Salmon fishing for King salmon in Tidewater rivers and bays
How to fish for salmon in the tidal rivers and bays of Oregon and Washington
Salmon fishing in tidewater or where the freshwater of the river meets the saltwater of the ocean can be both challenging and rewarding. The salmon runs coming in from the ocean to there spawning grounds in the river can be influenced by many things such as tides, river levels, flows, water temps, ocean conditions, light levels and more. The biggest factors in my opinion are tides, flows and temps. As the salmon start entering the bays they are still feeding and following the baitfish in and out with the tides in these areas the most popular and successful method of fishing for salmon is using herring, anchovies or other food fish that the salmon feed on in the ocean.
Most anglers here in Oregon that fish low in the bays or in the saltwater use either whole or cut plug herring with a few opting for anchovies. Unlike out in the ocean where the use of downriggers and divers is common in the tidewater and estuaries the most common method is using lead on a dropper line with a three way swivel attached and a long leader of 5 to 8 feet to the herring. When trolling herring in the bays it is important that you keep your bait within a few feet or less off of the bottom, this requires paying attention to your pole because usually the bays are very shallow with constant depth changes so you must make sure that you are in that salmon zone at all times. If you like to put your pole in the holder and wait you may not like this type of fishing. When rigging your herring there are 100's of ways to correctly rig a herring with the old school of thought saying that you need a nice slow roll and to troll extremely slow, yes this does work but don't be afraid to try a nice tight spin with a faster trolling speed I have caught a big percentage of my salmon tight and fast. The biggest thing is to find a method that you are comfortable with and have had success with it then stick with it. Some of the methods for hooking up a plug cut herring take 15 minutes or more to tune and to me if it takes more than 30 seconds or so you are wasting to much time without any bait in the water.
As we move up the bay towards the river and the interface between the fresh and salt water the use of spinners and lures starts sharing the action with the herring draggers and at times one method or the other will out produce all others. When salmon hit spinners or lures they are getting out of the feeding mode and into the reaction strike mode this usually coincides with the influence of some fresh water or a temperature rise. Use the same 3 way swivel setup with a dropper line to the lead and with spinner fishing watch out for slack bites or when the salmon picks up the spinner and swims at the boat. To detect slack bites it is important that you hold your rod and that the rod you are using is sensitive enough to feel the spinner blade rotating. The general rule of thumb is that if you feel anything strange while spinner fishing is to set the hook. Spinner and lure colors change from river to river and day to day on the same river but red and green in combinations with white brass or silver are always good starting points. If you see someone catching fish pay careful attention to lead line length, leader length, and lure color, but don't change everything over to what they are doing it may just be location, run a couple of different colors and different lead/ leader lengths.
By far my favorite method for catching salmon in the tidewater rivers here in Oregon is the bobber and egg method. this is usually done a little further up into the river portion of tidewater and not so much down in the bay portion of it. The most common rigging for this is using a 8 to 10 foot steelhead salmon rod with a level wind reel spooled up with 50lb super braid line ( it floats). We use a sliding foam bobber usually in a larger size, a 3 way swivel again with between 1/2 to 2 ounces of lead hooked directly to the swivel and a leader of 2 to 3 feet on the other portion of the swivel. The hook size I prefer is a 6/0 extra sharp bait hook. Tie a bobber stop out of dacron line above your bobber setup set the depth between 3 and 16 feet depending on the depth that the fish are holding at and the water depth that you are fishing in. The bobber depth varies greatly depending on tides and which river you are fishing in. The fish will change depths that they prefer with different tide and temperature conditions. I usually bring 3 different types of cured salmon eggs because the fish can be real picky as far as which ones they like to eat and usually one batch with one type of cure will be the hot one for that day. I use a bait about twice the size of a golf ball so bring plenty of eggs oh and it will make a mess of your boat. When the tide is running in or out I usually float with it and let the bobbers float at the same rate as the boat I will make a float with the bobber set shallow with the baits close to the bank, then I will move back up and make the same float with the baits a little further off of the bank and the bobbers set deeper then I will repeat on the other side of the river and when you get a fish be sure to go right back through there again with all baits set to the same depth and with the same eggs that just got bit. Bobber bites can turn on one minute and be done the next so get after it while the getting is good. Another important thing is to keep your slack line mended so that you only have enough slack so that your bobber can go down without the salmon feeling you, when it goes down take a couple of cranks on your reel until you feel the weight of the fish before you set the hook. Usually there is a bobber bite around each slack tide and on some days the bite will last for several hours on others it will last only minutes but if you get into a good bobber bite it will be unforgettable and you will have a hard time dragging herring again.
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