Coho salmon plentiful this season

FRANK ARMENDARIZ/PHOTO- Stevie Parsons of Aloha Oregon with a very nice early season ocean caught hatchery coho. This salmon grabbed a super bait filled with tuna, one of the seven we kept on a hot morning of fishing out of Newport Harbor last week.

NEWPORT – Late last week, my wife and I had had a leisurely start to a day of salmon fishing out of Newport Harbor. We met an old guide buddy, Bill Karmers, at his boat shed at 6:30 a.m. As we motored away from the dock, the harbor master chimed out six bells at 7 a.m. 

Karmers and I were young river guides when we first worked together on the Deschutes, McKenzie and Siletz in the early 1980s. Karmers is also a retired fish biologist whose day job was a 40-year career with the ODFW. 

Judging by the number of rigs with trailers in the port parking lot, it had been a very busy morning at the ramp. But at six bells, the rush had passed and the launch was cleared, so we quickly backed down the ramp, launched the boat and motored out the boat basin, into the seaway channel, passing under the Highway 101 bridge and out to sea.

About one mile out and in over 125 feet of water, we encountered a large group of other boats on the troll for salmon.

On most days in the summer, the ocean wells up plenty of bait here but on this day, cold ocean water was chilling the entire nearshore water column to about 57.5 degrees. That’s a drop of about one-and-a-half degrees from the previous two days and the cooler water close in was affecting the fish. 

The temporary condition had been ushered in by a rougher sea and a building wind was suppressing the bite close to shore. The salmon bite had generally slowed, likely because of the modest cool down and wasn’t as productive as it had been just two day earlier in the week. The wind that day probably had a good part in mixing up the water column, too, bringing that cold water to the surface. We worked our way through the guide and recreational fleet and continued east hopeful of finding better conditions, warmer water and a little less competition.  

For the next mile, the water temperatures remained static, hovering at about 57.5 to about 57.8. Then at about mile three, due west of the Newport harbor mouth, the ocean water temperatures began to slowly tick upward – 58, 58.5, 59 … Right at about mile five we hit the warmer 60-degree water we had been searching for over 240 feet of ocean water. Not surprisingly, we also came upon several commercial fishing boats also trolling for salmon. 

The commercial trollers obviously knew something the guide and recreational fleet did not … they also tend to be a chatty group but on this morning the radios were silent as they went about their work of catching salmon.

For our party, it was time to fish and we all set out our lures … Two rods rigged with super baits – a plastic plug cut herring imitation with a hollow cavity that can be filled with bait – and two rods were rigged 360-style with hot pink hoochies and spinner blades. 

We filled ours with a time-proven salmon, catching a mixture of tuna in oil and Pro Cure bite enzyme, a bait enhancer especially formulated for salmon. 

In all cases, the baits were tied behind a paddle or “skateboard” style flasher and a weighted diver. Breakaway flashers have been around for sometime now, but I had never had the opportunity to fish with one until this outing. A breakaway flasher, like all in-line flashers, attaches at two points on the terminal end of a trolling rig; however, with a breakaway flasher the trailing end either has a clip or a small magnet that holds the flasher inline and attached to the fishing line while trolling. When a fish grabs the lure, the clip or magnet is designed to break free of the line, taking a lot of pressure off the line. Less line pressure makes any fish easier to play and with the barbless hook regulations and can often result in more landed fish.

I became a believer.

Depth is important, the center two were set at 35 feet and the two outside rods at 22 feet; our troll sped up to two miles per hour. All the time mindful of keeping within the 60-degree water bubble we had come upon. 

Our first salmon came quickly – a nice 10-pound coho; a size that is larger than average for early July and likely an indicator of the good ocean conditions for coho we currently have off our coast. 

Only moments after setting the rod back in the holder, a second fish hit, then a third … We played 17 coho; lost a few; released three wild fish; and put seven hatchery coho salmon in the cooler to take home. 

Both lure combinations performed equally well, suggesting that it wasn’t about the lures but more about the location we were fishing.

We fished until 1:30 p.m., and by that time the wind had come up, the swell had significantly increased. We decided it was time to head back to the safety of the harbor. 

The ride was a little rough and splashy in a three-or-four-foot swell and in a 15-knot wind – conditions that are not suitable for every boat or boater. 

In general, ocean salmon fishing all up and down the Oregon coast in early July has been “good” and should get even better as we drift into early fall. Chinook salmon numbers will be low again this season but plentiful numbers of coho should easily fill the void. 

In fact, the ODFW has opened up the retention of coho in several coastal bays again this season. I’ll have those updates in the next Anglers Log; stay tuned, this is going to be good. 

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