How To: Catch a Coho
feat Scott Haugen
If you’re headed out north for some fishing these next few months, try going after some Salmon. As Salmon rule the northern waters, they are one of the most sought-after fish next to the Rainbow Trout. Due to their overwhelmingly popularity, unfortunately the King Salmon population is declining, so in efforts to preserve them why not feast your eyes on the Coho Salmon as they are second in command after the King Salmon.
Coho Salmon, on top of being a delicious meal, are a lot of fun to fish for. Their runs are much longer than other species, like the King and Sockeye, giving you a few months instead of weeks to bring home your limit (which is usually very generous). We’ll hear from our friend Scott Haugen a little bit later for some of his tips and tricks on catching a Coho.
To have your best chance at catching one of these bad boys, you need to know a little more about them.
Coho spend 3-4 years at sea (where they’re pretty tough to catch), but after that they begin pushing upstream to spawn. The mating run usually begins in July and runs through the middle of November, which is your ideal time to snatch them up. You’ll know a spawning Coho when you see them by the sides and cheeks of spawning Coho turning red, and their backs taking on dark hues. You can tell males from females by a prominent hooked snout, known as a kype, which only males sport.
For you caviar enthusiasts, female Coho usually lay between 2,400 and 4,500 eggs. For the rest of us, think about how many fish that means we’ll be able to grab next year! Keep an eye out for the fry (group of Coho) that emerges in the spring and remain in freshwater for two to four winters before venturing out to sea as smolts. However, if you miss your chance, never fear, Coho grow very quickly and reach an average of 8 to 12 pounds. While that’s already an impressive catch, we’ve heard of Coho getting even bigger than that! The world record is 33 lbs., 4 ounces, and if you break it we expect pictures promptly.
Where in the World is a Coho?
Cohos inhabit both sides of the Pacific. Across the ocean, their range extends from Hokkaidō, Japan, and eastern Russian, around the Bering Sea. In North America, their traditional range stretches from Point Hope, Alaska, southward to Monterey Bay, California.
The great thing about Coho is they can be caught without going to Alaska. They can be caught in several rivers in Oregon such as the Sandy River, Clackamas River and Eagle Creek. In Washington, check out the Olympic Peninsula and lower Columbia River. Both are great locations, so check out the West Coast to get your hands on some Coho.
Coho are tough to find in saltwater as they tend to stay inshore rather than swim in the open ocean, but in freshwater environments they can be easily found around riverbanks, small streams and even some lakes. They can be targeted in tidewater too. These salmon species tend to sit either in clear water or just on the edge of clear water. If there are no clear spots (or they are all clear), look for deep holes where the water slows down. Your go-to spots will be bends behind big rocks, near trees, etc. Keep in mind that the reason fish will sit right outside of clear water is that they can be spooked. If there is a lot of bright sunlight, try using dark lure patterns. They will be less spooked and more inclined to bite.
Outdoor Enthusiast and Fisherman Scott Haugen says, “July through August is the best time for trolling in the ocean. By August and September, they’ll be right inside the bays getting ready to spawn, and from September through November they’ll be in rivers and streams.”
How to Catch a Coho
Haugen also describes them as fighters. “The males are called bucks, and it isn’t until they’re ready to spawn that their teeth will get bigger and they begin to develop a type for fighting off other males.”
They leap (more than 6 feet), dive, twist, turn and make long runs. They’re tough and just as much as a game fish as any other Salmon. Unlike dragging bait or backtrolling heavy gear, Coho Salmon can be caught on jigs – both twitching and beneath a float – as well as on a variety of spinners and even by casting shallow diving plugs. They can also be caught on topwater plugs and on poppers for you fly fishing fans.
Most of the time smaller baits and lures work better than larger ones. Two or three-inch plug-cut baits or cut spinners work a lot better than if you tried four or five-inch ones. Unlike our pets, Coho are not food motivated, so they’re less concerned with filling their stomachs and more concerned about filling someone else’s stomach. Haugen says he uses cured eggs with a 15-pound monofilament line. If he used any kind of jigs or spinners, he says pink is the best color to use for them.
If you have spring fever, get out your gear and head West. It’s time to catch a Coho!