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Bill Taylor

Bill is an all around Oregon hunter/gatherer and full time guide with a passion for not only fishing but clams, crab, wild mushrooms, forest berries, big game and bird hunting.

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March 04, 2014

The Lil Corky - Simplicity Succeeds in a Complex World

by Bill Taylor

In today's world, rampant with technology, we can access information with our smart phones virtually any time, anywhere. It is amazing there are so many gadgets and appliances jam packed with complex functions. That said, it still seems the best things in life are very simple. One of those things is Yakima Bait Company's Lil' Corky?. Developed by Howard Worden and others in the 1950's. Along with the Spin-n-Glo? and Rooster Tail?, the "corky" has emerged over time to be the most sought after salmon and steelhead lure in the fishing world. One reason could be their price point. At 15 to 17 cents a pop, they are a tough lure to beat for the money. Another could be the wide selection of over 130 patterns. Polka-dots, pearl, metallic, fluorescent, glow, nightmare, pirate, egg scales, tiger, glitter, contrasting color - there is a Lil' Corky pattern that will match virtually every fisherman's need in all types of situations…a treasure trove for the intricate minds of tackle mongers, if you will. Selection and price point combined with the simplicity of the Lil' Corky, a little floating orb with a hole through it, has landed it in the vests and tackle boxes of anglers everywhere.

Whether you prefer going old school with pink pearlies and flame chartreuses or you want to rock something sexy like the Misty River or UV Double Trouble, there is a corky for you. I am a firm believer that color makes a huge difference to entice a bite. That said, it sure is nice to have that many options.

An interesting development in steelheading these days is the growth of bead fishing. This technique has a lot of people, myself included, clamoring for beads, whether they be glass or plastic. In my humble opinion, the bead really owes its existence to its predecessor, the corky, in function and form. Although the techniques can sometimes be different, bobber dogging and floating versus straight drift fishing, the principle of fishing an egg-like bait in a natural "flow with the current" approach is exactly the same. Spinning drift bobbers such as the Lil' Corky's big brother, the Spin-n-Glo, are also are descendants of the Lil' Corky. While it may appear these supercharged drift bobbers have one up over the little guy, there are still numerous instances where the demure presentation of a corky is preferred.

Even with the advent of awesome plugs and spinners, there is just something about the Lil' Corky that sets it apart as a bona fide fish killer. That guy on the bank flicking a single corky out there will always catch my eye as someone who knows what is going on. Even if I fish half as much as you, I bet you feel the same.

The presentation possibilities are seemingly endless when rigging up a Lil' Corky. Generally, as the water clears, you will want to decrease the size of the corky. I prefer the smallest three sizes when fishing for steelhead, those being 10, 12, and 14, with 14 being the smallest. Hook size needs to be commensurate to the size of the corky if you are not using bait. Using bait will help disguise the hook and you can run a tad bigger. When running corkies without bait, I will run 1/0's and 1's with a size 10 corky, 1's and 2's with a size 12, and 2's, 3's, and 4's with a size 14. Water clarity is considered when deciding between these sizes. If using bait in conjunction with my corky, I will always go on the high side of hook size within these parameters. In it's simplest form, the Lil' Corky can be run single with a hook. I like to term this presentation as "running naked." Running naked is a viable alternative at all times and is especially effective in low clear water, when fishing pressure is high, when sun is on the water or in high light conditions, and in the latter half of the day after fish have been seeing some offerings. It can also pay off to "strip and go naked" if you've missed a bite while using bait with your corky by taking the bait off the next few casts.

Another time tested presentation is the corky and yarn. It is quite possible this presentation has taken more steelhead than any other bait in the last 50 years minus maybe the straight corky. Tie a piece of yarn in a half hitch to your line in between the corky and hook or tie a piece to your egg loop. Both are effective. Make sure the yarn is not too long. It should never be longer than your hook. If using yarn, I make sure to have it trimmed at least an eighth of an inch from the bend of the hook so the fish will get the whole bait in its mouth if it engages. Another great technique is to stack your corkies. They can be the same size or differing sizes.

