Taking Care Of Those Salmon
written by Loren Goddard
Coho Salmon season starts on the 29th of June (in the Ocean south of Cape Falcon). Given the problems the Chinook and some of the Coho stocks are having we need to do everything we can to safeguard all of the fish, whether we can keep them or not. There are some measures we can take to protect the fishery.
First, identify the fish you have on to make sure you can keep it (Fin Clipped Coho) before you ever net it. I would much rather loose a fish I might have been able to keep than net one that I can't. This is easily done on most sport boats because the decks are close to the water, it is much more difficult on the larger charter boats. Netting a fish that can't be kept significantly lowers it's survival rate. Netting disrupts the fishes slime coat and knocks off huge numbers of scales, which leaves the fish susceptible to infection. Being taken out of the water causes additional stress and the fish can further injure themselves as they flop around on the deck. All this adds up to higher fatality rates.
There are other things we can do to increase survival.
Use at least a 50# leader (many charters use up to 80#, (they are not leader shy fish), this lets you bring the fish to the boat faster and it will not be as exhausted as from a longer fight. I use a 50# leader and 65# spectra braid mainline, using too light of tackle, while sporting for us, prolongs the fight to the point that the fish will go into oxygen debt from which it will not recover.
If it is a fish you can't keep, releasing it in the water without ever touching it is usually quite simple. Take a firm grasp on the leader (or the flasher) and slide your striking gaff down the leader into the belly of the hook. Keep tension on the leader and roll the hook out with the gaff. The barbless hooks we are required to use make this easy and away goes a happy fish that will soon recover.
Avoid the use of stainless steel hooks. If the fish is hooked in a way that makes rolling the hook out impossible, clip the leader as close to the hook as practical and let them go. Nickel or black finished carbon steel hooks will rust out in a very few days and leave no lasting effect on the fish.
Since all Chinook and any non fin clipped Coho are on the forbidden list, set your gear up to avoid as many Chinook as possible. Use Four to Eight inch flashers with 18 to 24 inch leaders coupled to small divers. Avoid trolling below fifteen feet. Although I have caught many (hundreds and hundreds) Chinook close to the surface, you can greatly diminish Chinook by-catch by not fishing deep.
In the event you inadvertently net a fish you can't keep you can give the fish a better chance of survival by using a coated net (like a Frabil brand) or one of the all rubber nets. They are not as rough (literally) on the fish as an uncoated nylon net.
There is nothing we can do to avoid criticism from the Birkenstock wearing, tree hugging, granola crunching, long haired hippie type, no bath taking, Sea Lion smooching, SUV burning, ultra green crowd. But we can do the right thing as ethical fishermen, protecting what is most dear to us, our fisheries and our right to fish.