Gear Fishing for Coho in Freshwater 101

Gear Fishing for Coho in Freshwater 101

This blog post focuses on the pursuit of Coho Salmon in freshwater with gear fishing tackle. Coho in freshwater can be funny creatures, when they’re feeding in the open ocean it usually seems like one could throw anything at them and they’ll bite. The same can be said in freshwater some days, but the majority of days you will really have to work and throw different things at them to determine what the preference of the day is. Let’s look first at our rod and reel selection.

Centrepin Setups

Our first combo to look at is the sought after centrepin combo. Rods are typically between 9′-11’3″ and will differ from a baitcasting rod in the handle design.

A shorter rear grip and longer fore grip are required for our centrepin rods as the reel sits lower on the handle. Centrepin reels are quite simple machines, but at the same time are very complex – Simple in the fact there’s not really much to the reels component wise compared to either a spinning reel or a baitcasting reel.

Open a centrepin and there’s not too much to look at…open a baitcasting reel up and hope no springs or screws come flying out at you. What can make these reels complex is the very precise machining and manufacturing required to make a smooth casting (no wobble) fishing reel.

For us at Sea-Run, our top choices of higher end centrepins are the John Milner Kingfisher reels or the Islander centrepin reels. For the less costly option, the Okuma centrepins have been awesome reels without a crazy price tag.

Centerpin Reels

Okuma Aventa Centerpin Reel

Okuma Aventa float reel, an advanced example of precision alignment and incredible freespool, sets a new standard for what can be expected in a fully-machined float reel. Machined from solid bar stock to exacting tolerances, Aventa spins effortlessly on two stainless steel Japanese ball-bearings.

Islander Steelheader

Effortless cast, the perfect drift, bobber down. It’s what a centerpin float reel should offer and what the Islander Steelheader delivers—again and again and again. By machining to exacting tolerances, the IS centerpin reel is incredibly smooth and has virtually no start up inertia. Check out our Islander Steelheader review.

Centerpin Rods

Shimano Clarus Centerpin Rod

The Clarus rod line offers high-quality and a wide range of styles and actions for serious anglers at a very affordable price. Featuring components such as Fuji guides, reel seats and high-quality AA cork handles.

Trophy XL Centerpin Rod

Trophy XL is known for making good quality rods at an affordable price. This model is ideal for use with a centerpin reel. It has 2 pieces and comes in either a 9", 10" or a 10'6" model.

Trophy XL Titan Centerpin Rod

The titan series from trophy XL are very high quality rods. They feature a good quality blank, nice metal guides, nice reel seat, butt box and good quality cork. This model comes in either a 10'6" or an 11'3" and makes a great centerpin rod for river salmon and steelhead fishing.

Levelwind/Baitcasting Setups

A baitcasting or levelwind type setup would have rod lengths mimicking the centrepin choice. Our reel options are consistent with a normal salmon setup – an Abu Garcia 6500 or 6600 sized reel, Shimano Calcutta B 400 or Daiwa Luna 300 sized reel. These reels typically hold 160-200 yards of monofilament fishing line depending on whether you were to use a 15lb or 20lb.

We will say that for Coho fishing using the lower profile (Shimano Chronarch) or smaller baitcaster like a Daiwa Luna 253 can be a more comfortable set up for all day fishing, and these higher numbered bearing smoother reels can aid us in casting some of the lighter gear that Coho fishing can sometimes require.

Baitcasting Reels for Coho Salmon

Shimano Chronarch MGL Bait Casting Reel

Weighing in at only 6.5 oz. and packed with Shimano's most advanced technology, the new Shimano Chronarch MGL Casting Reel delivers the top level performance tournament and enthusiast anglers require. More advanced than ever before, its lightweight Magnumlite Spool allows a low moment of inertia, requiring very little force to get it spinning.

Daiwa Luna Baitcasting Reel

These are Daiwa's finest traditional-shaped bait casters, built for those heavy cover and open water top of-the-food-chain fish that demand heavier line and heavier muscle-fresh or saltwater. Built tough machined from a solid bar stock aluminum and hard anodized for the ultimate corrosion resistance. Packed with features including cut proof titanium nitrated stainless steel line guide and stainless washers.

Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C3 Classic Baitcasting Reel

Brute strength meets refined style in this round baitcast reel. Upgraded performance and styling merge with proven strength and engineering. The heritage continues with the new C3 fishing reel, designed to meet the demands of the most hardcore angler.

Baitcasting Rods for Coho Salmon

Trophy XL Titan Baitcasting Rod

The titan series from trophy Xl are a very high quality rod. These rods come in either a 2106 (2 power, 10'6") or a 3106 (3 power, 10'6"). They feature a good quality blank, metal guides, butt box and reel seat. Great salmon and steehead baitcasting rods.