When a lot of color is in order, i.e. - when the water is turbid, stacked baits can set you apart. Stacking is also a great choice in big rivers where you want to draw the fish's attention. Another alternative is to use a corky, yarn, and bait, especially eggs, altogether. Again, this would be another reasonable approach in high water but might be overkill in lower water situations. It has also been a long time practice to run a double hook rig with a corky in between the hooks. This is a good set up when you add bait to the top hook and is particularly effective when boondogging, free drifting or side drifting.

Another rigging I love to run I call the "barbell." This is a double hook rig with a corky in between two hooks with an additional corky slid on top of the two hook rig. Bait is then placed in between the two corkies on the top hook. It is a bait presentation made up specifically for boondogging as it gives the fish a lot of color to look at on a "one time through" basis both as it approaches the fish and after it passes the fish.

These last two presentation techniques, using two hooks, can be pretty snaggy so you will want to make sure the size of your corky(s) is sufficient enough to float your two hooks. Just drop the rigging in a bowl of water and see if it floats. If it does, you have the added feature of buoyancy the Lil' Corky is so well known for.

Next time you walk in to the tackle store, take a moment to look for the corkies. Most likely, there is going to be one big long row devoted primarily to them. There is method to the madness, they are one of the best baits in the business.

February 06, 2014

A Fishermans View on the Plight of NW Salmon and Steelhead

by Bill Taylor

The biggest topic for those involved with Pacific Northwest salmon and steelhead these days hovers around the hatchery fish debate. The lines have been drawn and it is fairly apparent this is a black and white issue for most concerned. Either you are a proponent for letting wild fish rebuild on their own or you would like to see broodstock and/or hatchery supplementation to existing runs. The demographics in each camp are very similar to those in the battles over our forests and logging practices several years ago. I know all generalizations are flawed, that there are exceptions and outliers, gray area, so to speak in making these delineations, but I feel it helps to paint the picture. On one side, is the environmentalist crowd that believes wild fish populations can rebound by taking man's influence out of the equation. Leave them alone and don't taint the gene pool with inferior hatchery supplements…the fish will respond. The assertion here is that there are still native fish in river systems that have had little or no hatchery influence on their gene pools. These fish will somehow rebound, their genetics established without the existence of modern man in a current world that is dominated by him. These groups are backed by likeminded citizens, also entities that stand to gain by hatchery plant reductions. On the other side are sport fishing people, tribal groups, and commercial fishing operations that advocate for supplementation to keep run sizes at levels that will help not only local economies but also the ecosystem at large. The assertion here is that taking away broodstock and hatchery stocks will create a vacuum in the Pacific Ocean and Northwest watershed ecosystems. Hatcheries have been going for 100 years or more in some cases. Many systems now have new "wild" fish that are the descendants of prior years hatchery plants. It is obviously not quite so simple. One thing is certain, the fish are caught in the middle.

The subject matter can be very difficult to follow for the layperson. Terms such as "fitness", "habitat", "predation" and others all serve to make analysis for the untrained individual a start/stop/start/stop process. Actually gaining a grasp of what is happening is difficult at best and impossible at worst. As much as many of the most knowledgeable would like to think, it is really no different for them! Many unknowns come in to play in the analyses of what happens to these fish. How much and what types of habitat reconstruction will help runs rebound? What are the oceanic conditions at any point in time where different stocks happen to be frequenting? How many smolts are actually eaten by cormorants and caspian terns? How many adult salmon are being taken by pinnepeds? How many strays are frequenting other streams where no hatchery programs are present? How many hatchery strays have already impacted "native" runs and to what degree? How much effect did non-human predators have on salmon before pre-modern man? How many salmonids perish at the expense of human industry practices not involving hatchery fish (as a result of dams, siltation, etc)? Why are hatchery fish the target when there are so many unknowns involving habitat, predation, oceanic conditions, and other factors that may actually be bigger factors in the scheme of things? The answers to these and a myriad of other pertinent questions have not been precisely calculated, some may never be answered. In this humble layperson's opinion, it would be presumptuous for a layperson judge to make a ruling in favor, one way or the other, without a lot more background than it appears none of us even have yet.

