Call me Captain Obvious for writing like Larry King in his long-defunct USA Today column, but here it goes: for my money, the best thing about the January saltwater fishing scene is winter blackmouth! OK, we all know that’s the draw in the Northwest right now. Resident Chinook in the waters of Washington and British Columbia are hardly a secret.
For 50 years or so, folks have been reeling in these tasty salmon that stick around our waters gorging on baitfish and growing to 20 pounds or more. This month we’ll talk about how to get on your (fish) marks, get set, and go in the new year for blackmouth. Whether you’re an old hand or just getting started, a little primer is never a bad thing for this cold weather pursuit.
First on the list for resident Chinook fishing is to make sure your boat, motors, electronics, and gear are all in good shape and ready to run. Fresh non-ethanol fuel and fuel stabilizer are key to keep the boat running in the winter. Check all your systems. Make sure your trolling motor is running well. Giving some extra attention and love to your kicker will keep it from kicking the bucket in cold-blooded conditions. Go through the operation and connections of your electronics. A good chart plotter, sounder, and radar are all crucial to making your vessel a fish-catching machine. You need these electronics to be your eyes underwater and through the fog. You also need to know how to use them. Sit on the boat and push buttons before you go. Do I know what my plotter and sounder are telling me? Do I know their operation well enough to navigate, set marks, and find the fish? The answer to these questions can put you at the top (or bottom) of the blackmouth food chain.
Hopefully you got some downrigger balls in your Christmas stocking along with some coal to burn for warmth. Fishing for winter Chinook is mostly done deep with downriggers. This can mean losing balls as you occasionally bounce bottom. Rubber snubbers like those offered by Silver Horde can save you from losing gear. The snubbers will stretch and bounce, possibly giving you that little extra forgiveness that can keep you from getting snagged on a rocky bottom. Stock up on extra gear just in case.
You’ll catch the most fish by trolling aggressively near the bottom. Make sure your downriggers are operating well and they have good cable or braid spooled up and ready to go. These are the workhorse tools of the blackmouth trade.
As far as terminal tackle, I like to keep it simple. These resident Chinook are on the feed. They’ll hit most of what moves down in the depths. I like to fish spoons and hootchies with some glow to them. Bait also works great in a helmet. These offerings produce best when trolled behind an 11” flasher.
The flasher mimics a feeding salmon, and the blackmouth come running to see what their rotating buddy is up to. I follow a simple rule of 3’ of leader for a hootchie, 4’ for a spoon, and 5’ for bait in a helmet tied to the flasher. The main secret of success is not so much what you’re using, but where you’re using it. Put any of these offerings in front of a hungry feeder Chinook and they will bite. They’re not overthinking it, and neither should you. Concentrate on fishing effectively where the fish are. This will consistently put you on top of the docks… or the leaderboard!
Speaking of leaderboard, blackmouth time means tournament time, big money, and bad weather. Since the days of the old Rosario Derby, hardcore fishermen with time on their hands during the winter like to make it interesting with dollars on the line and a little friendly competition. First up is the Resurrection Derby out of Anacortes January 6 and 7. The $10,000 top prize will draw anglers from all over for this event. Proceeds go toward salmon enhancement projects. Go to resurrectionderby.com for more info.
Next on the circuit is the 15th annual Roche Harbor Salmon Classic. The biggest Chinook caught in this tournament will win $10,000. If the top fish is over 30 pounds, the prize will go to $30,000! That’s a big spicy meatball of cash! Both derbies are part of the Northwest Marine Trade Association’s Northwest Salmon Derby Series. Participants will be entered in the yearly drawing for the Derby Series top prize fishing boat. Fishing for big bucks and with boats to be had…I like it!
That’s a wrap for this month on the hottest things going in the freezing temps. Next month keeps on trolling along with blackmouth in the salt and more excitement in our rivers. Until then, let’s all make 2018 a great year and go get some!