Trophy XL 600 Series Baitcasting Rod

Spinning Setups

Lastly, a freshwater coho anglers best friend can be a nice light spinning rod from 8’6″-9’6″ with a spinning reel to match that is capable of holding at least 100 yards of mono line. As a general rule, we do like to use mono as our mainline for Coho fishing instead of braid for the stealth factor. This is just a suggestion and you or other anglers may have a different opinion, and that’s great! Whatever a person has confidence in using, you should use it!

The spinning setup is under appreciated in the world of freshwater coho fishing. This setup does not do as well float fishing as the previous two set ups mentioned because the line comes off the reel spool in loose coils instead of directly off the reel spool as in the baitcasting and centerpin reels. Casting the lighter weighted lures is so much easier and more effective with a spinning reel.

Setup Conclusion

So why would we use one set up over another? Well centerpins do allow for a better presentation when float fishing, and provides the angler more control of their drift. These reels are a fun way to fight a fish and let’s face it, you’re just a pretty darn cool if you’re using one!!! A disadvantage on the coho playing field when using a centerpin can be the inability to cast a very light weight, so casting a spoon or spinner can be difficult.

A baitcaster is the most common and most versatile setup going. We can float fish with these reels, and an angler with practice can become proficient in casting lighter weights with it. Also, the reel has a drag system on it unlike the centerpin, so if the big nasty chum salmon latches on to your gear, he can be tamed easier.

Terminal Tackle and Rigging

Now that everyone’s armed with three different rods combos, what are we putting on the end of them? Let’s first take a look at a float set up. Floats come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and it really boils down to personal preference. These days the Cleardirft floats in 20, 25 and 30 gram sizes, DNE Foam Floats in the same sizes, and Drennan floats are the most popular on the rivers. Floats size should be determined by water conditions: for low and clear water you will want to downsize the float, and higher water with more flow or less visibility will see size increase.

We can either use split shot or pencil lead for our weight. The amount of weight should be such that the float is “loaded properly”. We basically want the coloured part of the float above the water throughout the whole drift. Too little weight and the float gets pushed around and bite detection decreases, too heavy a weight and the float does not ride correctly and will keep bobbing under the water making bite detection difficult. Split shot weights do generally allow for a nicer presentation and more natural drift and in slower water can land softer making for a stealthier approach.

Pencil lead can get an anglers gear down faster so it can be an advantage in faster currents or deeper pools. Like the floats, weight selection can boil down to personal preference. The use of fluorocarbon as our leader is a huge advantage as coho can be leader shy at times for gear fishing. Using the right fluorocarbon is critical, and Seaguar Blue label in 10lb-15lb is pretty much unbeatable. Our leader length should not exceed much more than 24″.

Lures and Baits

For our float fishing we can choose to use natural salmon eggs (check regulations to make sure bait usage is allowed), shrimp or prawn meat, Gibbs colorado spinner blades or wool combinations. All of these are most effective when fished just off of bottom and not dragging on the bottom! Lures are deadly effective for Coho especially in some of the slower waters that they so love to inhabit.

Spinners are a top producer for Coho, both the Prime Lures spinners and the Blue Fox Vibrax will be on the fall Coho dinner menu. Available in all sorts of colour schemes, one cannot have enough different choices to throw out there as they all work, but some days one can be better than another and some river systems fish will like one colour over another. Just be ready with options to throw out there!

Don’t be afraid to throw out fairly good-sized spinners in some conditions. The number four and five sized spinners can out produce the smaller ones, and don’t be surprised by the success one can have by adding a small pink hootchie behind a spinner…Coho can go crazy for that lure! We do recommend using a short leader when throwing spinners to prevent line twisting. Also, some weight can be added to a spinner without having an effect on the action of the lure.

Spoons on the other hand can be fished straight to the main line if wanted and we should try and avoid adding any weight to a spoon as it can have a negative effect on the lures action. Gibbs Croc, Gibbs Koho, and Gibbs Kit-A-Mat Spoons are all popular coho spoons, again available in a variety of colours. Twitching jigs are also a very effective method to use when targeting Coho. Mostly we fish a marabou jig or rabbit jig below a float but coho love to chase things so why not make them chase our jigs? When twitching a jig we want to use a good sized jig head as this will be our weight 3/8oz or 1/4oz is most desirable. We want these jigs to swim so a long tailed jig made of rabbit fur or a plastic curly tailed grub is best, these grubs just come alive in the water! We cast our jig out in to the pool and retrieve if back as if it were a spoon or spinner but twitch the rod tip up and down, not a snagging motion, hang on tight as fish will slam this lure!!!!

The last little trick in the tackle box for coho in the slower moving water is a Worden's flatfish lure in an F-6 or F-7 size. Cast out with a bit of weight and very slowly retrieved back to you. These lures wiggle back and forth and coho just can’t seem to say no to them.

We hope this helps on your next coho outing and as always if you have any questions or need any help come by the shop or give us a call at 604-931-5044. Have fun out on the water!

Check out our Fly Fishing for Coho in Freshwater 101 blog post!


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