Guiding in the NW and Alaska for 19 years, Degree in Fisheries, long time ifish guide
May 22, 2013
Soap Box /Rant Time
by David Johnson
Soap Box /Rant Time
How did you folks like this past springer season on the Willamette? It wasn't the greatest was it? I have seen worse. Many of those out there fishing now were not fishing before 2000. We had some tough times on the river in the 90's.
Problem is us fishermen have a bit of a short memory and seem to only remember the great days.
Chances are the run will come in less than predicted and we'll see how many fish we were really fishing over.
Now, even with a smaller run we could have had some decent fishing if our water conditions were good. Unfortunately, we had the worst scenario of weather and conditions we could have had.
It was one of the top four driest springs on record and lots of 80 degree days. I get depressed when the forecast in April shows a string of sunny, hot days. I just know every one of those days is a nail in the coffin of the fishery.
And what do we have to look forward to? I'm afraid that when they start steeling our springer smolts from the tributaries and putting them into the SAFE area's this might be a normal run size.
And how about all those sea lions?
Every year there are more and more of them. And with no fear of man they are getting smarter and more and more aggressive.
We started out loosing 50% of our fish to the fur bags. I started to loose less when I would just more when they started to circle the boat.
I worked on getting media involved, taking out Channel 2 reporters. It may not help much but every little bit helps to get people aware of the problem.
If it gets any worse there are going to more sea lions on the Willamette than boats.
One thing that bugs me is when laws are passed that don't make sense, are based on emotions, or infringe on others.
The barbless hook rule on the Columbia and Willamette is one of those. Aren't we supposed to harvest as many hatchery fish as possible? If guys are loose more fish how can we harvest them?
ODFW's own study shows that having barbs has no effect on the survival of released fish in inland waters.
This rule was proposed by the gill netters as a stab at the sports fishermen and then pushed through by the commission, all to the joy of the Native Fish Society. That and the Commission wanted to match up with Washington.
Are you aware the NFS has another attack on sport fishing "crush the barb"?
It's so ironic that now in Washington, in all the hatchery rivers like Drano Lake and Wind River, you have to go barbless. IN SYSTEMS WITH NO WILD FISH!
And then there is the Sandy River. It was once one heck of a springer river. That is going to change. Its plants are being cut even more than they have been, also thanks to the Native Fish Society. They sued the government to get less hatchery fish released. All to protect wild fish that would not be there if it hadn't been for extensive hatchery plants in the upper river and tributaries like the Salmon R.
They are a cancer to fishing as we know it.
It just seems that all our fisheries are getting reduced and the regulations are getting more restricted and people are willingly going with it like sheep.
Ok, I've got that off my chest, now I need to go fishing and clear my head.
May 10, 2013
Cotton Woods, another sign of the times
by David Johnson
Just as dog wood trees in bloom are a sign that it's time to fish springers so are the blooming of cotton wood trees.
When you see the cotton blowing in the wind it tells me it's time to leave the Willamette and chase springers else wear. But it also signals it's time to catch shad.
For a little more than a week now I've seen smallish fish breaking the surface on the Willie before daylight. These are usually shad. And every day I've been seeing more and more cotton blowing around.
American shad are not native to our rivers but they are here and usually in big numbers. It's actually sad that the Columbia River was once the biggest producer of salmon in the world and now probably the biggest producer of shad.
They always start running first in the Willamette and then just a little later on the Columbia.
Some people eat shad but most stock their freezers with them for bait. They are excellent bait for sturgeon and crab.
Shad are very easy to catch so they are great for family fishing.
They like some current and they bite best when the sun is shining. They tend to run in lanes. If you are not catching them move. I would look for ten to twenty feet of water. The best places on the Willamette to catch them are in Oregon City or near Coon Island. On the Columbia the "shad rack" below Bonneville, near Washougal or off any of the lower river wing jetties.
Think small for lures. Use small Dick Night spoons in (pearl, chartreuse or nickel or gold) curly tail grubs (white, yellow or chartreuse) or Flicker Spinners in gold or silver. Run them with a spreader and lead or behind a Jet Diver.
They can be caught of the bank near Tanner Cr or off Bradford Island near Bonneville too.
Be safe out there- It seems that every year I see the smallest boats fishing in the most dangerous spots during shad season.
Load up the fam and hit the Willamette this spring on some nice, sunny evening and have some fun.
April 28, 2013
Lady Luck On The Last Steelhead Trip
by David Johnson
A few weeks back I did my end of the season steelhead trip and went out with a bang!
Laura and Kaytianne, two roommates and co-workers, joined me in what turned out to be one of the "If you fish like a girl…." kind of trips. When I knew they would be the only ones fishing with me that day I knew it would be good.
On about the third pass I look over and Kaytianne had a fish on. No surprise to me.
On her previous few trips out Kaytianne had been on a "high fin" kick so she was expecting to have to release this one.
Not so, a beautiful, big keeper!
Not only are women great at learning fishing techniques, they are lucky. Never under estimate the luck of a girl.
On the next pass the girl's lines crossed. I said, "Just let them play out and we will worry about it when we get a fish on."
At the end of the drift they reeled in and as Laura was un-wrapping her line from Kaytianne's line I see that line swimming away from the boat. "You got a fish on!" I yelled.
After a good fight around the boat several times we quickly let the beautifully colored, red sided buck go.
And of course there is social networking to be done after each fish!
The next hole was even better. Three passes and three fish. Two for Laura, one keeper.
And then released a hatchery fish that had already spawned out.
And then a rarity happened. One fish on two rods! This greedy little fish grabbed two baits! With two rods she was soon in the boat.
We only needed to fish in a couple more spots to find that last one.
The girls were limited by 11.
I'll take lady luck on the boat any day!
April 08, 2013
Yes, it's springer time
by David Johnson
Yes, it's springer time….
I ran my first springer trip today, against my better judgment. It's just a little too early for my liking.
But I had some guys who wanted to book it. And I thought, "Well if anything, we can fish for steelhead if the salmon fishing is slow."
We ground it out. We didn't see a net fly for hours. I only heard of 4 caught all morning.
Then, at 2 0'clock, on our "last pass" we saw two another boat get a fish. As we watched them rinse their net and put their fish in the box, it happened. We got bit.
Wait, wait….wait, wait, this thing was pecking and pecking. Everyone's on pins and needles watching the rod tip bounce, and bounce, and bounce. The fish was swimming along with the bait so I gave the motor a little gas to help tight things up and load the rod. It worked. The rod pinned down and it was "Fish On!"
After a pretty long fight I slid the Beckman under the beauty and Brian had a 22 pound hatchery springer in the boat. I quickly put on another leader and baited it while he tagged his fish. As he was getting pics his rod folded over again. Bill jumped up and took this one. All the way up from Arizona for this trip. First time, salmon fishing, first salmon, biggest fish ever.
Not long after, Bill's rod starts getting bit again. And so was mine. We had a double going! But my bite stopped and Bill's kept on going. Tip in the water, time to set it!
Minutes later, Bill is tagged out with his second biggest fish ever!
We got one more bite that didn't stick with it before we headed in.
That "last pass" lasted us 2 ½ hours and got us three fish.
On the way home, I saw two dogwood trees in bloom.
IT'S SPRINGER TIME!
April 06, 2013
Is It Springer Time Yet?
by David Johnson
They say that your sense of smell is your biggest memory trigger. So true.
A couple weeks ago I took my sled down to the river to make sure it would start after sitting since November. That first whiff of two stroke flooded my brain with salmon fishing memories.
But this was mid March. Way too early to be thinking of springers.
Last weekend I drove up to Oregon City to be at my parents for Easter Sunday. Stepping out of my truck on that warm, sunny morning, I was hit with the sweet smell of budding cottonwood trees. That sweet smell has springer written all over it.
But still early.
The other day there were swallows. A sure sign springers are on their way.
But it's early.
There has been a lot of talk on the internet, on the river and in the media about the slow springer bite. But as my friend Bob Singley and I were talking at Easter time, it's ONLY March.
Some people don't realize that in the last dozen years we have had record runs and some of the years we've had some outstanding water conditions. This year's Columbia run is down a couple hundred thousand fish from the "good old days" we've had in the last decade. And the Willamette run is down from the ten year average too.
Sure, springers are caught starting in February a few are always caught in January but nothing like they will be caught in mid April through mid May. And in recent years, even later May into June has been productive.
That is what I have observed in the 28 years that I've fished for them for.
And that is what ODFW stats will show you. Right around the 18th or so of April the catch will jump significantly. When I was a fish checker in the early 90's, I heard these same "slow fishing" reports from anglers all March and early April.
I've never seen good fishing before April 1. I've almost never seen good Willamette fishing before April 15. Some good days but not very consistent.
Do you think it's a coincidence that the seasons are open for so long every year and then right before it closes the bite picks up? They like to say they are giving opportunity. I'd rather have less opportunity and more quality fishing. It's kind of like "Work smarter, not harder." Fish smarter, not longer. It's not about "Paying your dues"
This is why I don't like to start too early for springers. It would be awesome to eat one of those early Chinook but unless you are lucky you are usually looking at days between fish.
It's much better to take my clients chasing steelhead when I can count on putting them into multi fish days, instead of hoping for a chance or two at a salmon.
Funny thing is I have to sometimes beg and plead with people who call up for fishing trips in this early season. Sometimes they don‘t know what's good for them. A long, cold day hoping for a bite or an action packed day of beautiful steelhead on light tackle. Did I mention the early weather on the Columbia and Willamette usually sucks pretty bad too?