Several things are well known. Modern man has made a considerable impact on the global ecosystem. Regarding the Pacific Northwest, hydroelectric dams, logging, mining, general over taking of lands for human use, pollution, and a bevy of other factors have made salmon have to survive in a less hospitable world. We have even removed woody debris from rivers and streambeds, incorrectly thinking having water move downstream unimpeded was a good thing. Hatchery fish have lived with native fish, whether or not in harmony, for several decades now. Strays do occur regularly as a natural part of the anadromous salmon life cycle. This means that local populations are constantly obtaining new DNA from other gene pools. Hatchery fish have bred with native populations and will continue to do so as long as they are present. It is also certain that what ever ways end up being the prescribed treatments for these fish in the Pacific Northwest, there will be strong ecosystem and economic impacts to human and non-human inhabitants in this region. Now that we have thrust ourselves in to ultimately becoming the protector of salmon and steelhead, it goes without saying that we better know what we are doing.

If we decide to wipe out hatcheries, broodstock programs, and the like, where do we stop? Should we have mile wide buffers, implementing eminent domain proceedings on all waterways to ensure pre-modern man sanctity of riparian habitat? Do we include non-anadromous stocks in the mix? Do we capture all fish for inspection to destroy all specimens that display hatchery characteristics? How do we handle the economic downturn created by eliminating thousands of fishing related occupations that will be caused by eliminating hatchery production, not to mention the blow to local economies that rely on these fish runs? How will state governments fund the departments of fish and wildlife in Oregon, Washington, possibly Idaho when sport fishermen eventually revolt and discontinue purchase of salmon-steelhead tags and in the case of Oregon, Columbia River endorsements? Do we continue to let non-human predators have their fair share of the pie or do we eliminate a portion to offset the decline in numbers of smolts and adults frequenting the waters? The complexity of the issues is mind boggling, so much so that it will take thousands of researchers, observers, and consultants to come up with rational solutions.

In the interim, lawsuits are being created and settled by virtue of limited amounts of studies in front of legal systems that are seemingly ill equipped to comprehend the magnitude of the real issues. While it may take a team of biologists to determine fitness of broodstock fish or the values of augmentation in a given river, it seems pretty clear to this layman that in order to have a solid understanding of the multitude of waterways in the northwest, studies will have to be done on all rivers, streams, and creeks to inventory virtually all steelhead and salmon, coming and going, so we can ascertain what are indeed the situations, how many wild, how many hatcheries, broodstocks, strays, when they are leaving and when they are returning. These studies should be done by independent third parties and/or by combinations of researchers from both sides. This way, the numbers will be irrefutable per study. Let both sides take their monies and apply them to salmon research rather than to spend it all in court. We also need to find a way to improve riparian habitat together, including carcass plantings, to simulate as best as is economically reasonable, pre-modern man conditions. Until we know what the true answers are, we need to expand augmentation/supplementation techniques in lieu of old style hatcheries so as to create more natural processes of rearing of juvenile salmon and steelhead. Ultimately, we have to find ways to accommodate these fishes' genetic makeups. Leaving them to fend for themselves in an inhospitable man made environment seems to me like a game of Russian roulette.

About the Author
Bill Taylor is an all around Oregon hunter/gatherer and full time guide with a passion for not only fishing but clams, crab, wild mushrooms, forest berries, big game and bird hunting. http://www.ospreyguideadventures.com/

January 10, 2014

The 10% Club

by Bill Taylor

The 10% club. That envied group of anglers laying claim to 90% of the fish bound for the boat or bank. We've all heard the cliché before. This especially holds true when drift fishing for winter steelhead, a hallowed yet difficult technique to master. For many of you old school Ifishers, I will be preaching to the choir. While this piece is meant for the angler that is finding it hard to get ‘on the board' with regularity, hopefully it will ring home with a few of you who have come to appreciate the art as I have. What is it about the red hot angler that he/she consistently out fishes others? If you know the answers, you're likely a member of the club already. If not, it will pay to go back to the drawing board. I'll try here to touch on some points you may have been overlooking in your approach to drift fishing.

