Kings of Fall

by Jason Brooks, October 01, 2016
Alder trees lined the riverbank with their white trunks and the green leaves long ago turned golden yellow as summer’s warm afternoons have faded to the crisp cooling days. The orange colored bobber top a stark contrast from the dark colored waters reflecting the cloudy sky above. Just then the float disappeared and I set the hook hard. A Chinook dove deep and fought hard; it was then that I truly felt that fall had arrived and so had the Kings.

October is a month that all outdoorsman and woman cherish. For anglers in the Northwest it means salmon from Coho and Chums to the Chinook, and it is the Chinook that really gets me going. This is because they fight hard, have an aggressive bite and fill the freezer quickly. Kings have been in our river systems since August and through September but the ones that arrive in October are late to the spawning game and are a bit more aggressive. Unlike the earlier arriving fish, they don’t have to sit in deep holes awaiting a fresh rain to bring in enough water to move up the river. Instead fall rains have soaked the hillside and any new moisture goes into the river where the fish can travel on their own accord. Because of this it opens up more places and techniques to catch the October kings. Here are few ways to find and catch them.

The deep holes will still hold fish. Don’t overlook the slots and slow waters where fish will stack up just below a riffle or rapids. Chinook are big and that means running water really pushes against them. Kings will rest before exerting energy. But once they decide to move on they go fast. Often times I have sat on anchor in a deep hole twitching jigs for Coho and then heard the splash of a rolling fish, and then another and another, looking downriver to the long shallow flat where I see kings moving up. Twitching jigs was primarily a Coho technique but as we kept fishing our jigs and the kings moved in we learned that they too will hit the jig. In fact, twitching jigs works for all three October salmon, the Coho, Chums, and Chinook. If I had to pick just one technique it would be twitching jigs, but with all the different types of water and multiple species of fish this time of year I never go to the river geared up for one technique. When a push of salmon comes through the action picks up as the fish rest and then an hour or two later, nothing. Everything has “shut off” but in reality the fish just continued to move up river. Though I like fishing deep holes it is not where I primarily target kings in October.

Last year I was floating a coastal river with Grant Blinn, a friend of mine for almost 20 years, and one of the best salmon anglers I know. As I rowed alongside a seam that had a downed tree at the top end he cast at the last limb, thinking a fish might be using it for cover from the eagles above. The float made it five feet before disappearing. I dropped anchor and in the next five casts we hooked three fish in that one tiny seam. It is the cover that the fish are seeking.

Another reason why Chinook rest in deep water is they can use the depth for cover from predators, and in shallow water they tend to use debris such as trees, cut-banks and log jams. Another time we floated past a log jam and kept our bobbers within a foot of a slick log only to have Grant’s float disappear once again and an eighteen-pound Chinook tried it’s best to go back under the log but instead found our landing net. One key factor in floating eggs for October Chinook, which can be very big compared to earlier run fish for some reason, is to use the right gear. For float fishing near debris you must upsize your outfit, this includes everything from the hook to the reel. I prefer to use a 10’6 rod rated from 10-30 pounds, such as my North Fork Customs. My reel is a Diawa Procyon 4000 series as it has 17 pounds of drag which is a lot for a spinning reel. The mainline is 40-pound Suffix 832 braid which has one strand of Gore-Tex so it always floats. The bobber is rated from 3 to 5 ounces with an ounce of lead below to get my eggs down as fast as possible. The leader is 25 pound Izorline XXX as this line us super strong and limp allowing the eggs to move around and pulse, dispersing the scent. My bait is secured to a 3/0 hook and is always a combination of Pro-Cures Wizard cured eggs, sand shrimp, and a heavy dousing of Bloody Tuna bait oil. This set up allows me to hold fish and even turn them away from the log jams and fight them to the bank or boat. I have lost too many fish by using lighter gear. If you only take away one thing from this article I hope it is that you upsize your Chinook gear when fishing log jams and near debris or cover.

Long runs and flats, most notable for holding steelhead, are other likely places to find Chinook in October. Most of the time these parts of the river are between rapids. There are no deep holes or even log jams for the fish to rest and hide. Instead there are some boulders and seams. This is where I will swing spoons and spinners. These fish are aggressive, they are not tired and are on the move. They want to get past this section of the river but with colder water temperatures the fish use what breaks in the current they can. When the wobble of a thumping spoon or the flashing blades of a spinner gets in their way the fish tend to hit them violently.

I scent up my hardware and personally prefer Pro-Cure Super Sauce as it is super sticky and one application allows me to fish for a long time without worry if the scent is still on my lure. You can also float fish these long runs and if you are using the set up I mentioned above then the 4000 series reel holds a lot of line. This extends the drift and you cover more water in one cast. Buddies of mine have gotten upset at me when they have to reel up and re-casts. I just continue fishing for another minute or two and then hook a fish while they are holding their rods over their shoulders waiting to cast.

Wrapped plugs are one of the most effective techniques for fall kings and one of the most pleasurable ways to fish, except for the guy on the oars. Yakima Bait Company’s Mag Lip 4.5 and 5 inch plugs are my top producers. This is because they are not only designed for bait wraps with notches on the side of the plugs to help secure your baits but they dive deep and have an erratic action that prompts a bite.

No matter what kind of water you are fishing the Chinook prefers to be on the bottom of the river. Plugs need to dive deep and stay deep to work effectively. When it comes to wrapping the plugs herring fillets are the old standard, next are sardine and anchovy but one bait that I use is tuna. A piece of tuna belly is extremely oily and last a long time but if you don’t have fresh tuna bellies then canned tuna will work too. You need to either use meshing, much like using a tuna ball (which works under floats by the way) or you can just wrap it a lot and expect to switch out the plugs or re-wrap more canned tuna regularly. To extend the baits, no matter what I’m using, I sprinkle some Slam-O-Powder on them in the morning which soaks into the bait and toughens it. Plus, it adds some bite stimulants as well.

Pulling plugs is as simple as finding a seem or a long flat or run, set up at the top and let the plugs out. Slowly work your way down river in the drift boat. Bank anglers can also plug fish with the use of a side-planer. A few years ago we were floating a river and as we came around a bend there were two older guys on the bank, sitting by a fire and enjoying the day. I noticed some side-planers out in the river, perfectly placed in the inside of the seam on the bend, right where the fish will go as they make the corner. As we rowed past one of the rods went off and the guy fought a nice king to the bank on his wrapped plug. I learned a couple of lessens on that trip, first, when you see two older anglers together on the river pay attention as they know what they are doing, second, you can effectively fish plugs from shore!

October offers a lot to those who enjoy the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest. There are many fishing techniques and types of water with our rains and crisp days. And for those of us that hit our rivers for fall salmon it is a great month to go after the largest Pacific salmon, the Kings of Fall.

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