I do lose some money turning down some early season salmon trips, but I hate boat "rides", and I love sending home clients smiling after a great day on the water.
For the next week or so it will be that transition time so I will be chasing some steel and dipping my toe in the pool to test the waters for springers, waiting for the herd to show.
No doubt you've heard this before but the old timers have always said this is the cue when the springers will show up on the Willamette. Dogwoods bloom in Mid April.
Cottonwoods, swallows, dogwoods and springers are all keys that interact with the weather and environment.
The old timers knew when to go, internet not required.
March 15, 2013
Summer vs. Winter
by David Johnson
It is transition time in our steelhead rivers. Summer run steelies start to trickle in, mixing with the winters and eventually the winters fade. Both can be caught now through April.
I've already heard of several summers caught from the Sandy and Siletz and I'm sure there have been some caught from the Clackamas too.
But how do you tell what you have?
Some of the key differences you can look for in an early summer are the very steel blue back, white belly and very clear fins. These clear fins will have a blue tint to them when the fish is still swimming in the water. Their body/belly will also feel solid. Many of the late winter steelhead, both hatchery and wild, will be as chrome bright as an early summer and could be hard to tell apart. If it is a hen, look at the vent to see if it is protruding. Its belly should feel loaded with eggs (because they will be) if it's a buck it may have just the very lightest tint of rose in the cheek.Early Summer Steel
Late winter (caught on coastal river April 28)
Now these features can sometimes be very slight and the only 100% way will be to clean it and see how undeveloped the eggs or sperm are.Size difference of the eggs in summers and winters
Another steelhead you may come across is a spawned out winter. These might have "trouty" colors or some may be hens that are bright. Tail erosion, a small concave line down the belly and a "snakey" appearance are tell tale signs. These spawned out fish should be released as they are usually poor on the table and will return another year if they get the chance. Notice that the belly is skinny and not full
It's an exciting time to be on our rivers, chasing a mixed bag.
March 10, 2013
Another Shellfish Saturday
by David Johnson
Another Shellfish Saturday
This Saturday one of our "adopted daughters" Katie came down to spend the weekend with us.
Saturday morning started off with Tesha making a nice breakfast of homemade breakfast biscuits, including fresh eggs from our domestic ducks. (A good sign of spring, the ducks are laying)
What a beautiful, sunny, tee shirt day at the coast. I'm good with the rainy coastal weather because when you get a day like this you really appreciate it.
We had some errands and chores to take care of and then after we did some target shooting.
Then it was time to get ready for Katie's first clamming adventure.
My friends Matt and Chris and Chris's son, Hunter met up with us and we hit the beach.
It took a little bit find a good spot with a few shows. I showed the ladies what we were looking for; I showed Katie how to stomp around to make them show and showed them how to use the clam guns.
Sometimes they showed really good and sometimes pretty faint.
Notice that faint one by my heal print.
I like to center my gun over the show with it tilted slightly towards the ocean. Usually you'll find you clam in the second plug of sand. If I feel it start to crunch I'll pull out and reposition slightly.
Pretty soon all were getting into clams.
Notice the plastic tube? I borrowed that one. Take note, if you are going to do some clamming the stainless steel gun is the way to go. It cuts through the sand so much better with less effort and less broken clams.
As it got closer to low slack the clams really started to show. You would be catching one and look around and see several more shows right next to you. It only took an hour and we had six limits as the sun was sinking lower to the ocean.
I bet if we had shown up a half hour later we would have gotten our limits in 30 minutes. We were seeing shows all over as we walked back to the trucks.
It was a beautiful sunset ending to the day as we drove home.
It takes way longer to clean 45 clams than it does to catch them.
We had a few other families come over for another one of our feasts.
As spring approaches the weather is going to be getting better and we will be having more good minus spring tides. Clamming is a great way to introduce young people (or any others for that matter) to the outdoors. Success is common and it's fairly cheap. You will want to have a minus tide and for best success a calm ocean so that the clams will show.
Be sure to consult the ODFW regs.
The Dep of Agriculture has a hot line to call to make sure shellfish are safe from red tide- 800 448 2474
March 06, 2013
A Crabby and Shellfish Weekend
by David Johnson
Last Saturday I joined a half dozen friends for a fun day of harvesting shellfish.
My morning started off rolling out of bead at about 9:30 and after kicking around for a little bit I met the guys down at the bay for low tide.
Steamers are remarkably easy to harvest. Simply take a rake out on the mud/sand flats and rake away. They are found one to three inches under the surface.
It probably only took 20 minutes for all six of us to have our 20 clam limit of steamers.
We took a break allowing for the bay to fill up with the incoming tide, baited our rings and pots and got onto the water.
There were six of us so we armed ourselves with the maximum amount of traps the law allowed-18.
It was a good thing too since crabbing wasn't great but after fishing through high slack we finished with 19 crabs.
Saturday night was feast night! A feast fit for a king. We cracked and ate crab almost until our fingers bleed. And the clams, best I've ever had. Dennis cooked up a pot full of clams in a broth made of coconut milk, beer, curry paste, garlic and onions.
Crabbing and clamming can provide some very good family time. It exposes them to the outdoors and can be pretty easy.
Soon the weather is going to be getting better and the all through spring we will be having some great tides.http://www.dfw.state.or.us/resources/fishing/crabbing_clamming.asp
March 01, 2013
Just a couple things I do for steelhead
by David Johnson
Here are a couple little things I do while steelhead fishing that I thought I would pass along…
This is how I store my cut eggs while fishing-
I like to use a plastic pencil box I pick up in the school supply section at Freddy's. It is water proof and it closes tightly so that it doesn't blow open when running in the sled.
I put a layer of paper towels in the bottom and if I the eggs are a little wet I'll layer them in paper towels the night before. You can add any of your favorite scents at this point too.
Fishing my Clear Drift Floats-
Even though a Clear Drift is great for stealth I started using them more for their great tracking ability caused by their tapered design.
Also for stealth I like to black out my lead with a permanent pen. I do the same to the line. This might not really matter to the fish but it gives me more confidence.
Between my float and swivel I like to add a small piece of black tubing that I pick up in the auto parts store. This gives a little cushion from the float rubbing on the knot and works better than a bead because a bead tends to slip over the knot.
February 23, 2013
Broodstock Steelhead- Some Quality Fish
by David Johnson
For years and years ODFW has planted our rivers with hatchery steelhead. For the most part these fish were fairly generic, usually with their brood/genetics originating from only a few sources. This can be a problem with genetics and fitness.
Another characteristic of these hatchery fish is the fact that they are early running fish, starting in November and tapering off by the end of January/early February.
The solution- Broodstock steelhead. The idea is to use wild fish from each specific watershed thus keeping the genes of our hatchery fish in-basin. The fish are caught by hook and line by anglers who have signed up with ODFW and dropped off at a collection point or hatchery.
This has done several things.
It has reduced the genetic impact incase these hatchery fish spawn with a wild fish since they are from in-basin parents.
Since the fish are harvested throughout the winter it has spread out the hatchery run and the chances of catching a fish to take home. We have caught broodstock hatchery fresh from as early as Nov 4th to as late as April 29th.
And it produces some very nice, quality fish.
And they are good biters. A study on the Nestucca showed that the broodstock fish were harvested at a higher rate than traditional hatchery fish. Maybe it's because they are using fish that were aggressive biters and were caught on hook and line instead of using fish that made it into the hatchery because they were the ones that never bit and got caught.
There are some groups out there, like the Native Fish Society, that are still against this program.
They are against the fact that some wild fish are removed from the spawning population. It's estimated that the remove of such a small amount of wild spawners would have little if any impact.
They are also against any form of hatchery fish, even one generation removed from being wild. But is there really a big difference? Maybe a little. The fish don't actually get to pick their mate. But really, it is better than using a stock from a river 100 miles away.
Here's the process-
After hooking a fish I will identify if it's a hatchery or wild fish. I carry two nets on board and if it's a wild fish I will use my small, soft net for less slime damage.
We will quickly get the hook out and transfer it to my live well.
I can hold two fish at a time, three for a short time.
The live well has a air pump and every once in a while I will add fresh water. The fact that our water temps are low also helps.
Once we are done with our float we will drive to our drop off point, net up the fish and transfer it to the holding pen.
ODFW personnel will transfer the fish to spawning.
It's a testament to how tough these fish are if a little bit of care is taken. That means a soft net and keeping them in the water as much as possible. These fish are netted a lot. Twice by me and five or six more times by ODFW while they are transported, spawned and then transported back to the river.
The steelhead are live spawned and then released back to the river, allowing them to return to the ocean and come back to do it all over again.Double Duce
ODFW named her Double Duce for all the "2s"
Notice the pink tag near the dorsal fin? After spawning each fish that is used in the program is tagged before being released back into the river. This tag had the # 2200 on it.
We caught this fish on 2-20-13.
Records show that she was first caught on 2- 22-11. She was spawned on March 22, 2011.
She was 6.9 pounds on her first spawning and 10 pounds this time. The biologist told me he thinks that it probably also returned and spawned in 2012 since there was only a three pound gain in weight during that time. They took scale samples and will read them later to see if this is the case.
Talk about a productive and tough fish!
February 07, 2013
Small Stream Days off
I love small stream fishing. I love everything about it. It brings me back to my roots of chasing steelhead and trout on the tribs of the Clackamas as a teen. I love exploring, the "I wonder what's around the next corner?" and I love the lack of other people.
Many times on my day off from guiding I will hit the bank fishing a small stream. I might go to a favorite or go exploring a small stream that I've never fished, just to see what's in there. It's not uncommon for me to drive 100 miles or more from Tillamook just to check out someplace new.
