Hank Pennington

An interesting advantage is emerging as the pink salmon are slow to return and their numbers are small.

The early silver salmon are easier to catch!

I can’t say if there are more silvers arriving early this year. Each year some arrive early right along with the pink salmon, but their numbers are obscured by the hordes of voracious pinks.

With the low numbers of slashing pink salmon mouths, the silvers the are certainly lots easier to locate and hook than in years past.

I’m not talking about a lot of silvers, by any means. But if you’re alert to their arrival and ready for them, the odds of catching them are better than ever.

Of course I’m talking about silver salmon along beaches and in rivers, and I’ll come back to that in a moment.

But it’s important to note that folks have been catching silvers offshore for over a month now, and their numbers are mounting. If you can wait a bit, the silvers offshore are certainly a hopeful sign for lot of silvers entering rivers in a few weeks.

But who can wait?

I have no doubt that trolling with downriggers produces the most silvers offshore, but that’s because most folks choose to fish that way. There are lots of other ways to catch them and for me, anyway, they’re even more fun.

I’ll resort to downriggers when silvers are deep and scattered, but I greatly prefer to catch deep silvers by mooching or jigging. The noisy outboard is off, and it’s possible for lots of lines to be fished at once without the hassles of extra lines while trolling.

One memorable day last year we were anchored and halibut fishing in 110 feet of water when I noticed telltale signs of bait and salmon passing under us at 70 feet. I dropped a line mooching and immediately hooked up.

With slow halibut fishing at the moment, it didn’t take much talking to convince the other five in the boat to switch over to mooching. The salmon weren’t visible on the fish finder in the minutes it took to get everyone set up, but we didn’t have to wait long.

Suddenly the screen of my little electronic gem lit up with swirling colorful traces, looking for all the world like the mad scramble of a World War I aerial dogfight.

All our rods dipped at once and bedlam erupted.

You can imagine the excitement as frantic silvers laced lines, wrapped the anchor line and passed back and forth under the boat. As I recall we managed to land three of the six.

I was tapped out with two fish, so I devoted myself to untangling lines, netting fish and baiting lines. In spite of further losses, the fish hold was filled with a dozen fish in under half an hour.

See why I love mooching so much? Jigging with dart-style jigs works about as well without the need for baiting, so that’s an attractive option, too. When silver action is sporadic, I’ll switch to darts and drop them to the bottom in search of halibut while awaiting the next school of silvers to show up somewhere between the top and bottom.

We also have a ball casting to silvers offshore, both with spinning rods and fly rods. When you find a school on the surface or pressing bait against a reef or kelp bed, the action can rival mooching.

If you’re set on trolling or if the silvers are scattered, you still don’t have to resort to downriggers. When the schools are right on the surface, there are very good reasons to stow the downriggers.

Silvers often rove in schools right under the surface. On calm days you can see the ripples of their passage, or sometimes even their fins breaking the surface. The problem is, they’re really spooky when on top. You just can’t get hooks on downriggers close enough without the boat first spooking them.

If you’re not set up to lay off the schools and cast, this is the time for banana weights or trolling sinkers. The ones that work best are so light you’ll not be bothered by them when fighting fish.

I rig up with 1-ounce versions and spoons, hoochies, flies or cut plug herring four to six feet behind them. You’ll need to let out lots of line to get them more than a foot or two below the surface, and that’s the point.

With 100 feet or more of line out, you can quietly troll to one side of the school to avoid spooking it, then turn so the lines “cut the corner” and intersect the school without the boat getting too close.

But what about catching silvers from beaches or in the mouths of rivers?

Your first step is to add a tide book to your fishing kit. With few exceptions, it’s best to start fishing right at low tide in anticipation of the fish entering the river or following the shoreline toward it as the tide rises.

If you happen to spot a flock of seagulls and diving birds within casting range, all the better. Silvers along the beach are actively feeding, even as they’re homing in on the river. In my experience silvers will make repeated trips into the river mouths, with most returning to the ocean as the tide starts falling while only a fraction continue up the river.

Once back in the ocean, they resume feeding right along with new arrivals. If rains are scarce, an amazing number of silvers can accumulate in the vicinity of river mouths, repeating the cycle of entering with the rising tide, then returning to the ocean as the tide falls to feed for yet another day.

With either fly rods or spinning tackle, casting distance and active feet can pay dividends. The silvers are actively moving, and you have to get your hook in front of them. Longer casts can add fish, as can movement along the shoreline looking for schools.

I catch lots more silvers when sight-fishing than when simply casting and cranking into the same patch of water in the hopes the silvers will show up. I move up and down the shoreline or across the tide flats at the river mouth in search of fish sign.

Unless it’s really rough, you can often spot silvers even if they aren’t jumping. They mostly swim so close to the surface that they leave wakes. Those moving ripples can be subtle, but on calm days you can spot them at amazing distances.

It also pays to consider the direction of the light on sunny days. With the light coming over your shoulder to help limit glare, you can often spot silver salmon cruising across the tide flats even when it’s too rough for wakes.

Whether using flies, spinners or spoons I prefer to cast a well ahead of the fish so my cast won’t spook them. It takes a little practice, but by adjusting the angle of your cast and the speed of your retrieve you can pass your offering two or three feet in front of the moving fish.

More often than not, nature takes its course and several silvers at once race to reach it first. Talk about smashing strikes!

It’s certainly too early to expect hot silver fishing unless you climb onto a boat. But with a little forethought and a tide book, you can be in the right place at the right time to find silvers from shore, too.

Most years folks are anxious to catch their first silver because they’re a little tired of pink salmon. This year it may be more a case of anxiously awaiting the arrival of the silvers simply to improve the fishing. Pink salmon are scarce, whether for better or worse.

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