Lock-Jawed Coho

Discussion in 'Fly Fishing Forum' started by CLO, Sep 19, 2013.


How do you get river Coho to bite when they are jumping all around you?

  1. Change Fly Color

  2. Change Retrieve

  3. Change Fly Size

  4. Grab some roe

  5. Go gome

  1. Study some of the BC-developed estuary flies such as Cali-Neals (http://www.flytyingbug.com/threads/coho-bugger-aka-coho-neal.73/) , Art Lingren's killer Wizard pattern, Ferguson Green and Silver, Cathy's Coat, Pickled Herring, Father Charles (awesome fly), Silver Thorn, McVey Ugly, Small GPs and Small Shrimp Patterns, and these:

    Jamie Wilson and ten80 like this.
  2. I've had such a frustrating time fishing for coho. Every damn time I get to a spot, I note that the hole is packed with fish and I get confident. That confidence slowly slips into annoyance, then desperation. This year, I'm trying to get back on the horse, but I'm not going to be fishing any PS rivers. I'm not sure if coastal/Chehalis rivers will really be any better, but I have 0 confidence in my ability to catch a coho in the Snohomish system. I know a lot of us claim that the S river coho are less grabby (or lockjawed) than other stocks, but I know some people do just fine. Do the rest of us just suck?
    dibling likes this.
  3. I've not done well with PS-river coho. OK in estuaries but better to the North...way North.
  4. The issue with the "S" river coho has less to do with their grabbiness and more with fishing pressure. With the pressure on those systems the most aggressive fish are quickly removed from the population (both those being fished on and those that survive to contribute to the next generation. 20 or so years ago when both the Skagit and Stillaguamish were closed for the coho the coho were a huge pain in the rear to those of us fishing sea-runs. There were times it was virtually impossible not catch a coho or two in a days fishing. Within a couple of days of those rivers opening for the retention of coho the run became non-biters.

    It is important to understand this factor and consider it in developing strategies to catch those fish. One of the first things that happens with less aggressive fish is that quickly lose interest in things. In clear water you can see them begin to respond to a fly (or other lure) when it is 5 or more feet away from the fish and move towards it only to slowly turn away. I believe since they are no longer feeding they still react but quickly lose interest in the time it takes to intercept the fly. The key here is try to shorten the time they have to react to a presented fly; the reason the fishing dirty water is often more productive than that gin clear water. One can also accomplish much the same thing by essentially ambushing the fish with our flies. It can also help to try presentations/patterns that the fish are not use to seeing (why often smaller flies, off-beat colors or patterns will unlock a fish or two).

    For much of a coho's life they are very competitive fish; the most aggressive fish get the most food resources. Sometimes a very quick retrieve will trigger a take. I have literally put the rod under my arm and used a two hand retrieve move the fly as erratically and quickly as possible. BE careful with this approach some of the takes can be explosive putting the rod at risk of being taken from the angler. If you are sharing the water with a partner and little trick that add a fish or two is when a fish is first hooked the other angler should try to "cover" that first jump. It is not uncommon for other fish in the area to rush to scene and at times grab what might be in the water. I remember one memorial day where once my partner of the day understood the drill we were able to convert 9 hook ups to 6 doubles - great fun.

    Cruik, Starman77, SilverFly and 4 others like this.
  5. There is no one "solution" to the lock-jawed problem. That's a good thing. If it were easy to figure them out, or know absolutely that it was time to go home, then they would just be a really fun fish to catch. Catching gets old quick when it's predictable though. What doesn't get old is the satisfaction of finding the one biter in the school of middle-fin waving chromers that's been taunting you for half an hour.

    And sometimes I'm convinced there is no solution. Even so, there is a lot of great info in the replies here. Most fits very well with my experiences and has added to my understanding of coho too. I think the main split in strategy with coho depends on whether you are targeting aggressive ("car key" eating) fish, or ones that require a more subtle approach.

    Sorry if I reiterate stuff already mentioned but here are some factors I consider:

    River conditions and type of water:

    Has the water level been stable for days, is it clear, dirty, on the rise or drop after a rain? Fish that have been pooled in frog water for a week will be the toughest to catch. Marabou patterns fished jig style as sopflyfisher suggested is probably your best bet. My approach would be flash flies or popsicles stripped at first light and small sparkly patterns like comets or euphasiids stripped very slowly later. If the river is on the rise, or dropping and still fresh, then fish will likely be on the move. Moving fish are most easily intercepted where there are "obstructions" such as deep to shallow transitions, large boulders, fast water pockets - anything that will cause them to pause long enough to get a fly in front of them. Moving fish bite much better too. Fish the water as it "want's" to be fished (dead drifting, swinging etc..) just get the fly where they can see it and react before it's drifted past.

    Fly patterns:

    Picking the "right" fly becomes more important slower and clearer water. Color, size, and movement can make all the difference. Regardless of size or color, slow water flies have to have some "movement" to them. Marabou, bunny strips, and soft hackles are all great materials for slow water coho flies. I can't argue with sopfly's color selections. Some flash is important too even if it's just a bead head, tinsel ribbing, or a few strands of flashabou. In faster, more turbid water fly selection becomes more a matter of simply getting there attention. "Movement" takes back seat to size and color. Some flash is still key though. I like orange, pink, purple and red.