I don't always catch a pile of fish out of these small streams. One to three is about average.
On this particular day I was checking out a nice little creek off just about everyone's radar.
I stepped to the edge of the pool and casted in my bobber and jig. My rig swung into the tail-out and I reeled in, adjusted my bobber about half a foot deeper and made another cast. I repeated the process a couple more times until I found bottom, then I shortened up a foot, made three or four more casts and then moved on, satisfied I had covered the water.
I moved onto the next hole and repeated the same process. Except this time on the third adjustment/cast the float shot under. I reeled down quickly and set the hook into a mean buck with a bright red stripe. After landing and releasing him, I made a few more casts and then moved on.
After working my way up-stream and hitting three more good pieces of water, I worked my way back to the hole that produced. This time I already knew what depth to set my float at. On my first cast my float slipped under the surface and I set the hook into a nice little hen.
One thing I look for in choosing a stream is size. I really like one that has pools that I can cover in five to ten cast and move on. And usually I want one I can wade back and forth and cover a mile or more of stream.
My gear consists of a GLoomis 1141S, one of my favorite steelhead rods. If it's real brushy I'll opt for a rod that is a little shorter, the STR 1044S.
I will pack the pockets of my Simms jacket with a selection of jigs, a few bobbers, some split shot and a leader wallet with pre tied yarnies. If I am going to use bait, which I rarely do for steelhead on these little creeks, I will add a pack of hooks and a spool of leader.
A pair of pliers, scissors and polarized glasses finishes out my gear.
Showing up at the river without polarized glasses is like showing up naked. They are so important for this kind of fishing. Not just to spot fish but for seeing structure and avoiding snags. I have two pairs of polarized in my truck, one with gray lenses for bright sunlight and one with amber lenses for low light and cloudy weather.
The water is small and usually clear so the fish can be spooky. For stealth I try and approach from downstream and work my way up stream. This will alert less fish. I also wear dark or even camo clothes and hat. I don't know how many times I have seen someone decked out in neon bright clothes scratching their head about not catching fish.
Get out and explore one of these little gems, especially after a rain, and have fun seeing what's around the next corner.
January 23, 2013
Do you really want to know?
by David Johnson
In my guiding business almost every group of clients that are going on a trip with me asks, "How's fishing been?"
Do they really want to know though?
I mean, if it's good the expectations are huge and then if the fishing is slower then there's a let down. And of course fishing is almost never hot two days in a row. Hence the over used saying, "Should have been here yesterday."
And if the word is that the fishing is slow then you're set up for disappointment.
But don't fret, every day is different. It only takes one tide, a drop in water level, a rise in temperature or a smaller crowd and the fishing could be lights out.
I think if I was going on a guided trip I would just wait and see.
Maybe some better questions would be "How has the season been?", "What can we expect?" Or "What has been an average day?"
I think it's important to focus on having a good day on the water, having fun, maybe learn a little something and catch some fish.
January 15, 2013
Mid January King
by David Johnson
For the last few weeks I've been hearing of a few "winter chinook" being caught around the north Oregon coast.
This week we were fortunate to catch our own. Aaron's bobber sucked under and then he had his hands full trying to keep his 8# leader intact as this beast tore up the hole. A chrome bright hen fresh in from the ocean, sea lice included.
On the coast it's not open to keeping Chinook between December 31 and April 1 so back she went. That's ok though, truly a trophy to catch one and fun when you are not expecting it. If you are lucky enough to catch one of these fish be gentle, there isn't a lot of them.
Historically Chinook have entered a lot of the coastal rivers every month of the year, with spring, summer, fall and winter runs overlapping but with modern development many of these runs have been lost but there are still a few around.
The latest we've caught winter Chinook was February 28 and friend of mine caught a bronzed buck that actually had sea lice during one low water March 15.
January 09, 2013
Something to do for high water
by David Johnson
As is typical with December and January on the Oregon coast we have been getting a lot of rain. Enough to drain the bank account down and make me fat and lazy. Trips have been thin but there is fishing to be had. It might not be the kind of fishing I can take clients out for but there is fishing.
When the waters are high there are some alternatives, especially for bank fishing.Small streams-
Small streams clear fast and fortunately, many of the hatcheries are located on small streams. Deadline fisheries at these hatcheries can be combat so be prepared for that.
Small streams are also a source of clear water flowing into bigger rivers. Kicking back with a chair and camp fire while plunking a spin glo with or without bait has long been a popular way of fishing creek mouths during high water. Drift fishing and bobber fishing are also viable techniques, depending on water speed and conditions. Concentrate on that current seem when clear and dirty water meet. Growing up, friends and I caught a lot of fish drift fishing the current seem at the mouth of Clear Cr on the Clackamas River after school.
And along the same lines of small streams clearing fastest, look to the upper reaches of the big rivers, where they are the size of small streams. Remember the old saying, "When the water is high fish high". There might not be as many fish in the upper reaches and they may or may not be all bright, but at least there's fishable water up there.
Lastly, there are the lakes. ODFW plants many of the coastal lakes with surplus hatchery steelhead. Constant clear water and no crowds will great you at these lakes. Contact the local ODFW office for an up-dated planting schedule.
Since you won't have any current you're best approach would be with a bobber and jig or sand shrimp. Cast it out and let it settle, then every once in a while give it a little twitch and then pick up the slack. Adjust the depth until you find the level the fish are running at, anywhere from 3 to 10 feet down.
You can also get them casting spinners or stripping a fly.
One thing about catching a lake bound steelhead is you don't have to tag them or need a tag.
December 21, 2012
Covering all the bases for steelhead
by David Johnson
I recently put on a seminar at Fishermen's Marine. It was a good seminar with a turnout of about 55 people. I brought in some rods and highlighted the techniques that I use for winter steelhead, sidedrifting, bobber/jig, float and bait (bobber doggin), drift fishing.
With all the rain here on the coast I've only gotten on the water twice since the seminar and by using these various techniques we got some nice fish in the boat. Out of the seven fish we got, we caught 2 drift fishing, 3 on bobber/jig and 2 on bobber/bait.
I usually carry and use all these sets of rods and techniques in a given day on the water, unless the water is fairly high, than we mostly side drift.
Fishing is like golfing, you can't play a game of golf with one club just like you can't use one rod for all techniques.
One of the biggest keys to successful steelheading is reading water.
Reading water is a two part process. First you have to read the water and learn where the fish are and second you have to be able to look at a piece of water and determine what it will take to catch the fish in it. Water speed and depth are the biggest factors followed by the bottom contour.
This two part process of water reading is best learned by experience. Nothing beats time on the water, the more the better. This winter get out as much as you can and be observant of where fish are caught or not caught. Remember what you see, even take notes if you have to. Note the water level, stream flow, water color and temperature. After a while you will be able to dial it in.
A lot of people have booked trips with me and walked away much better fishermen. They see the kind of water I'm looking at and they get hands on instruction to the techniques we use.
December 16, 2012
Smokin Good Christmas Presents
by David Johnson
It's mid December now and with the Chinook tapering off and the steelhead trickling in I finally got some time off for holiday/family stuff as well as do a little fishing for myself.
I was able to put a couple Chinook and a couple steelhead on my tag.
My way of doing a little Christmas shopping. Is there a better Christmas goody/gift than some fresh smoked fish?
Yesterday I ran a batch of Chinook and steelhead through the smoker.
When I was a kid we had a Little Chief Smoker and my dad's recipe was to alternate layers fish between layers of rock salt in a large bowl then fill it with water. After 45 minutes to an hour we rinsed them off and placed onto the smoker racks with a sprinkle of brown sugar. Then into the smoker.
I went quite a few years without a smoker of my own and during that time I had an arrangement with a retired gentleman who would smoke my fish for me in exchange for half.
Bill passed away a few years back so I had to start doing it on my own. I asked for a smoker for Christmas and started my career of fish smoking.
The recipe I have been using is the one I got from Togiak River Lodge three summers ago while I was up there fishing. It is easy and turns out a great product.
It's a simple dry rub:
4 cups brown sugar, one cup non-iodized salt and a dash of garlic powder.
I will cut my fish into pieces and roll them in the dry mix and place into zip-lock bags for two to three days in the fridge.
After their stay in the fridge I will take them out. Some people say don't rinse off the brine, others say to rinse. For me the verdict is still out. I've tried both ways and I'm not sure if it has mattered. Some of the pieces look a little slimy so I will give them a very quick rinse under cold tap water and then place them on the smoker racks skin side down. Make sure they are not touching.
I will let them sit for about 20 minutes to form a glaze. At this point I will either sprinkle a little more brown sugar on the pieces or I will drizzle some honey over each piece. Then I will give them a good sprinkle of some Johnny's "Jamaica Me Crazy" seasoned pepper.
The Native Americans used alder for smoking their salmon so I see no reason not to stick to that tradition. I will also add some apple wood.
About five hours at 140 to 150 degrees and it's hard to not eat it all right off the racks before it gets into the house.
Besides the stuff I ate right away, Tesha formed a ball of cream cheese and then encrusted it with crumbled smoked salmon and served it on a platter with crackers for her works Christmas party. The rest of the fish will be either dropped off at friend's houses or I'll wrap with saran wrap and then vacuum seal and freeze for later.
December 06, 2012
What I would do this weekend
by David Johnson
With the week of high water we've had and mid December approaching this weekend is perfect timing to ambush some early run hatchery steelhead.
