Lessons Learned (While Coho Fishing) by Scott Haugen
A year ago I was living in Hyder, Alaska, fishing for coho salmon in a couple streams near my home. As you read these words I’m traveling the upper portions of Alaska’s Aleutian Chain, chasing coho for several weeks.
I love coho fishing in Alaska, partly due to the high number of salmon, but largely due to the tranquil experience that comes with fishing in this part of the world.
One thing I’ve learned in three decades of fishing throughout Alaska is, there are never any guarantees, even when it comes to catching coho.
Knowing the run timing is the number one step in catching any fish, and this is especially true in Alaska. Also note that catching a fish isn’t always simple, even if they are in the river.
After nearly three weeks of fishing without a bite, the author finally found success twitching jigs. Once fish finally arrive, being prepared and never giving up are keys to success.
Take last coho season in Hyder, for example. There were only two residents in the town of less than 40 people who sorta fished for coho each fall. The lack of fishing for coho by the locals surprised me, but it was good because it forced me to step back and assess important pieces of information in order to find my own success.
First, I had to learn to read the water in these unfamiliar fisheries. One of the streams I fished was small and crystal clear, making it easy to see the habitat as well as fish, if they were there. The other was a large, braided, glacial river with a steep gradient. The water flow was raging much of the time, making it impossible to tell the depth of the main chutes, seams, and boils.
I fished for nearly three weeks without a bite; I didn’t even see a fish roll. “They should be here,” the locals kept telling me. I optimistically fished every high tide I could that may have pushed fish into the river, with no success. I also hit the river fallowing big rain storms, once the river started recovering, again, with no success.
Then, finally, after several days of fishing without a strike, I saw a coho roll in the main hole I’d been focusing most of my efforts on. The hole looked great to me, and now that the fish were in, I felt my confidence level rise.
Several casts with my go-to coho spinner failed to produce, to my surprise. I saw a couple more silvers roll and noticed each were facing downstream.
That’s when I replaced the spinner with a 3/4-ounce BnR Tackle Twitching Jig. On the first cast with the pink jig, a coho hammered it. Soon I was admiring a fat, bright hen, full of eggs.
A few casts later I caught another coho in the same spot, on the same twitching jig. In less than an hour I had my six coho limit and was headed home. All of the silvers hit the same pink BnR Twitching Jig, as that was the best presentation I found to cut through the heavy, boiling water and get down to where the fish were holding. The best part, every fish I caught was a hen.
Soon, all the eggs were curing, the smoker was full, and Tiffany was preparing fresh coho for dinner. The next morning I was back in the same hole and my son, Kazden, joined me.
This time we went in with bobber rods, eager to hit the seams of the multiple braids that fed their way into this uniquely structured hole. In terms of ways it could be fished, it was one of the most diversified salmon holes I’d ever seen.
The author’s son, Kazden Haugen, was all smiles, even after packing out his limit of coho taken near their home in Hyder, Alaska.
With freshly cured eggs, Kazden hit the main seam on the upper end of the hole while I worked multiple little seams in the lower end. Soon we were headed up the bank with 12 coho—six a piece. That’s when we ran into a local, Lester, who’d been fishing that spot for 42 years. “Wow, what’d you guys catch those on?” Lester asked. When I told him we used cured eggs, he didn’t say a word. Then I showed him some of our cured baits.
Lester looked me in the eye and quizzed, “You mean to tell me you can use coho eggs as bait to catch more coho?” When I explained the process to him, Lester smiled and said, “I’ve never even heard of such a thing.” I gave him my small bucket of cured eggs, some pre-tied leaders, along with a bobber, and showed him how to rig up and fish it. A couple hours later there was a knock on our front door. It was Lester wanting to show us the coho he’d just caught, all on eggs. They were his first salmon of the season, and Lester was elated, as was his wife.
For a few weeks the coho fishing was good. I showed Lester how to cure and fish eggs multiple ways, as well as twitch jigs, something else he’d never done.
Last coho season I was reminded to never give up. But most importantly, I felt the joy that comes in sharing information with fellow anglers. Lester played a big part of that gratification, for here was an angler in his 80s who was eager to learn new methods to catch fish, and he diligently applied them.
In the big scope of life, salmon anglers are members of a small fraternity. It’s not about catching the most or the biggest fish, or a battle to see who can be the best. No matter where your adventures lead or the species of fish you’re chasing this fall, enjoy your time on the water, and help fellow anglers when you can.
- written by Scott Haugen
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