Keep your hooks needle sharp-For us steelheaders, a few bites, even a bite or two, is an expectation we have to face on some days, even when we do things right. Steelhead (especially winter steelhead) generally just mouth the bait, not wanting to pick it apart like a resident trout. That being the case, your hook has got to be sharp. If the hook sticks, you'll likely feel the sensation, either the actual soft bite or a tug caused by the fish becoming alarmed something sharp is in its mouth. The top fisherman has the sharpest hooks and knows how to keep them that way. Your hook should easily be able to penetrate a calloused part on your hand or finger, or top of the fingernail. It is important to check for sharpness after snagging up or having cast several times. If the hook is dull, it is time to tune up. I prefer using a high carbon steel hook file such as the kind Luhr Jensen, Rapala, and others make. These days, most files come with a handle. Holding the hook so the point is facing opposite the handle, rub the hook lightly and almost flatly against the file 2-4 times each side and on the bottom of the point. This will create a needle-like triangular point. You will actually be taking some metal off the hook to create a new point. Re-sharpening the hook too many times will leave the hook with a stubby point. Don't be afraid to switch to a new rigging if you aren't getting a good point. With practice, you can put a point on a hook that will rival top brand hooks out of the package. If you are having a hard time keeping hooks sharp, try using needle point hooks as opposed to cutting point hooks. Cutting point hooks are great out of the package but are not easy to get sharpened back up due to not having a triangular point to begin with.

Be prepared-Your ability to make casts as soon as you hit the water and as much as possible during the day is going to mean extra fishing time for you compared to the unready fisherman, which there are plenty. Take time beforehand to prepare your riggings so your day can be filled with fishing, not preparation. I love catching fish while my partner is tying riggings. You'll want to have some different alternatives available to you depending upon water conditions. The river tomorrow could be high, low, or just right and might be dropping, rising, or steady. In order to put you ahead of the game, your arsenal should be assembled to be ready for any combination of possibilities. This will mean you will have different sizes and colors of baits as well as different sizes of leaders and weights available.

Know your river and cover your water-In order to have an edge, a fisherman needs to know the lay of the bottom, the migration lanes and holding spots in a particular stream section, along with where the snags are and how to get around them. Show me the top dog in a given hole and I will show you one who has been to that hole several times. Being there when fish are getting caught is a great way to learn as is just putting in the time and figuring out where bites are happening. By putting in time, you'll also begin to understand how drifts change as water level changes. If your days to fish are few and far between, concentrate on one good river, even one good stretch of river, and get to know it well before venturing on. In time, your ability to "read" the water will improve, which will enable you to have a better chance of finding the right lanes where ever you go. While it might be apparent a fish is going to be sitting in a certain spot, it is important that you cover all reasonable sections of water in a drift in a systematic way, not just ‘the slot'. When you first come to a spot you want to fish, begin casting on the short side of the slot. Continue gradually working your way across to the far side of the slot. The theory here is that any fish leaving its holding spot to pick up your bait will have to swim away from you to get back in to the holding spot, which will enable you to feel a fish on. By fishing inside out, the likelihood of a fish swimming toward you after a pick up is considerably decreased. This technique of covering water will also enable you to present to fish that aren't following the normal travel routes or resting in regular holding spots. Fishing pressure, bigger fish, sunlight, and other things can make fish leave their typical haunts. You have to make sure you don't leave stones unturned. Another concept that has to be mastered is extending the drift. In extending your drift, you will let out line little by little as it starts to want to swing back to the bank you are fishing from. Using a level wind, in free spool, softly thumbing line out is a snap. If you are using a spinning reel, you will need to take off the anti-reverse switch so you can reel backward to let line out. A major disadvantage here is that you will have to have one hand on the rod and the other hand on the reel, slowly unwinding line to achieve the same effect of a bait drifting naturally down river. The advantage will be that any bites are felt quickly and ability to set the hook will improve. You will also need to be ready to re-engage the anti-reverse switch on a fish or a snag.

Observe and adapt-While on the river, keep an eye on people catching fish. Make sure to detect the type, size and color of their offerings, how much weight they are using, what type of line and gear they are using, how long their leader is. While fishermen may not tell you what their tools are, they can't help but show you if they're busy fishing. An ‘in the zone' fisherman has a potent combination of the right gear, lure, high presentation skills, and a solid read on where the fish are lying or traveling. He can't help but show you the way if he wants to hook up! If you are not having the same success, you owe it to yourself and your wallet to observe and adapt. It's no surprise to me the locals usually have one up on the out of area guys on our Northwest streams. If you are willing to think inside their box and outside of your own, big dividends await you.

