Salmon Marabou Jigs for Tillamook Fall Chinook
Welcome to Tillamook Fall Chinook fishing. These fish are huge, averaging 25 pounds with many pushing the 50-pound mark. It's no wonder thousands of anglers flock to the coast every year in search of trophy size fish. Considered the most prized game fish in North America, the Chinook Salmon can also be one of the hardest fish to hook and land. Fall Chinook traditionally start to trickle into the coastal estuaries around early September. The biggest single factor of their migration from the Bay to their rivers is the amount of rain. The Northwest is known for Indian summers, which can have 80-degree days well into October. This is great weather if you're fishing in the bay, but if you like fishing flowing rivers with defined riffles and pools, then the first fall storms are a very welcome site. The perfect combination for river fishing is a strong freshet to raise the river at least a couple feet combined with a series of high tides. Once the fish get a smell of fresh water they will transition from the salt and start working their way up their home rivers. The condition of the first run of fish will largely be determined by how much time they've spent in tidewater. Usually there will be a mix of darker fish combined with later arriving bright fish. In a perfect world the rivers will raise a few feet and then go on a slow drop before the next freshet. The ideal time to be on the water is the point at which the rivers are just starting to drop into shape.
Fall Chinook are the ultimate tackle busters. You want to come prepared with a stout rod rated between 15-40-pound test line. Your reel should be loaded with at least 30-pound monofilament mainline. A good alternative for mainline is to use a braided line rated at 50-pound test. When jig fishing for Fall Chinook I like to use a sliding set-up identical to what you would use when bobber & egg fishing. Tie on a bobber stop, which is basically a nail knot that can be made with 20-pound Dacron. Thread on a small bead and then run your mainline through a float. I like using a 1 oz West Coast Float. These floats are practically indestructible and are very easy to see in the water. Under the float I'll add another small bead and then a second bobber stop. The purpose of the second bobber stop is to prevent losing your float if your mainline happens to break. After the second bobber stop I'll tie the mainline to an inline weight matching the size of the float. The inline weight has a swivel on each end eliminating any line twist. A barrel sinker and swivel can be substituted for the in-line weight. Your leader should be around 24-36 inches long, depending on water height and clarity. These fish are not line shy, so 25 to 40-pound leader material is advised.
Bigger is Better
The most important part of this whole set-up is the jig. When people think of jig fishing they visualize small jigs tied on light line for steelhead fishing. Well, my friends, these Fall Chinook fresh from the salt will straighten the hooks on smaller jigs so quick you'll never even have a chance. This isn't light line finesse fishing but just the opposite. You need a jig that can hook and hold these brutes and that is why I like to use Owner jig hooks up to size 5/0. In over twenty years of jig fishing for Chinook I've landed several salmon on smaller steelhead jigs but I've also lost a large percentage of those fish simply because the hook couldn't hold up to the raw power of these magnificent fish. It was only after switching over to the larger, stronger jig hooks that my hook up to land ratio went through the roof. I would like to mention here that the reason for using heavier line and larger hooks are two fold. First, beefed up gear will increase your chances at landing these fish but second and more important is the fact that some of these fish that take jigs may not be table fare material. By using heavier line you can land and release these darker fish much quicker with minimal stress ensuring they continue the journey to their spawning beds.
Salmon love big, flashy lures, golf ball size egg clusters and large spinners. The same mentality should be used when it comes to jigs. Think big and bright. One of my most productive salmon jigs is a vibrant four-color marabou jig loaded with Krystal Flash. This jig is meant to be seen in the water and salmon simply devour it. Other favorite colors for jigs are combinations of fuchsia or cerise, hot pink, fluorescent blue, deep purple or blood red. I've found that while single colors are effective, a combination of two or more colors seems to work much better.
Fishing tidewater for Fall Chinook is just about as good as it gets. These fish are practically hours from saltwater and they are in the prime. When you hook into a Chinook in tidewater be prepared for the battle of your life. Some of my most memorable Fall Chinook have succumbed to a flashy marabou jig fished on an outgoing tide. Fishing tidewater is an adventure by itself. There are usually underwater log jams and pilings that fish can find and wrap your line around snapping it like a twig. To increase your chances of landing these magnificent fish you'll want to be on the top of your game. I always use 40-pound leader when fishing tidewater. Always! These fish are not leader shy so beef up your gear and always use the strongest line available. When your float gently slips under water, reel down all the way while at the same time, lower your rod to the water level and then set the hook. Too many times I see fishermen attempting to set the hook with too much slack line. The end result is a weak hook set and a frustrated angler as he watches the chrome Chinook shake his mighty head and all he feels is slack line. Once you do set the hook, keep up the pressure as these fish will make long, searing runs that will test your gear to the limit. It's important to get the fish under control as soon as possible. Besides there being underwater obstacles, there are also most likely other boats in the area too. The last thing you want is a hot fish tearing off line and getting tangled in the anchor rope of a nearby boat. So keep hard, consistent pressure on the fish right up until he slips in the net.
River Fishing-Proper Presentation
Properly presenting a jig to Chinook is a lot easier than you think. Since Chinook typically won't move very far to take an offering, you want to get it smack down in front of them. Say, for example you're fishing eggs under a float using the sliding set-up similar to what I mentioned above. You know fish are present but for whatever reason they've gone off the bite. Simply cut off the bait hook and tie on a jig. You already know you're fishing the right depth since you have been running bait. Now you offer the fish something completely different and sometimes that's all it takes. When fishing for Chinook, I like to line up my jig immediately after casting. In most cases I'll overcast my rig intentionally and then after it hits the water, I'll purposely pull back on the float several seconds until the jig has had a chance to get down directly under the float. By pulling back on the float this in turn will allow the jig to line up in the current. Now you have your jig with the bright, pulsating feathers aimed directly towards the awaiting fish. Maintaining a drag free drift at this point will allow the jig to appear as natural as possible. The resting Chinook will see your offering and curiosity will get the best of them. The closing of their mouths on the jig will in turn pull your float under the water. These delicate takes are quite common and are easily missed by the unwary angler. By using a balanced float set-up, these light takes will turn into a Fish On. If you do happen to miss a light take, make a mental note of where the fish was laying and try running your jig through again. If a Salmon hasn't been stung by the hook, more likely than not they will strike again. If you're unable to entice another strike, try switching over to another jig color pattern or simply add a sand shrimp tail to the jig. On the opposite end of the scale is the take that practically wrenches the rod right out of your hand. Sometimes fresh Chinook will downright annihilate the offering leaving no doubt as to their intention. If this happens to you, hang on and enjoy the ride. Jig fishing simply doesn't get any better.
The Confidence Factor
Having confidence in what you're using is synonymous with your success. The moment you lose confidence you lose effectiveness. Anglers for the most part are creatures of habit. We tend to stick with what we know has worked in the past. When the fish are plentiful and our favorite lure or bait is working, there is little reason to switch to something different. It's the slow days when we are likely to try something new. If you find yourself in this situation and decide to try a jig, fish it with confidence knowing that jigs have been catching salmon for years in a variety of diverse situations. When you do catch your first salmon on a jig it will be an eye opening experience that will forever change the way you fish for Chinook.
Have fun fishing!
Ifish member #5
"Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then" Bob Seger, Against The Wind