If I was going to go steelhead fishing this weekend this is what I would do…
I would focus on one of the hatchery streams. Not only will most of the hatcheries be getting early run "brats" but usually they are smaller streams that clear up the quickest. And I would focus on fishing near the hatchery. High water is perfect for deadline fisheries since hatchery fish have a tendency to fly right up stream to the hatchery, so this is where I would want to be.
The higher flows are probably going to dictate drift fishing. I would carry a good selection of slinkies to match any kind of flow I might come across. I would have an assortment of corkies in pink, red, orange, chartreuse and combinations of these. And I'd throw in a few odd ball colors to give the heavily pressured fish something different to look at. I would have yarn to contrast the corky I'm using as well as have some white yarn. Some eggs and prawn tails would round out my arsenal.
When I'm drift fishing I rely on my trusty STR 1084C IMX GLoomis with Curado reel. For steelhead drift fishing I like to run 10# Maxima Ultra Green main line and leader.
Getting on the water early is important so getting up early and drinking a lot of coffee is a must because of course I'll be staying up late the night before. It just wouldn't be fishing with more than four or five hours of sleep.
Fishing one of these streams is usually combat fishing. I like the social aspect of fishing in a line up shoulder to shoulder but I can only do it for so long. Usually by 10:00 I'm ready to get out of there and go have breakfast. Besides, most of the fish that are usually caught from these spots are caught from daylight to then anyway.
If I had a day off to fish for a morning now through the middle of January this is probably what I would do.
Limit of hatchery steelies I caught last Jan 1st
November 27, 2012
Early Steelhead Time
It's pushing into time for winter steelhead. The traditional kick-off of for the winter steelhead season has always been Thanksgiving but every year there are always some caught before then.
My first ever steelhead was caught on a Clackamas River tributary the weekend before Thanksgiving.
So far this year I've heard of a few, seen one on the bank.
We usually catch our first one in mid November. The earliest we've caught on my boat has been November 4th and the latest around December 10th. Several times we've gotten our first one on Nov 11th and Dec 1st a couple times.
I know some of you may have already caught one this year. Or you are about to. With all this high water we've been getting there should be more early winters around.
If you are looking to get into an early winter concentrate on one of the early hatchery streams that are planted with early run winter steelhead. Three Rivers, NF Nehalem and Big Creek are good choices, especially after a lot of rain. The Wilson, Kilchis and Nestucca will also get some early steelhead.
Head over to my Facebook Page ( http://www.facebook.com/pages/David-Johnsons-Guide-Service/305317766175297
) and post a picture of your first winter steelhead of this season. For those who do you will be intered into a random drawing for a prize pack of winter steelhead tackle. Contest runs from November 12th to December 20th.
November 19, 2012
A Different Kind Of Double
by David Johnson
Every season we get several doubles, but recently we had a different kind of double.
We were back bouncing a coastal stream when I started to get bit. I said, "I'm getting a bite!" Within seconds of me saying it, the client to my left said he was getting a bite too.
We were getting a double!
As the fish chomped on my bait I talked John through his bite. "Wait, wait, wait..click your reel over..OK set ‘em"
At the same time, my fish was chewing on my bait and swimming forward with it. I reeled down on it until my rod was loaded and stuck it too.
Right off as soon as we were both hooked up it looked like our lines were going to the same fish and I knew what was going down.
While we were back bouncing our lines were only three or four feet away from each other and this greedy fish wanted both our baits.
The ironic thing about this whole scenario was that a few hours earlier John had asked me if we had ever caught one fish on two rods. I told him yes, we have. I've had it happen for Chinook once on the Clackamas, once on the Sandy, once on the Skeena and once on the Wilson. Also had it happen once with a silver at Astoria and at least three times while sidedrifting for winter steelhead.
After our two rods for one fish rodeo, I turned to John and told him he should have asked if we caught any 50 pounders….
November 12, 2012
The cost of bait
by David Johnson
The cost of bait.
After going through four cases of herring this fall, I was forced to purchase packs of herring from the marina for $8 per eight pack.
You know how when you are overly tired everything seems funny? We were at that point. One day after fishing I was talking with guide Pat Able and the topic of herring came up. He was having to buy the same bait.
We started joking that every bait costs a dollar.
He would say, "every time my client shakes his sea weed off to hard and looses their bait it costs me a dollar."
I followed with, "Every time a sea gull steels the bait, it costs a dollar."
Pat, "Every time they step on the bait…there's a dollar."
Me, "Every time they drag the bottom and a crab eats the bait…there's a dollar."
It was all just fun and joking. We really don't mind burning through bait. (Sort of :)
Bait is my second biggest expense, following gas. But I don't mind. Those who burn through bait and use the freshest will catch more fish.
The more bait you use, the more fish you will catch, period.
Changing out a herring that has lost its shine, scales, scent or spin, replacing a bait wrap on a plug or putting on fresh eggs or shrimp often will increase your odds.
And speaking of upping your fish catching odds with bait, make sure you use the best bait you can get your hands on and take care of it. Keep it cold, store it in coolers with blue ice packs or even use dry ice if you have to. Keep your eggs out of the sun and don't let the rain get in them.
You put in a lot of effort and spend a lot of money for a successful fishing trip, don't short yourself by trying to save a few bucks on bait.
October 28, 2012
Fishin' and Food
by David Johnson
With fall Chinook season in full swing and winter steelhead right around the corner on the Tillamook area streams and my other favorite pastime eating I thought I'd share some of my favorite places to eat around Tillamook before and after a day of steelhead fishing. Not only do I like good food but I like to get a good deal. You will find both at these places.
The West side of Highway 101 in Tillamook has a number of coffee stands and food trailers along it. All these have access for vehicles with trailers.
If you are looking for a fast, inexpensive and very good breakfast on the way to the river stop at Lindsey's Lattés in the north end of Tillamook right on highway 101 and join the fishermen and loggers who line up here in the morning. Get some good coffee and some very filling and tasty breakfast sandwiches and burritos in the $3 range. I like the sandwich made on an everything bagel with sausage and egg. And for that much needed shot of caffeine on the way home stop and order a chocolate espresso milk shake, one of my favorites. Lindsey's breakfasts beat any fast food hands down for price and quality.
If you are passing through Garibaldi don't pass by Bay Front Bakery. All I can say is they are the best donuts anywhere I have ever been to. And they also have lunches to go. For me, their donuts set the standard for all others. I've grabbed donuts from there before fishing for over 25 years.
For a sit down breakfast on the way into Tillamook on Highway 6 Alice's at about mile 9 has some great food and some great history. Or stop there for burgers on the way home too.
Lyn's Chinese restaurant is very reasonable and worth stopping at. Easy boat parking too.
In the parking lot of Lyn's there is a van that sells authentic Mexican food. Tacos La Providencia. They are the best Mexican food in town!
Do you want a great pizza? Main Street Pizza on the east side of 101 is your place. They have a great salad bar too.
If you are going to be over crabbing on Netarts Bay have lunch at The Schooner. Located right across the street from the boat ramp. Get the wings, you won't be disappointed.
Eat, sleep and fish. What else is there?
October 15, 2012
Do We Really Need The Rain?
by David Johnson
Do We Really Need the Rain?
Do we really need the rain to improve the fishing? I wish I had $10 every time I've heard or read someone says, "Fishing is slow, we need some rain."
Folks, we don't.
It's almost an old wives tale. But any skilled estuary/bay/tidewater fisherman will tell you we need dry weather for better fishing
Sure, if you are a river fishermen the rain will get fish moving in. Sometimes the dark or hatchery fish will move in just on the drop in barometer. But for bay and tidewater fishing, it is the worst thing that can happen. The longer it's dry, the more fish will be a captive audience. That's why this has been one of the best Septembers/early Octobers I've had in a while.
One has to know the physiology of fall Chinook. Yes, their migration will be spurred on by rain. But to a huge extent their maturity is dictated by photoperiods (length of day light). They enter the bays and estuaries according to this calendar. They will enter the bay when they are ready and even enter the river when they are ready.
I really wish that these weather fronts would have held off a couple more weeks.
Tell me, has this rain really helped your estuary fishing?
October 13, 2012
by David Johnson
I just finished a marathon of fishing 16 out of the last 17 days. I usually only got five hours of sleep per night. There are very few people I know who can keep up with me, many are spent after a couple days.
I've always tried to fish six days in a row and take off the seventh for rest but in the last few years , because of the economy and the lean Januaries we've had I've broken that and gone on extended fishing binges.
People ask me how I do it. In short. Passion, adrenaline and caffeine.
After about five days auto pilot kicks in and I just run on routine.
I do get really tired and of course things start going wrong, and the memory starts failing.
And it doesn't help that I'm a night person. I would much rather sleep until 10:30 in the morning and stay up ‘till mid night. It's just my natural clock. Once I make it past 9 p.m. I'm wide awake. And unfortunately, with household chores and fishing chores, my work doesn't end until after 9 most nights. Case in point, its 10:30 and I'm sitting at my computer and I have to get up at four in the morning.
One evening I was getting stuff ready and I went into the house. When I went out a little later to hook the boat up the door was open and the light was looking dim. So I left the truck running to charge the battery….and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning I couldn't believe I'd forgotten to turn it off and left it running all night.
If I hadn't left it running all night I wouldn't have run out on the way home at the end of the day…
How many of you have forgotten to put the plug in? A couple weeks ago I did. It was the first time in over ten years. I was so tired.
And I get so tired I have to be moving or I fall asleep. I do stuff like nodding off waiting in the line at the gas station.
As the string of fishing days goes on I not only have to set three alarms, four minutes apart, but I have to set them to start going off about ten minutes earlier every morning because a start to move slower and slower each day.
How tired do you get?