Improve on accepted techniques-Another trait of top fishermen is the ability to improve on what is already working for others. The discussion forums here are full of posts made by fishermen eager to show their improvisations. These folks are thinking about the little things they can do to make their presentations even better. The opportunities to improvise seem limitless. For starters, how do you run your weights? Pencil lead? How about running 3/16" thickness with a longer piece of lead on a light drift rather than that ¼" stubbier piece that has been working better in the fast water? Slinkies? How about stuffing 6 or 8 shot inside your cord instead of buckshot to get an even softer read on the bottom so you can detect the lightest peck of a bite? Employing some shrimp oil, anise, or another scent can set you apart. Adding a second or third color often works to your favor, as will decreasing the size of your presentation. Adding or subtracting yarn, stacking drift bobbers, changing the color of beads, sliding weights/fixed weights, the list goes on. Improvising has the effect of personalizing your presentation, which when effective, creates a conduit to that particular fish's psyche that shows you have been able to engage the fish with your own know how.

Understand that you are "drift" fishing-The whole premise of drift fishing is that one is trying to present a bait emulating a piece of meaty matter floating downriver near bottom, along with the current and other debris. Getting the bait to travel more or less naturally down stream is a great start in enticing a fish to sample your offering. Bobber fishing has really taken off in the last couple of decades (thanks to Bradbury, Erickson, and others), due to the ability of bobbers to give drift to the bait underneath without having to make contact with bottom. Many folks have abandoned the time-tested technique of drift fishing because it is just too snaggy a proposition. In order to drift fish, riggings will have to be sacrificed as baits bounce along the bottom and get hung up. The advantage of drift fishing, however, is that the bait spends a vast majority of its time on or near bottom, where steelhead are found most often. The biggest disadvantage of bobber fishing is that bait depth has to be gauged by the fisherman and therefore the bait is not near bottom as much. In drift fishing, there is a happy medium to getting through a drift clean. You must intermittently stay in contact with bottom. Too much and you are hung up a lot. Too little and the bait will arc across the current to the bank, not being able to touch down. A bounce every 2-6 feet is optimal. The right combination of line size, weight, lure buoyancy, water flow, and bottom consistency all have to be considered. If one is good at figuring out the other variables, which come rapidly with practice, the main variable to tweak is how much weight to use. Once the weight is right, one can experiment with types of weight (pencil lead, slinkies, bouncing betty's, split shot, etc.). Each type of weight has its pros and cons. Pencil lead comes off easily if snagged up but emulates a fish bite more than other weights. Slinkies don't click on bottom as bad as pencil lead which helps differentiate a bite from bottom but hang up easily on rat nests of broke off riggings and may begin to lose lead over time. Bouncing Betty's can keep out of nooks and crannies well but get pushed down current faster due to higher surface area. It is often a matter of personal preference but should also be a matter of practicality. You should have a couple options with you for sure.

Believe in your chances, stay positive-It is apparent in a top fisherman's eyes and actions that there is confidence and positivity in presentation. It is an expectation that a bite will occur, not a hope. This expectation comes from the painstaking preparation of tackle, quality execution of the drift, and a trust that fish are near. Although gear is broken off from time to time, the lost riggings are an affirmation of staying in the zone. To be ready for the bite, one can't be second-guessing one's self during the drift. The mind needs to be focused on a potential bite and getting through the drift cleanly while keeping a continual periodic acquaintance with the bottom. Several times during the day, it helps to freshen yourself up a bit with a walk or boondog to the next hole to recharge.

Your ability to move in to the first class of steelheaders will have a lot to do with how well you can master these intangibles. Once mastered, the drift fishing technique can be used on any number of river frequenting species to great success. While you're at it, don't forget to enjoy the water ouzels and the rain forest. They're worth the price of admission too!

About the Author
Bill Taylor is an all around Oregon hunter/gatherer and full time guide with a passion for not only fishing but clams, crab, wild mushrooms, forest berries, big game and bird hunting. http://www.ospreyguideadventures.com/

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