    Coho are great fish and they never cease to surprise me. I made my last stillwater steelhead trip this year on Thursday. I "only" managed to land a couple of natives and one hatchery fish. That sounds like a great day and it was - I'm not complaining. It's just that there were literally hundreds of steelhead within casting range at times and they were not cooperating. It was getting late and against my better judgement, I checked out a pod of rolling fish I had been watching. Suspecting they were silvers, I rowed the toon over very quietly and on my 3rd cast this chrome hen ate a euphasiid pattern. Weird day when steelhead are lockjawed and the coho were willing.

    Starman77 and Flyborg like this.
  6. With the incoming weather change I decided to hit the lower portion of one of the "S" rivers thinking there might be a shot at a coho. And test some of what we have been discussing and report back.

    Walked into my first spot and found a boat anchored at the top end. Fortunately while debating on an alternate spot they pulled anchor and leave. To rest the water a bit I reworked the leader; 6 feet total length with 2 feet of 6# tippet; tied on a fresh spider, pinched the barb and noted there was about 2 1/2 feet of visibility and the salmon were moving with frequent rolling salmon; mostly humpies but more than few coho mixed in. This spot has consistently produced sea-runs for me and over the years a few coho so I got in position with hopes of some action. Fishing a 5 weight with 150 grain sink tip and the drill was to careful roll cast (a steep high bank just a couple feet behind me) a comfortable length of line, a quick memd, allowing the fly to sink so that with quick short strips the fly would fish a foot or two above the bottom. This a short piece of water maybe 30 yards so long. It takes me a little over a half hour to carefully fish the water and am rewarded with 4 takes and managed to land all 4. Move downstream a mile or so to a similar spot only this time I'm rolling casting because the water has me backed up against the trees. Once again as I walk into this spot an anchor boat is pulling their anchor and preparing to leave (must be my lucky day). They had no success but noted good numbers of fish moving. This water produces 5 takes with 4 fish hooked and 4 landed.

    Spend two hours at the river with a little over an hour actually fishing and I'm fortunate to land 5 sea-runs (best about 18 inches) one male humpy and 2 coho (6 and 10#s). At least coho didn't have lock jaw. The key here I think was the low visibility. By fishing the fly as a streamer with a relative brisk strip for a retrieve the fly would suddenly appear from the side to the coho and I was able to get a nice solid reaction bite. Clearly I was fishing under some lucky stars; the boats left, the conditions with fresh moving salmon (coming in on the tide) and limited visibility were near prefect but understanding the fish and my gear I was able to get a couple coho to respond to my "ambush" presentation and even more fortunate to bring the fish to hand (noting both had sea lice prior to release).

    Starman77, PT and triploidjunkie like this.
  7. Tied relatively small (depending on clarity), fished with long leader. Also, use the right tip for the water... don't let your sink tip determine your retrieve rate! If anything, err on the side of too heavy and strip faster, but a moderate to fast erratic retrieve, allowing the fly to have some vertical movement (i.e. jigging motion) works best for me...

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  8. here are my observations.. some may like them some may not because i call BS on a lot of what passes as fly fishing for coho.

    1. if the gear guys are getting them on spinners you can get them on brightly colored flies stripped in try colors and flash until you find what works

    2. if guys are catching them on corkies and yarn they are snagging and if you cannot get them to bite a brightly colores fly on the retrieve it may work it may not.

    3. dark colored flies? i have caught a few jacks while stripping soft hackles for sea runs give it a try

    here is where I might upset some people, oh well it's the truth

    90% of the coho fishing in Washington and Oregon is in fact snagging.. including what takes place in the lower fly water on the Kalama, drifting a fly with a bunch of lead through schools of coho is going to result in foul hookings and flossings this is also known as snagging!
    It's popular down here to drift beads and egg patterns through fast pocket water on moving coho. coho in this type of water are usually panting , opening and closing their mouths rapidly the egg pattern or the line just drifts into their mouth. there is no intent on the part of the fish to take the egg pattern.. This also according to Washington law is snagging and by any ethical standard should be shunned by all anglers and those who do it should be turned in. those posting pictures and stories of " fly caught coho" fishing this way should be ashamed of themselves.

    here are a few tips if you do find yourself wanting some good coho action.

    1. fish as close to the ocean as you can
    2. try to imitate a blue fox spinner ( bright colors and or flash)
    3. try to find fish away from snaggers
    4. cast and strip with a sink tip line in slow moving pools
    5. cover lots of water.. if biting coho are around you'll know!!!
    6. if you are in a pool and all of a sudden coho start rolling hang on! they just arrived and are usually the best biters.
    7. use a sink tip line that has an integrated running line ( for a smooth retrieve)
    8 don't hang around if they aren't biting you are not going to get them to bite move on.