October 08, 2012
Trade Steak for Crab?
by David Johnson
Trade Steak for Crab?
Last year I was told by some guys that were getting some limits of crab that they were using beef scraps for bait. I never thought a lot about it except for it was interesting.
Then this year one of my friends was returning to the dock after a full morning of crabbing with only four keepers to show for it. There was another boat at the ramp that had limits. The limiting boat had been using T BONE STEAKS for bait!
The next trip out his pots were baited with steak, courtesy of the 50% bin in the meat department of his supper marked. And he limited with 36 huge crabs.
Since then I've told another friend who works in the whole sale meat business and he has tried beef to with the same results, killed the crab.
Maybe it's the blood or the fat, I don't know. But beef works and works well.
September 27, 2012
I never liked eating crab
by David Johnson
I never liked eating Dungenuss crab.
Over the years I've tried it several times, under several occasions, and never like it. If I went crabbing I used to give away what I caught.
Then last October I was hanging out by the public fish cleaning station in Garibaldi, waiting to meet a friend who was going to give me a couple tuna when he got in. There was a couple of guys cleaning and cooking crab that recognized me and offered some to me. "No thanks, I don't care for crab." I told them.
"Here, try these. We cleaned them before cooking and everyone who has said they didn't like crab and tried these has liked them."
They were right. "Not bad."
A week later I had a couple clients who asked if we could pull up some crab pots that some of their buddies had out, "After they catch their limits." I told them sure, thinking "yea right, after four guys limit on crab."
A couple hours later, we got a call that said friends had limited on crab and were heading in. They left three pots out us.
By 9:00 my clients had their limit of Chinook and silvers, plus silver for me. We swung into Crab Harbor and pulled those three pots- three limits of crab too! Back to the dock @ 9:45 with limits.
These guys also told me to clean the crab before cooking. And one step farther, steam them instead of boiling, with some cut up limes.
I took my crab limit home, called up some good friends, and had a feast of steamed crab.
From then on, I have loved crab!
It makes sense. The boiling water won't wash away the flavor and the meat isn't boiled in the crab guts.
Here's what I do.
To clean them I hold the live crab by its legs and forcefully hit it on the edge of a counter or brick. The back should pop off and the crab should split in half. Pull off the gills that are still attached and give it shake to get rid of any other goo.
I place them in a basket in my crab cooker above a few inches of boiling, steaming water. I put the sliced limes, and some cloves of garlic, in the basket with the crab halves and let them steam for around 18 minutes. Serve with melted garlic butter.
September 19, 2012
I Had To Cut Their Line
by David Johnson
I had to cut their lines
It can happen at any time, but usually it's on a Friday or weekend. It is a combination of more boats and less skilled anglers.
And I can almost always see it coming before it happens. We have a hot fish on, and most of these fall pigs are hot, and no matter how fast I can gun it that fish will head for another boat. I usually give them a heads up, "Hey, we have a fish on here!" "He's headed your way!"
Last Saturday this happened, twice! Usually the outcome isn't so good and the fish is lost. Both these times we got miracle fish and landed them.
I am by no means ever out there to ruin someones time on the water, but if we ever get a fish tangled with your line don't be surprised if I have to cut it. I don't want to, but it is the best way to make sure we land that fish. And if my line ever gets on your fish, I would expect you to cut it the same. I want everyone out there to land their fish.
It only takes a minute to reel in and clear the area, and then you can get right back in and fishing. Probably had to check for sea weed anyway. And reeling in and putting it back out is a lot better than the alternative. Loosing gear, or worse yet, loosing someone's fish.
Most people out on the water know this is the protocol. But on the weekends, not so much. Two of the main reasons someone has tangled on our fish are because they either didn't want to reel in, not thinking it was that close or could move that fast or they try to just drive out of the way without reeling in.
Nothing good can come from trying to drive out of the way. The lines left in the water will simply rise higher in the water column and have an even a bigger chance of tangling.
Each of our tangled fish last week was tangled because of these two reasons.
Fortunately by keeping calm and clipping lines we were able to land our fish.
The first fish was heading right at another boat, a sled with five guys in it. I gave them a shout out we had a fish on. Then another. They didn't make a move to reel in yet so I gave another "it's heading right for you guys!" Too late. All five of their lines wrapped up in a huge ball around our line. When it looked hopeless at untangling I started cutting. When everything was cleared, all was slack. It appeared all was lost but I never believe a fish is gone until I see the bare hooks. I said, "keep reeling, something might still be there." As the line tightened I could tell there was. Fish on again!
A few hours later I finally crossed paths with them and handed off all their flashers, hooks and lead.
The second fish of ours tangled with a couple guys who saw us with a fish on, saw it heading their way, but just tried to drive away from us. The result, of course, was a hopeless tangle. I cut them off quickly and landed our fish.
Their gear was lost so after getting our fish, I tracked them down and gave them two new flashers and two 12 ounce leads to replace the lost ones.
If someone does get wrapped up in your fish, being calm is the first and most important step. And never give up.
September 05, 2012
by David Johnson
Another successful Astoria/Buoy 10 season for the books! Some of the best, most consistent Chinook fishing in the country.
For the past month every one of my clients went home with a limit of chinook except for twice.
This year's coho run was pretty disappointing, we never caught more than three clipped silvers in a day. What may not be realized is that in the last few years the coho releases have been cut in half of what they once were.
Some of the coho we did get where fatties though
Most of my days were filled with long time clients and corporate groups that fill my dates every year, months in advance. I did have the pleasure of some new clients as well.
The Sanchez Family goes twice a year with me, once for springers and once for B10, some of my most favorite trips of the year.
It amazes me how many people call just a week or two before thinking they can get a spot on the boat. We are coming into my fall season and the dates I have available are already starting to fill up so don't miss out on booking your date.
Part of my success this year came from carrying two sets of rods, one for fishing lead and one for fishing divers. As the conditions change we would just unclip out flasher/leader from the diver and snap it onto the lead spreader. This year we did slightly better using divers than we did running lead.
It was fun matching my diver and flasher colors to the water color and available light.
...and what is one of the all time best spinner colors? Red/white! Red/white Shortbus anyone? A killer in the mornings.
Some interesting politics involved with this fishery you might not know- Chinook fishing closed below T. Point after September 3rd. Did you know that if we would have just switched to fin-clip-only starting September 2nd it would have never closed? Just one day! That's it. But back in February when seasons were set the Ilwaco Charter Association said, "No, we would rather not fish than have a marked/select fishery." For some reason they have political pressure beyond us.
I personally think it would be better to keep it open for fin-clip than not at all, especiall since about 80% of the fish we caught were clipped.
What's next? All this great fishing is going to move up river as well as the start of COASTAL FALL CHINOOK
August 20, 2012
Buoy 10 Alternatives
by David Johnson
The Buoy 10/Astoria season is in full swing now. It IS one of the most popular and most productive salmon fisheries on the west coast. WORLD CLASS Chinook fishing. Where else can you have double digit days of Chinook on a regular basis? These plentiful and aggressive fish can make any angler a hero. Probably why it is so popular.
I've been guiding here for 14 years. But it's not my favorite. Sure, we catch hundreds of fish per season but I'm not a fan of the crowds, the chaos at the boat ramp, the rough water, "that guy" who leaves his lights on at the ramp, the herd mentality of the masses of boats. The local government isn't very welcoming, nickel and diming us with charges.
Catching tons of fish is fun, but I kind of like a fishery with a little more challenge. It's a lot more satisfying to catch five or six kings from a small river or bay than a dozen out here. And
Alas, I have to fish here. I make a good chunk of my yearly income hear. Catching all these fish is very popular.
But this time of year there are alternatives to fishing Buoy 10. From early August through early September there are many Oregon coast estuaries that are known to get an early run of fall Chinook. Of course the fish are not as plentiful as the Columbia run but that's the beauty of it, they don't get the crowds either. A lot of times they are described as "mom and pop" fisheries.
No long lines at the boat ramp where people just trickle in. And you can almost always find your own piece of water without combat fishing.
The estuaries that are most notably known for early kings and a relaxed environment are the Siletz, Nehalem, Coquille and Coos Bay.
Trolling is the number one technique used, either herring or spinners. It covers water, putting your gear in front of more fish.
Rig with a five to six foot leader and an 18 to 24 inch dropper to your lead. Bring along a selection of three to six ounces of lead. Every year flashers have gotten more and more popular. Since I jumped on the "Short Bus" I've seen an increase in my catches. A flasher can be a hassle if the weeds are bad so if they are, I usually run a naked herring rig. Adding a "fire cracker" rig to your herring is worth some attention too. A fire cracker rig consists of ten or twelve beads and a plastic clevis with a spinner blade slid down your leader above your herring. This is very, very popular on the Rouge Bay.
Anchor fishing with a bait wrapped Kwikfish or Flatfish is second in popularity. The days with larger tide swings are going to be best; they will give your plug good action. A T50 Flatfish or K15 Kwikfish are best sizes, not too small, not too big. Five foot leaders and a 20- 24 inch leader will get the job done.
The Rouge and Umpqua River mouths also have great August and early September fisheries but you will find them a little more crowded than the above mentioned estuaries. Trolling herring or anchovies, many times with a firecracker rig, are most practiced.
All these fisheries I've mentioned above are the most popular but almost every river/bay mouth on the coast will have a little mini fishery as early fish or ocean "feeders" dip in on the tide to feed on baitfish. These fisheries are at their mouths in August and September. They are mostly local fisheries and can only handle small groups of boats. The beauty of these are the small amounts of boats so if you find a good bite, keep it under your hat or the bite will get killed.
