Ladyfisher

This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

September 23rd, 2002

Salty Stuff


Fall gets my juices running (it is my favorite season) and fortunately it gets the salmon's juices running too. They are headed for their natal streams - which means fishing opportunities for those of us who live close enough to the saltwater to fish.

Fishing in saltwater isn't the same as freshwater fishing. There are some things which relate to both fisheries, matching the hatch translates to matching the color, silhouette and size of the local baitfish. Reading the water still counts, in fact it is more involved. Tides must be taken into consideration. Incoming, outgoing and the speed at which the tide changes. Fishing in a really ripping tide is almost useless. Fishing on a high or low slack tide (that period of time where the tide is not coming in or going out) can be very productive. Incoming tides bring the baitfish in and predator fish know this. They come in near shore for the smorgasbord waiting for them.

When the tide changes, rips or foam lines also develop. Bait can be found along these too, and the broken water on the edges of those rips provides cover for the larger fish. It is just like fishing a stream or river in that respect. Drift of the fly and presenting it so it appears to be normal bait in the current is just as important as it is in freshwater.

Warm water and bass fishers know the value of structure and cover. It also applies to the ocean, the weed beds of the ocean can be floating kelp mats, or eel grass where various types of fry hang out. Unfortunately the kelp beds create huge problems on tide changes and every cast requires removing 'salad' from your fly or fly line. Changing your casting location, sometimes only a matter of a few yards can help, but most often it is just a case of waiting the tide change out before the 'garbage' heads in another direction.

While stream and river fishing can be crowded, one usually has enough room to feel quite comfortable fishing the ocean. There are exceptions of course, like a really good point of land where fish hang out on a predictable basis. The word goes out pretty quickly, and both fly and spin fishers will be in attendance.

Still, there is an openness in fishing from the beach, or in an estuary. Something akin to when one goes to Montana and experiences the 'Big Sky' country for the first time. Regardless of time of day, there is a real beauty in blind casting to the immensity which flows beyond ones view.

Many of the places we fish the salt have freighter and cruise ship traffic, great to see. Plus their passing presents us with another opportunity. These big ships produce huge waves. If you can time your cast correctly and fire it into the big waves, the result can be a really big salmon. They ride the waves, expecting to munch on confused baitfish.

There is also some danger involved with the big waves. You can be knocked off your feet, or just get very wet if you misjudge the height and speed of the incoming waves, and ship water over the top of your waders. It's not a game, many of us have had to run for the beach or shallower water.

Our available fish here in the Pacific Northwest are limited, we've had problems with all the salmon runs. We do not have the variety of fish the folks on the East coast have, but the size and fight of the ones we do have is breathtaking. Silver Salmon here run small, under fifteen pounds, even smaller 5 - 8 pounds for the resident silvers. Resident silvers are Coho Salmon which have been planted to provide a 'local' fishery. They were released in the salt, so they have no natal stream where they would return. They just swim around. I honestly don't know how long they live, or if at some point they will find any stream and attempt to spawn.

We do have King Salmon, and those are larger fish, great fun on a fly rod. The largest numbers of salmon we have remaining here are Chum Salmon. The Chum (also called dog salmon because of their very prominent sharp teeth) are probably the most under-estimated of the salmon. They are large (over 20 pounds) and they are really tough fighters. I've personally been spooled on an 8 wt rod with 250 yards of backing more than once on the same fish. Yes, I landed it. (That particular fish was about 24 pounds and I released it.)

There are a couple of places locally where the word on Chum definitely is out and the fishing can be close to gonzo fishing. Even so, a fly fisher can find a place where they can fish in reasonable comfort and peace.

If you haven't tried saltwater fishing, it can be done reasonably. For the beginner on salt, I would suggest an 8/9 wt rod, which means of course a reel, backing and line to match - and it does need to be saltwater proof. The Redington RedFly (RF908/9 graphite rod) and Redington Large Arbor 9/10 Gold Reel are a great combination, and will give you what you need. Saltwater can chew up a freshwater reel in short order, and even the best of saltwater gear should be thoroughly washed in fresh water and dried before putting it away.

If you have access to saltwater - and have fish of course, you are missing a wonderful experience if you don't give it a try. Salmon are the big fishery here, but you may have bluefish, stripers, albies, ladyfish, redfish, sea trout, cobia and all sorts of exciting fish. It will take some adjusting and learning - but isn't that what fly fishing is all about? We never know it all. ~ LadyFisher

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