    I have not found fly coho or retrieve speed to be much of an issue try to copy the retrieve of a spinner.

    frying pan with butter , get it hot, prepare coho fillet with oil salt and pepper cook flesh side down for 4 minutes on med- high heat then turn to skin side until done... eat!
    Starman77 likes this.
  9. First, I tie on a lead eyed fly with an open loop so it can tip and fall nose first when not under tension.

    Second, I cast it supstream, or across the pool if it is a side arm or something that isn't moving.

    Third, I strip 10-15 inches hard, and give it time to sink between strips.

    Last, I hook them (or I don't) and fight them to the bank...

    It is way easier to provoke a strike out of a salmon than any other fish in the rivers..
  10. Rob, I agree with almost everything you are saying, and I am sure there is a lot you can teach me about fly fishing for coho.

    What I disagree with is making a blanket statement that coho in fast water don’t bite, or that all fly-fishing for them there is “snagging or flossing” simply because the fish are “panting.” While it is true that migrating fish in that kind of water are exerting themselves and opening their mouths more, it doesn’t mean they won’t bite, or can’t be fished for “ethically”. My experience is quite the opposite, especially with regard to late-run or N-type coho.

    The very fish you describe as the “best biters” having just arrived in a pool, are in fact, migrating fish, and the ones I am targeting when fishing fast water. I can assure you the “bite switch” doesn’t instantly flip from “off” to “on” the instant they cross over the tailout into a pool. It was "on" since they left the last pool.

    We’ve had this discussion before. You know the spots I fish, and that I can often see what is going on below the surface in those slots since the fish are under my rod tip at times. I have repeatedly seen late run coho rise off the bottom in 5 feet of fast moving water to take a large/bright fly a foot or two below the surface. That is an aggressive take... period.... end of discussion.

    Just because some have gotten into the habit of fishing beads or small egg patterns on long leaders to be naughty and take advantage of the “panting effect” doesn’t mean everyone fishing fast water is doing the same. I also fish with gear and have watched fish move to take a gob of eggs using a very short leader, and can feel them biting. Not much doubt those are fair hooked fish whether you abhor egg fishing or not. I could also fish that type of water with a bobber and jig. Would those fish be flossed too on a vertically presented line?

    Now, if you want to say that dead-drifted, or “lightly swung” weighted flies in fast water slots isn't fly fishing - that's a different argument than saying it's snagging or flossing. I'm not fishing fly only water so it's a personal choice on my part. I just think it's a bit overkill to say it's "unethical" to fish that type of water because there's a chance a "panting" fish might get lined. I'm all for giving the fish a sporting chance, but these are hatchery fish which exist to be harvested, and should be from a conservation standpoint. They're damn good eating too which you pointed out yourself.

    You have to "draw the line" somewhere (pun intended.) The problem is I can't interview the fish that I didn't see take my fly to find out whether it took it willingly, or just hung up in its mouth. All I can do is release those that aren't hooked inside the mouth per regulations.

    What I really think we need to do is finally fish together one of these days like we were talking about a while back.
    Starman77 likes this.

  11. Ditto and the Kalama is not representative of most rivers in Washington. It is much more difficult to snag or floss a coho in a larger river like the Skykomish or Skagit where you are unable to sight-fish from your lawnchair while downing cheap beer, like the bubbas do on smaller rivers. I've seen many limits of coho pulled from the Sky on plugs, eggs, wee dick nites, and backtrolled or nymphed flies, none of which are particularly condusive to snagging and flossing. I've even caught a dozen coho from the upper Sky on flies; it takes the right conditions and presentation.

    I wonder why this this "non-biting salmon" argument is going on in three or so different threads? I think all fly fishermen should go out with a positive attitude and try to find what makes a fish bite, rather than stereotype fish as being lock-jawed and only catchable using ethically questionable methods. This applies not only to salmon, but to trout, steelhead, and all other fish that are sometimes fickle biters.
    Starman77 and Ian Broadie like this.

  12. you are right it was a blanket statement to which i am sure there are exceptions of which you are most certainly one.
    yes we need to get out, would have done it last year but there were no coho around.. I am going to get one on the surface this year!
  13. That's right! Go prove yourself wrong and have a blast doing it!
  14. [qwasn'"ten80, post: 872170, member: 13344"]That's right! Go prove yourself wrong and have a blast doing it![/quote]

    i was not admiting i was wrong.. just agreeing that there are exceptions

    furthermore i never said that fish in fast water would not bite only that typically the people
    who fish that water are not getting them to bite

  15. Well, I know what you are talking about. Sorry about inferring your saying that they didn't bite in fast water. Just didn't want to be lumped in with that crowd.

    This year is looking much better for coho so that sounds like a plan. I'm sure they can be taken on top in the right water. Didn't get a chance last year to test this coho skater I've been itching to try. Also experimenting with a mutant reversed spider that uses a backwards facing conehead to force mylar "hackles" forward. I know they're ugly and offensive but that's kinda the point. I'll have a box full of both when the main run hits.


    plaegreid and Stonefish like this.
  16. looks good to me

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