These small river mouth fisheries often take place where there are no jetties, making them quite dangerous at times and not for the faint of heart. Have a boat that can handle it, avoid strong out going tides and always keep an eye on the ocean.
You won't go wrong with fishing a cut plug herring on a dropper. And use enough weight to keep it under your boat and out of other's lines.
One more alternative fishery for August and September is the boat ramp hole at Pacific City (known locally as PC) When there is a hot bite it can get shoulder to shoulder but that usually happens a little later into the fall. It's a decent place for a bank bound angler to have a chance at an early king that might be nosing in.
So if you are tired of the crowds, or just want a relaxing place to target some early running Chinooks, give one of these little places a try. Labor Day is coming up, pack up the family and give one of these lesser fished fisheries a try.
August 16, 2012
by David Johnson
I started my Astoria season this week and again this year it seems to be a good bait bite. When you can dial in on what and where these fish are they a great biters.
Part of putting the hurt on a lot of Chinook is having good quality bait.
For years and years I have always used frozen herring in Astoria but with a shortage of frozen herring the last few years I have been using fresh bait. I still do brine it with my 11 herbs and spices (and lots of rock salt)
One of the best herring on the market is Puget Sound brand herring. One thing that makes them stand out is the fact that they are starved.
Starving makes for a firm bait since the fish use up their fat reserves and actually start to absorb their scales, setting them in and keeping them from flaking off. (Think ocean coho, they are feeding and when you put one in the boat scales fly off everywhere. A river caught coho has quit feeding and has tough skin with no scale loss)
I've been getting my Puget Sound Herring right at the Hammond Boat ramp at Sturgeon Paul's. Paul's has been driving up and personally picking up the Puget Sound's to assure a fresh supply.
It's so convenient. I just call in the day before (503-861-2110), or better yet, just order the next day's bait while I pick up my morning's bait. If you need to order bait from them make sure you do it before 3:30 p.m. so they can put together their orders.
August 11, 2012
Great Summer Steelhead
by David Johnson
Last week was the end of my Columbia River summer steelhead season for 2012. What a great time!
This steelhead fishery is so amazing, so productive and so UNDER utilized. People just don't know what they are missing!
This past July broke an all time record for number of Columbia summer steelhead caught.http://nwsportsmanmag.com/2012/08/10/crushed-it-new-steelhead-handle-record-on-lower-columbia/
been fun dialing it in, by playing with scents and colors under different water conditions (temperature, water color and lighting) almost every day we caught as many or almost as many fish as all the other boats around us combined. With days of hooking double digits have been the norm.
Of all the fish we caught we averaged about 50% hatchery, that's usually typical. Even though the wild fish are outnumbered they are more aggressive and therefore we catch a lot of them.
I had more kids than normal out this summer, and why not, the weather is as great as the fishing and anchor fishing is very easy and laid back without being too technical.
If you didn't get out and bend some rods you should have. But don't worry, they will still be running through August. I will just be salmon fishing in Astoria instead.
As the hotter weather has set in you should focus on cooler water tribs that the steelhead will pull into, especially in the Gorge since there have been tens of thousands over the dam.
July 30, 2012
by David Johnson
Next time I go tuna fishing I'm thinking of getting a tee shirt printed up.
Last weekend I got a text from my friend Andy, "Did you see the ocean forecast?" "Want to do a tuna run?"
After a few phone calls I texted back that we (my buddy Chris and I) were in.
We crossed a supper flat bar at daylight and we were trolling X-Raps in less than an hour with a good water temp but no blue water to be seen.
Within an hour Chris had his first ever tuna.
At 12:30 we were on our way in with 12 fish in our coolers.
Andy had was running late, he had to be home by 4 and it was 1:30 by the time we got out of the ramp so we loaded the fish into my truck and parted ways, leaving Chris and I with all the fish to cark.
At the cleaning station it was business as usual. We start working on the fish and an endless stream of people start coming by.
And it's the same every time, we are bombarded with questions. I hear the same ones every time I even mention tuna fishing. The number one question: How far out were you? I've been guilty of asking this question myself. Maybe it's wonder at how far we can expand our horizons. It's kind of thrilling to think about, a little brush with danger.
Followed by, how many? Can I have the carcasses? Can you still see land from out there?
I finally got to the point that when someone walked up we would just say, "25 miles, 12 fish and we are keeping the crab bait."
Next time I'm thinking of getting a tee shirt printed up just for fun. It will say on the back, "30 miles, we can see land from there and we are keeping the crab bait."
July 25, 2012
Treat them good, in the water and in the fish box
by David Johnson
Keep ‘Em Cool-
Obviously we are fishing in the summer for these fish so to insure some quality table fair keep your catch cold.
I see way too many people just hang a fish on a rope over the side of the boat or toss them into the fish box. These magnificent fish deserve better than that and if you will take care of them you will have a meal fit for a king.
I like to bleed out my fish in the fish box for about ten minutes and then transfer them into a cooler with lots of ice. If it's going to be especially hot out I'll also sprinkle some rock salt on/in some of the crushed ice. This will drop the temp even lower and can actually freeze the fish a little. When you clean a fish and it is icy cold on the inside you know it will be of good quality. Start with a good quality fish and end with a good quality meal.
Treat Them Good-
If you are fishing on the Columbia for steelhead you can expect to catch some wild fish that need to be released. And since the water is warm we also have to treat the fish well and take care of them. The increased water temperatures can cause stress and weekend immune systems.
Here are some great ways to ensure the health of the fish you release:
1) Use a soft net to cut down on scale and slime loss. Or don't even net them at all.
2) Use heavier line. The Columbia isn't overly clear and the fish are not line shy. By using heavy line/leader you will be able to land a fish more quickly before it is too exhausted. Heavy leader will also allow you to grab the leader for release without a net.
3) Keep them in the water as much as you can.
4) Don't touch them with a dry hand. A dry hand can remove valuable slime.
5) Float back off anchor when you hook up. This will help land a fish quicker, and keep the fish from being too stressed. Plus you will land more fish since they won't have the current as an advantage. If you are drifting then fish won't get pinned to the back of the net.
July 16, 2012
Is it time to go C&R on sturgeon?
by David Johnson
Is it time to go C&R on sturgeon?
Estuary sturgeon fishing can be a blast! They are hard fighting, fat, quality fish that will jump and make runs of up to 100 yards. And even the "shakers" are quality fish, usually running 10 to 20 pounds and just under legal size. For those who say sturgeon don't fight, I say they haven't fished for them in shallow water with light tackle.
I like to target these fish in the shallows; 3 to 12 foot of water is average. You can find a lot of fish in the deep water but they are not always feeding. If they are in the shallows they are there for one reason, they are feeding!
I started fishing estuary sturgeon in the late 90's as the second half of salmon/sturgeon combo trips. In the mid 2000's I started targeting them for full day trips during June and July. These trips got quite popular as we had tremendous success. We usually caught dozens of fish a day and it was common to limit on every trip.
But now, instead of catching dozens of fish and limiting out every day, we now have to work for them. We still get some limits, but not always. On some days we don't catch more than half a dozen fish total.
We started to see the numbers of sturgeon decline about six years ago.
There have been several theories for the slower sturgeon fishing: Water too cold, too high/too much fresh water, too many anchovies, the anchovies have not moved into the river yet. I'm sure some of these things have been affecting the bite but I believe a bigger reason is simply the lack of fish.
There just aren't as many sturgeon as there used to be. Have we loved them to death like so many other fisheries?
They have been heavily pressured by commercial and sport fishermen as well as a scary fact; sea lions have been killing an alarming amount of sturgeon, many of which are spawning age females.
I've seen firsthand all the dead fish at the cleaning stations and processors and knowing that these fish grow slowly I began to worry.
I think we've been keeping too many.
And the sea lions have been killing way too many breeders. Biologists in Oregon are estimating that the fur bags killed over 6,600 sturgeon last year alone and they are expecting that number will go over 10,000 by 2014.
The sick thing is, because sturgeon aren't endangered they are not being protected from the sea lions. What's it going to take before they are gone?
Personally, I haven't kept a sturgeon for myself for four years. And for the past two years I haven't really promoted sturgeon trips, except to bring kids out. I only did three trips this past June, all with kids.
I've tried to promote catch and release in the estuary but it's been an up-hill battle. People want to take meat home. I can't blame them, sturgeon are excellent table fare, they've paid a lot of good money for a fishing trip and it's legal to keep one per person.
But people are really missing the boat.
Catch and release sturgeon fishing in the estuary can be world-class, white hot, off the hook fishing. Better action than I've ever seen while it's a keeper season.
The very few people I have taken C&R sturgeon fishing have always had a blast and have never been disappointed.
Why? Very little bait in the water for one, not to mention the fish aren't getting "sore lipped". It's not un-common to only have two or three trailers in the parking lot when if it was open there would be 50 or more.
…if clients only knew, or would listen…they could experience some of the best fishing the Columbia has to offer.
And if it was catch and release all the time…I can only imagine the fishery we could have.
There are more sustainable fish to eat and the Columbia River white sturgeon is too important to be caught only once, let's do more C&R or at least reduce our harvest.There are cuts on the horizon.
Biologists are considering ways to cut back on the harvest. Too bad the sports fisherman is going to take the brunt of the cuts.
If you would like to take part in the decision making of our sturgeon seasons there are half a dozen meetings around the region.
