugs–something bass and pike anglers will love–and on poppers by flyfishing fans. Once you experience the thrill of a coho topwater take, you’ll be hooked.
Coho are easily accessed from the banks of big rivers, small streams, even some lakes, throughout much of their range in Alaska, as they routinely migrate close to shore. They can be targeted in tidewater, too. Stripping and swinging streamers through an incoming tide is a rush, as these fresh coho battle to the very end, and make exceptional table fare.
With lots of remote rivers to explore, and run numbers high, coho salmon could be the new king of Alaska’s salmon, at least in the short term.
Once you’ve secured a limit of coho, you can keep fishing in some waters in Alaska, catch and release. When releasing coho, don’t use cured eggs as bait, as the fish swallow them. Also, go with barbless hooks. Catch and handle fish with care, landing them quickly and touching them as little as possible; keep them in the water the whole time. Having a pair of needle nose pliers handy, for quick hook removal, is key to a fast release and low mortality rates. Just because there are millions of these bright, gorgeous fish, doesn’t mean they should be mishandled; we do not want a repeat performance of the dwindling Alaska king salmon numbers.
When releasing coho, get them to shore, fast, keep them in the water, revive them and set them free. Don’t net them. Don’t pull them up on the bank and let them flop around, and do not hold them by the gills for a photo, then toss them back into the river—something I’ve been preaching for decades, and see happen way too often throughout Alaska. When releasing tidewater coho, handle them with extra care, as they are much more fragile than they will be once they acclimate to the river and have firmer scales. Do everything in your power to avoid mortality, period.
BnR Tackle’s 32mm Soft Beads have been a hot item when it comes to coho fishing in Alaska, and is just one way these great salmon can be caught.
Ways To Catch Coho
For years I’ve been writing in STS about coho fishing at Becharof Lodge on the Egegik River becharoffishing.com. Why? Because of all the rivers I’ve fished for coho in Alaska, season after season, this is the best I’ve seen. I’ve covered a lot of the state, especially when working on a book project I completed years ago, titled A Flyfisher’s Guide To Alaska. Last season, over 80% of the anglers fishing at Becharof Lodge were STS readers, showing just how strong the interest is in fishing here.
What I like about the Egegik River is it’s remote, but it’s not too expensive to get to compared with other isolated places I’ve been in the state. The accommodations are more of a comfortable camp than a fancy lodge that charges three times the rate, and the fishing is the best I’ve seen in any river, surpassing what many of the high-end lodges experience. Many first-time anglers have come here and landed over 50 coho a day. I’ve seen multiple veteran anglers release over 100 coho a day.
If you want to learn how to fish, catching fish while learning different techniques makes it fun, rewarding and significantly flattens the learning curve. If looking to hone a new technique, what better way to learn than practicing where there are fish?
One of the techniques many salmon and steelhead anglers are eager to master is twitching jigs. It’s not easy to learn to twitch, properly. “So many anglers put emphasis on the twitching action, or the lifting of the jig, when it’s a quick, rapid fall you want to achieve,” notes veteran guide at Becharof Lodge, David Stumpf.
“You don’t want to snag fish by quickly lifting the jig into them, you want them to attack it, and this happens on the drop which must occur in a fast, free-fall, action.”
Fishing big beads is another draw of the Egegik River. I’ve fished BnR Tackle Soft Beads on many Alaskan rivers and streams for coho, and haven’t had near the success I do on the Egegik. The thing is, based on the other rivers I’ve fished throughout the Southwest, down into the Aleutian Chain, and in many Southeast streams, I have no idea why the bead bite is so much better on the Egegik. I’m still trying to learn why.
“Many folks aren’t even fishing eggs anymore,” smiles Mark Korpi, co-owner of Becharof Lodge on the Egegik River. “They figure they actually get more fishing time, not having to mess with eggs, and ultimately, catch more fish. It’s a win-win for all of us.”
The 32mm Soft Beads have been the hottest size on the river, but some anglers still think of it as a single egg rather than an egg cluster, and struggle with the mental concept of using such a large bait. Coho are ravenous predators and have huge mouths; a 32mm bead is nothing for them inhale. I’ve seen many swallow it so deep, you can’t see the bead. Last season anglers even caught lots of coho on 40mm Soft Beads, proving coho will bite big baits.
The 25mm Soft Beads are also great producers. These can be fished alone or stacked, drift-fished or suspended below a float. BnR Soft Beads are neutral buoyant so you get the ideal drift with each cast, no matter how it’s fished. We’ve even swung them on fly rods with success.
The Egegik River allows fishing with bait, something not every river in Southwest Alaska does. Last season I was surprised by the number of anglers in camp showing interest in drift fishing. For those who’ve been around for a while, drift fishing is all we knew, it’s how we fished for salmon and steelhead, year-round.
We might work a plug or spinner here and there, but drift fishing was the go-to approach.
Over the years, as other methods stepped to the forefront of salmon and steelhead fishing, drift fishing took a back-seat. “Man, if you could write an article on how to drift fish, it’d be your most read story of the year,” one young angler said to me as I released a coho. I looked up at him and smiled. “No, I’m serious,” he continued, “there’s a huge surge of new anglers who want to learn how to drift fish!” It got my wheels turning.
Many groups of friends and families have been coming to Becharof Lodge on the Egegik River to fish for coho, for years. The fish, and the smiles, say it all.
The Egegik River is simple to wade and easy to fish. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve got hung up and lost gear on the bottom of this river over the past 15 years. The small gravel bottom and gentle flow means few hangups, which maximizes fishing time and leads to more fish being caught.
“Last season was the best we’ve ever seen,” shared Stumpf. “There were days in late July and early August where people were done fishing by noon. Many had landed and released over 50 coho by that time and all they wanted to do was relax. They could have kept fishing, but some went back to camp and sat on the platform to watch bears and other wildlife, while some went on hikes across the tundra, eating wild blueberries. We saw a lot of brown bears again last summer, and wolves and fox showed up pretty regularly. The number of ptarmigan we had on the river last season was incredible; everyone loves watching and listening to these birds.”
One of my favorite ways to catch coho on the Egegik River is by casting plugs. Last year I downsized to tiny 2.0 Mag Lips, even F4 Flatfish, and caught coho after coho.
While the lodge supplies all the gear you’ll need, including G. Loomis E6X salmon rods, I take a couple spinning reels spooled with different lines, just because of personal preference. One reel carries P-Line 15 lb. CXX X-Tra Strong in moss green, the other Maxquatro braid. Power Pro’s Maxquatro is 25% thinner, meaning you can cast light gear and it still holds up to hundreds of tough coho battles.
“With a five coho a day limit, there’s no shortage of salmon fillets going home,” shares Korpi. The staff fillets, cleans, vacuum seals and freezes the fish for the trip home. “We have a lot of clients coming back year after year just to take salmon home,” Korpi concludes. “Some of these folks have quit fishing kings in Alaska because they couldn’t get enough to take home, and that’s what makes our place on the Egegik so special, there’s no shortage of great eating fish out there.”
With king salmon numbers declining in many of Alaska’s streams, now is the time to change our train of thought and focus on a more abundant salmonid to catch, before it’s too late. The answer to saving Alaska’s king salmon could lie in targeting coho, making them the new king of salmon, at least for now.
Becharof Lodge Openings
For more details on booking your Egegik fishing adventure, which also offers remote flyouts for Arctic grayling, char, and brown bear viewing, visit becharoffishing.com or call Mark Korpi at 503-298-9686.