by Jason Brooks, October 01, 2018
The Pacific Northwest is known for its rainy season which usually begins in mid-October and doesn’t seem to stop until May. Anglers also know that the rain brings fish into the rivers but can make it difficult to fish for them. Stained water that is rising and pushing into back eddy’s, sloughs, creeks and making it hard to fish. Unless you know how to fish the high water and then you don’t mind the rain as it keeps some anglers away and it can be a great day fishing.
Coho are a unique salmon when it comes to how they travel up a river. Instead of holding in deep water and moving when the water is high they tend to go shallow and cruise the easy shorelines. This means that when the water is high you can find the fish in water that is much easier to cast a line than other salmon such as the Chinook that prefers the deep slots or the Chums that will swim along fast seems.
Starting with the rainy day itself and rising waters. Several years ago I was fishing the Satsop. Launching early in the morning the rain was a drizzle but soon turned to a downpour. We came to a long straight stretch where the river flowed fast for several hundred yards. Dropping anchor just out from a small jutting point we knew the fish would use the bank as a current break and when they came to that point the small back eddy was a resting spot. Staying there all day we would go a few hours without touching a fish. Then as the Coho moved upriver we would hook a few in short order. By mid-afternoon we had caught our limit and we picked up the anchor and moved along.
Knowing that the fish are on the move means sometimes you should stay put. Let the fish come to you. Coho will file into backwaters and slow-moving water. Cast near shore or if the bank is mud you might want to actually hit the far shore and then pull your gear into the water. More than once a Coho has been caught that was resting against the cut-bank. Small backwaters lined with grass often hold Coho as well. Sunken logs and root wads create current breaks for the fish and you can often catch a fish that are holding here.
Tailouts are often thought of as steelhead water but as Coho make their way upriver you can fish them just like you would for the ocean-going rainbow trout, especially if there is a pocket to one side as the fish will move into the pocket once they get past the current. Knowing where the fish are is the biggest obstacle for an angler to overcome. Some forget that when the water is high that you need to adjust how you fish. A few winters ago, I was fishing the Humptulips on a wet day. The river was actually near flood stage but we caught a few fish by twitching jigs in a spot that always produced for us. What we failed to recognize was that the water was still rising and the visibility was getting worse and when we thought the bite was off in reality we should have switched to spinners or plugs in the off-color water. Not paying attention to the water conditions is a sure way to have your day go from bad to worse.
Twitching jigs is a top technique for Coho and works well in high water. But you need to pay attention to the water clarity. When the water turns muddy it is best to switch to a contrasting colored jig such as chartreuse and black or a cerise jig. But if you are willing to put the twitching rod away then one of your best bets will be spinners. The flash penetrates the off color water and draws the attention of Coho. Move to big blade spinners such as size 5 or 6 Vibrax, again in contrasting colors such as silver and hot orange or bright green. Adding a squid skirt allows you to increase its profile as well as add color. Plus, you can fill the skirt with scent such as Pro-Cure Super Gel shrimp or bloody tuna.
The one nice thing about spinners is that they work in just about every water condition, location, and color. The tailouts mentioned above is a perfect place to swing a spinner across. Large shallow flats means a quick retrieve but the Coho like to chase and it entices a strike. Even the small pockets of resting water can be fished with a spinner.
If you like to float bait then realize that High Water conditions means you will be switching out your bait frequently. Prawns are a good choice as they can be cured and toughened a bit which will help keep them on the hook longer. Plug anglers do very well on high water days. Wrap them with a herring fillet that has been hardened on rock salt. Slowly backing plugs down the river is best done for steelhead. For Coho cast them out and reel them back in with a quick retrieve. You can cover more water this way and those that are stuck on the bank can effectively fish plugs as well as those in boats.
One thing you need to keep in mind is that fishing during bad weather can be a bit dangerous. Be sure to check the weather report and prepare accordingly. The river forecast center will let you know if the river will rise to a dangerous level and the weather forecast should be checked for temperature and wind. Rainstorms often bring with them a strong wind. Hypothermia is serious and if you get wet and the temperature drops along with a wind you can find yourself in trouble real fast. I always keep a spare set of clothes in a dry bag so if I get soaked I can change into dry and warm clothing. Good raingear is a must and as an extra measure of emergency preparedness I carry a road flare, knowing I can start a warming fire in any weather conditions with it.
High water and a rainy day means it’s time to go Coho fishing. Make sure to adjust how you fish and where you plan on intercepting the hook-nosed salmon and you will find that they are fairly easy to catch. As the rain arrives so do the Coho and it is time to break out the raingear and the twitching rods. Be sure to plan accordingly and go catch some fish.
Jason Brooks hails from North-Central Washington. The son of a fishing guide, Jason is an avid hunter, angler, outdoor photographer and published writer. He resides in Puyallup with his wife and two boys.