Dates and locations of the six public meetings are:
July 17 - Portland: Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel, 8235 N.E. Airport Way, 6:30-8:30 p.m. (Contact: 360-906-6700)
July 18 - Longview: Cowlitz PUD, 961 12th Ave., 6:30-8:30 p.m. (Contact: 360-906-6700)
July 19 - Astoria: The Loft at the Red Building, 20 Basin Street, 6-8 p.m. (Contact: 360-906-6700)
July 24 - Raymond: Elks Lodge #1292, 326 Third St., 6-8 p.m. (Contact: 360-249-4628)
July 26 - Mill Creek: 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., 6-8 p.m. (Contact: 425-775-1311)
July 31 - Montesano: City Hall, 112 N. Main St., 6-8 p.m. (Contact: 360-249-4628)What are your thoughts on our sturgeon populations?
June 29, 2012
Line Counters A Must
by David Johnson
Line Counters A Must
Line counter reels have revolutionized trolling, and having a good, quality LC reel is a must.
No more guessing on how far out your offering is. We used to measure this by going out "pulls", one pull of line from reel to the first eye of the rod. Only problem is not all rods are created equal. Most are about 18 inches from reel to first eye, but some are 20, some are 24. If you don't have all identical rods this can be a problem. Not only that but not everyone will go the whole distance. Sometimes people will get lazy and only go half a pull.
For back trolling we would count out "passes" as the reel lets out line the level wind bar crosses from one side of the reel to the other and would be counted as a pass. But all the reels had to be the same. And one would have to pay attention and not loose count.
Letting out the same amount of line is important to make sure that if a fish is caught at a particular depth you can go right back to the correct depth.
Properly letting out the correct amount of line for everyone in the boat will also GREATLY decrease the amount of tangles. It can get pretty frustrating when one person lets out too much line and causes tangles, loosing important fishing time.
I admit, I was a little slow buying into the line counter band wagon. But about three years ago while fishing in the Astoria fishery I kept getting fishing reports from fellow guides who would tell me they were out "35 feet on the line counter". Dang, now I have to do the math! Let's see, 35 feet times 12 divided by 18 inches per pulls gives me 23 pulls. Next report, "we're getting ‘em at 40 feet." Dang, more math!
I had to break down and buy some line counters.
The Tekota 500 Line Counter, hands down, is a work horse no one should be without for Columbia trolling with heavy lead or hard pulling divers. The power cranking handle is perfect this.
For back trolling I use a Tekota 300 Line Counter although I have used these for trolling at B10 with no problem so if you were only going to buy one reel for both back trolling and trolling the Columbia this one will work.
After several years of use in fresh and salt water and hundreds of fish, the drags on these reels are as smooth the day I bought them.
Since then I have found that these reels work really well for anchor fishing. After catching a fish they allow for us to bounce or cast out our offering and put it right back to the exact spot that the last fish came from.
One last thing about having a line counter reel, they are pretty cool to watch and see how far a fish is making a run.
June 26, 2012
The 3 Day Window
by David Johnson
The 3 Day Window
It's said that these days the only secret in fishing is being on the hot bite before everyone else shows up.
Ever hear of a good bite only to show up and have the bite off? Show up and have everyone else is there too? Every hear, "You should have been there yesterday."
I tend to agree. It goes something like this. There will be a good bite in a spot for a couple of boats and its limits for all. Then the next day it's ten or twelve boats and everyone is into fish. By Day number three it's two dozen boats and great fishing but by day four it's jammed up and the bite is off.
With cell phones and internet these days word spreads fast and loose lips sink ships and to "kiss and tell" can kill a bite. Everyone has friends and word spreads fast.
It can't all be blamed on other boats though. Things change. Conditions change. The fish move up stream. The tides change. The tide can make a big difference, it's always cycling with the moon and within three days conditions that have made one spot productive will have moved the fish along to the next location.
It's something to think about, if you don't get there as fast as you can the bite will drop off.
June 23, 2012
Are You Fishier Than A 5th Grader?
by David Johnson
Are You Fishier Than A 5th Grader?
I had several clients request sturgeon trips to bring their kids out on. I planned to do them this past week on account of the minus tide series.
What a blast! We didn't catch a whole ton of fish but the kids didn't mind, the fish they caught were awesome! You know, when you are catching fish bigger or almost bigger than yourself, it's something special.
It's beautiful music to hear the squeals, groans and giggles of a kid reeling in fish.
We were fishing out of Astoria, fishing the outgoing tide in shallow water. No water over ten feet deep for us. The best bite came close to low slack.
The GLoomis GL2 SAR 1265 rods paired with Tecota reels and 65# Power Pro is a perfect set up for these fish. Nice action to allow the fish to take the bait and hook up and enough strength to put the hurt on them. In the shallows we fished, we only needed a 3 oz pyramid sinker to keep our fresh dug sand shrimp in place.
June 17, 2012
First Oregon Halibut
by David Johnson
First Oregon Halibut
Like many of you, it's not too often calm seas and a day off line up for me to get out for a day of off-shore fishing.
Earlier in the week I got the call from my good friend Andy Schneider (known on ifish as Andy Coho) that the crystal ball called. The internet was foretelling small swells and an off-shore wind. "Want to go halibut fishing?"
It sounded good to me.
I called Andy on Thursday to see if we were still on. "Sure, just trying to round up a crew" I gave my dad a call to see if he could go. He could.
5:30 a.m. found us launching in New Port. The crew consisted of my dad Lloyd, Aiden Schneider, Captain Andy and myself.
I've guided for Halibut in Sitka, AK as well as done quite a bit of recreational halibut fishing while I spent two summers at a fish hatchery in SE Alaska, but I have never fished for them off the Oregon coast.
Andy had wanted to try some near shore spots that he has done well on. In these spots he has consistently caught some real nice fish.
Andy rigged us with a large mooching rig topped with a glow squid and baited with either a large herring or a shad strip.
By 9:30 there was no love on our boat so we decided to bite the bullet and head out to the Chicken Ranch.
Our first pass we were into a triple. Two halibut for me and dad and Aiden caught and released a real nice ling cod. We lost one on our next drift and then made another pass. This time another triple. Three halibut. Aiden and Andy got theirs and dad released a small one.
Boy, that didn't take long to get our limit. Should have done that earlier. We were hoping to get into some real big ones but the ones we got were just fine.
June 01, 2012
by David Johnson
Cheers to the fishing crowd in Tillamook County this past Memorial Day Weekend for following all the rules!
After the disappointing report from Oregon State Police during last winter's two day Willamette R sturgeon season (up to 50% non-compliance in some areas checked) it was nice to hear from a good friend who is a game warden with OSP who never wrote a ticket over last week's holiday weekend.
He was shocked but pleasantly surprised to only have to give two warnings and no citations after over 50 contacts in all the ticket hot spots like the jetties, trout lakes and clam beds-places that almost always have offenses.
Nice job at playing by the rules guys, let's keep it up!
May 20, 2012
Keep Your Cool
by David Johnson
Keep your Cool
Or better yet, keep your bait cool.
This time of year as our temp's rise it's a good idea to really pay attention to keeping you bait cool.
I always keep my eggs, shrimp and other bait in a cooler on board, usually adding a pack or two of blue ice. The warmer the weather, the more ice I'll add. I'll also throw in some frozen water bottles. If it's going to be real hot I'll even go as far as buying some dry ice to put in there.
I like to keep my batch of brined herring in a small lunch box size cooler. There is so much salt in my brine I don't really worry too much about the bait spoiling or getting soft but if the temps are climbing into the 70's it's a good idea to throw in a couple handfuls of crushed ice to keep the temperature down.
To keep my sand shrimp fresh smelling and alive it's important to keep them cool. I always store my shrimp in zip lock storage boxes, spread out on paper towels. Then I'll keep them in a cooler with flat blue ice packs above and below them. The paper towels will give them extra life, especially if you change the paper towels out every day. This is to keep them from sitting in their own urine.
Sardine Fillets. They can get soft pretty fast. Also keep them packed with blue ice or dry ice as much as you can. I like to use my sardine wraps as fresh and natural as I can but if you want to firm them up and/or help preserve them in the warmer temps you can cure them with a light sprinkle of salt, borax, slam ola or your favorite eggs cure like Pro Cure or Amermen's.
So as late spring and summer rolls along, keep your cool and catch more fish.
May 14, 2012
Reality Salmon Fishng
by David Johnson
Reality Salmon Fishing
After the last two years of some of the best Willamette spring Chinook fishing anyone can hardly remember, we are back to "Reality" salmon fishing. You're not always going to have great runs of fish and even if you do you're not always going to have good conditions to catch them.
There have been a lot of long hours, a lot of long faces, and just a little grumbling and confusion.
I really think the fish are there but we just keep getting dealt with bad hands when it comes to the weather and water conditions. Every time things have leveled out and started to clear we've had some great fishing only to be followed by heavy rain, rising water and a dying bite.
Last week all conditions matched up and for just over a week it's been hot fishing. Only to be followed by the hottest weather of the year.
This hot weather is going to change things up a bit.
But that's reality salmon fishing.
We've had to adapt. We've had to fish area's we've not fished before, try things a little different and experiment until we figured out what the fish wanted. Evenings have been pretty productive, some days more productive than the mornings.
If you're not planning on getting out on the Willamette in the next two weeks you should. It's not over. There will be more salmon swimming the Willamette in the next month than have been in it all year so far. The peak of the migration over Willamette Falls is typically the middle of May.
HERE ARE SOME TIPS FOR MAY WILLAMETTE SPRINGERS-
Fish early and late. I know, I know, a no brainer. But it's true. When that sun is beating down and bright those fish don't bite (much)
Go deep. If you're not getting them in the shallows or normal places move off the shelf and fish deeper. If you are deep water trolling in the lower river run your gear deeper too.
If the trash fish are eating your eggs switch to prawns.
Switch over to hardware. As a salmon's metabolism increases so will it's agressivness toward flash will increase.
Get away from the crowds/boat pressure. In the clearer and warmer water the boat traffic will put them off the bite.
There are still plenty of opportunities to get you springer on so go them 'em.
April 29, 2012
Should have been here yesterday
by David Johnson
Should have been here yesterday
How many times have you heard this? If you've fished more than two or three times you've probably heard it at least once.
Things change. Water conditions, tides, pressure from other boats, weather. They all change from day to day. What was working last week, yesterday or this morning may or may not make much difference if something changes with conditions.
Spring Chinook are the guiltiest of being finicky. There can be a hot bite for days but once that water rises it can be over in 24 hours. We saw that happen this past week.
One thing that stinks about this fact is it seems to always happen on the weekends.
The weekend thing isn't just bad luck. (sometimes it is) but statistically, in almost all fisheries the catch drops as the crowds increase. Not only does heavy fishing pressure move fish around (and away from where they were) but the "pie" gets cut into smaller and smaller pieces.
There are only so many biters. If all week there are ten or twelve boats fishing an area and they are pulling ten or twenty fish its pretty good fishing. But then when Friday and Saturday role around and you throw in another twenty or thirty boats there is still only that many biters but they are split up between all those boats. I see this almost every week while guiding and I used to see it almost every week back when I was a fish checker for ODFW.
I see it make such a difference that I almost refuse to fish on weekends, even if I get paid to. I'll make exceptions but I don't expect to do as good as during the week.
So if you don't have the luxury of fishing during the week what do you do?
This is what I do:
Start early, the early bird gets the worm.
If it's on the big rivers/systems I will start off fishing the normal locations but if that's not working I will try and fish places that others are not fishing.
Get away from the crowds and start your own bite. Many times even in a place with less fish you will have better odds if the fish don't have a thousand other herring to choose from.
And speaking of a thousand herring, be detailed. Keep things clean, change out that bait just a little more and be attentive of keep your bait in the zone.
April 07, 2012
Spring Mixed Bag
by David Johnson
Mixed Bag Fishing
I really like fishing our western Oregon and Washington rivers in the spring. On our coastal and Cascade rivers from late March through early May you almost never know what you are going to hook. It could be a late winter wild steelhead or a broodstock hatchery (who had wild parents), it could be an early summer, a spawned out early winter or it could be a prized spring Chinook.
Some of these will be easy to tell apart right away and some will be a little harder.
Some of the key differences you can look for in an early summer are the very steel blue back, white belly and very clear fins. These clear fins will have a blue tint to them when the fish is still swimming in the water. Their body/belly will also feel solid. Many of the late winter steelhead, both hatchery and wild, will be as chrome bright as an early summer and could be hard to tell apart. If it is a hen, look at the vent to see if it is protruding. Its belly should feel loaded with eggs (because they will be) If it's a buck it may have just the very lightest tint of rose in the cheek.
Now these features can sometimes be very slight and the only 100% way will be to clean it and see how undeveloped the eggs or sperm are.Here are skiens from a winter and a summerHere are the summer and winter broodstock that the eggs came from
Another steelhead you may come across is a spawned out winter. These might be dark with their "trouty" colors or some may be hens that are bright. Tail erosion,a small concave line down the belly and a "snakey" appearance are tell tale signs. Here's a perfect example of a spawned out hen winter steelhead. In pic two look at the belly and see how skinny she is and that it has a little concave line.
These spawned out fish should be released as they are usually poor on the table and will return another year if they get the chance. I always encourage my clients to release them and they usually do unless it is a first steelhead.Here is a very bright spawned out hen. It was Aaron's first steelhead and he kept it dispite my protests. It did end up cutting OKCan you see how skinny it is?
All your normal winter steelhead gear will come into play as well as some springer techniques thrown in. If the river is big and green, which is common, opt for a little heavier steelhead gear for insurance.
Early in the winter florescent orange is one of my top colors. Of course pink works well in the winter but it really seems to works well in the spring especially in the shade of cerise. This time of year the fish also really have a "sweet" tooth for shrimp, both sand shrimp and prawns. Don't over look some shrimp oil or tipping your hooks with a little piece of shrimp, if not using whole for shrimp bait.
If you are running plugs try smaller to medium size ones that will easily take all species. Mag Lips, Mag Lip 3.5, K11 and K13 Kwikfish and Brads Wigglers. Sardine or herring wrap the Mag Lips and K13. I like to add a paste type scent to the smaller plugs like Pro Cure sticky liquid, Mike's Jell or Smelly Jelly Sticky liquid. I like shrimp, sardine or crawfish.
I like chrome/chartreuse head, chrome with orange stripe, green pirate and flo orange are my favorite colors. Early summer steelheadLate Winter BroodstockMixed catch of summer and winter steel
The Clackamas, Sandy, North and South Santiams, Lewis, Cowlitz, Wilson, Nestucca, Siletz, Kalama and Hood are all rivers that will give you great opportunities for a mixed bag. Give one of them a try.
March 11, 2012
Banana Rama Steelhead
by David Johnson
Many of you know the superstition surrounding the bad luck of bananas on a fishing trip. Some don't.
Some say that bananas were considered bad luck on a boat because when transported in the hull of a ship they release ethylene gas and sailors used to fall unconscious and die if they went below deck.
Others say they are bad luck because of the giant spiders that used to be found hiding in the bunches of bananas.
The potassium found in bananas is said to repel fish. But I can tell you, fish don't mind potassium.
The most likely origin of the banana superstition comes from Polynesian myths, something to do with bananas being from the land god and they don't belong on the sea.
I've even heard of some guides searching their client's lunch boxes to make sure none of the forbidden fruit makes it on board.
Not me though, I'm not superstitious. I have a greater faith.
On a recent steelhead trip things were starting out a little slow. On about the third hole, as I was going back up for a second pass, I notice a couple bananas tossed on shore. Probably by someone who noticed a boat mate had them in his lunch and forced said mate to toss them.
I couldn't resist. I hit the shore and before my clients know what was going on I had me a couple bananas. When they asked me what was up and I told them that some think bananas are bad luck but not me, they said, "Great, we have a couple in our lunch box."
After taking on my new cargo things picked up, a lot. Soon we were hooking up in every drift we fished. The steelies liked the new bait and scent we were using.
We finished our drift early so we talked it over on what to do for our second drift of the day.
As we were pulling into the road to our next boat launch, out of the corner of my eye I thought I saw some money on the ground. I stopped the truck and jumped out and sure enough, there was a twenty on the ground!
Brad didn't have a lot of time left before they had to head back over the hill so we kind of blew through pretty fast and picked up one last hatchery buck.
At the take-out, after going to get my truck I walked back to the boat and it had the odor of bananas wafting from it.
Once again it is proven; banana will have no power over you if you don't let them.
"...because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the banana."
I John 4:4 (New DJ Version)
February 29, 2012
Big Steelhead Time
by David Johnson
It's the time of year again to tie into some very nice, big wild steelhead (and broodstock steelies, hatchery fish with wild parents)
If you want to target these bruisers consider that they are big for a reason. All their life they've been the biggest kids on the block, the most aggressive of the bunch gets the most food and grows the biggest.
Reach for large profile baits and lures. You will want something that will get their attention with a large profile. Think spoons, plugs, pink worms and large drift rigs like a steelhead rag.
In heavy water toss the BC Steel, half and half and in less flows reach for an R&B Wiggle spoon. The white matte silver is excellent in dirty water as nothing reflects light as well as matte silver.
For plugs run Tad Polly, K11 Kwikfish, Wiggle Warts and the new Mag Lip 3.5. I like florescent orange, metallic blues, pinks and reds or chrome with accents in flame, pink.
And I'm sure to use heavy leader. Twenty or twenty five pound test leader will insure that the mad steelie will not break off while thrashing around. They are not leader shy and if they are going to hit one of these big plastic things invading their territory they are not going to think twice about the heavy leader. It's just good insurance.
If you are going to run this stuff you are going to want to beef up leader and line. #15 is a good start. #20 isn't out of the question.
"What river should I target them on?" you might ask. All the major rivers will produce big fish. We've caught them out of most. More importantly, the question should be, "What kind of water should I target?"
Deep and fast is the answer. Maybe throw in some broken surface structure like large rocks or ledges for good measure. They have big bodies and they want something over them to keep ‘em covered up. Security is what they will be looking for.
And since many of the fish you will catch this time of year will be wild fish that need to be released please be sure to take care of them.
They are a tough critter, capable of swimming 100's of miles, jump waterfalls and survive seal attacks but as tough as they are, when catch and releasing these fish it's important to take care of the them.
Here are a few pointers-
Don't touch them with a dry hand. A dry hand will remove important slime that is part of a fish's immune defense against fungus.
No matter what, once in a while you will hook a fish deep. If the hook is too deep just cut your leader as close to the fish as you can and release ASAP.
Don't pick up a fish by its gills. This should be obvious. It wouldn't be good to have someone touch your lungs would it? Touching gills can cause bleeding and permanent damage.
Don't pick them up vertically by the tail. This can pop vertebra.
Try and get your fish back in as fast as you can to reduce stress.
And lastly, if you use a net, use one that is fish friendly. Knotless, soft mesh or rubber nets are recommended. I've seen a lot of pics on ifish and other places as well as seen boats on the water where guys were using nets that are not very fish friendly.
The C&R net I use I picked up at Tillamook Sporting Goods. It's shallow and soft and very fish friendly.
We need to take care of our fish, admire them and put them back healthy.