Fish checkers at Vernita Bridge know what works from early September through the end of the Middle Columbia’s upriver bright run. Over half the early boats show up with downriggers, Scent Bombs and Super Baits to get the bite going before the bait-wrapped Mag Lip and FlatFish program is in full force. We are talking here about all the trolling water that excludes egg fishing. What’s the difference between egg and trolling water? That is a good question. Egg fishermen fish in swift, shallow water, in front of and behind major deepwater trolling holes. For instance, the water above the King Hole is considered egg water, until it hits 25 feet deep. Trollers pick slower moving water with holes over 25 feet in depth. Never shall the twain ever meet.
If you’ve been watching the news, you know what kind of conditions salmon anglers will see this month: low flows due to lack of snowpack, and egg fishermen are going to suffer because of the lack of fast water in their favorite holes. That means it will be a trolling year, and Scent Bombers could do well.
What is a Scent Bomb? It’s a device that holds a quarter of a can of oil-packed tuna fish, similar to a Brad’s Super Bait. The Scent Bomb was developed by accident in a 2010 tournament when the bite was off. Frustrated that we were not getting any bites, I put a scented device above a flasher just to see what would happen. Less than an hour later, we had landed seven fish. It worked! You can actually make fish that normally don’t bite, bite by stimulating a feeding frenzy with more scent. Why do guides use really large egg clusters soaked in their favorite scent? To get a feeding frenzy started.
FOR MY VERNITA FISHING program, I use Cannon Digi Troll 10 downriggers to hug 4 feet off the bottom in all the major holes. Yes, this ’rigger is expensive and an investment that not everyone who works this fishery can afford, but I just happen to have four of them, and they make my trolling way less risky.
I hugged bottom with Scotty downriggers for years and was successful 90 percent of the time. The problem comes when you get sidetracked and a downrigger ball gets stuck on the bottom in a major trolling hole. I have seen it hundreds of times. Sporting goods shops have a heyday selling balls to downrigger anglers who make that mistake, but with my Cannons I haven’t lost one in five years, and that has paid for the extra cost of owning the bottom-tracking devices. All you have to do is follow me to the Lava Rock Hole just below Priest Rapids Dam and watch me bottom-track to see why one in 10 lose a downrigger ball. The King Hole also eats them if you get too close to the bottom. The Pipe Hole below Vernita Bridge and the half of a mile of river above the first reactor is a beautiful spot to snag a ball or two if you don’t know what you are doing. The same thing can happen below Coyote Rapids; a nasty snag is right under the wires in the middle of the river. The Punch Bowl has eaten many downrigger balls if you go into water over 40 feet deep. The Deep Hole has a jagged bottom.
The only hole that rarely eats any is the Hatchery Hole, about 2 miles down from Priest Rapids Dam below the Lava Rocks. It is only about 25 feet deep and sometimes it is red hot with lots of successful downrigger anglers, and sometimes the current is too swift to troll forward. If my boat is trolling backwards at the Hatchery Hole, then it is time to put on the eggs and find some egg water. Again, I doubt that we will see too many egg days this fall. At press time, we don’t have any water to move.
I can go to any trolling hole during the day and do quite well if the boat can make ground going forward. I have my favorites to play with early in the morning: Lava Hole; the entire Hatchery Hole on both sides of the river; the top of the King Hole and its 35-foot depths, as well as the bottom end’s 40-foot water; and the Punch Bowl. I like to start 30 feet down in 35 to 40 feet of water early in the day.
It is a good idea to keep in touch with other fishermen in a variety of holes to see where the bite is hot. It will vary as fish move upriver daily. I will not leave a hole until the bite turns off. The lower King Hole bite usually lasts for a couple of hours and goes dead until about noon. I’ll come back to it later after exploring other water up- or downriver.
THIS WILL BE A Super Bait year unless the rain comes early this fall. Brad’s has come out with some amazing colors lately, including the Twisted Sister, which last year had fishermen traveling to the Tri-Cities from up to 300 miles away just to pick up a few. I even made the trip to buy the pattern, as well as the Christine Special, out of Desert Aire. But Ranch and Home (ranch-home. com) no longer has a monopoly on the new colors for 2015. Hooked On Toys (hookedontoys.com) in Wenatchee picked up about 10 new ones this season to give a try, and many of us are already custom painting them.
Meanwhile, guide Jerrod Gibbons of Innovative Outdoor Products is putting an after-market wing on many of the original Super Baits to get a faster spin. Yes, these baits are expensive, but who cares if the trip is already costing you $200 to make anyway? What is another $12 if it helps you catch more fish? I will run two Spin Series on my bottom-tracking outside rods. The middle two suspended downriggers will get the original and mini cutplug. I am catching almost half my fish on the latter on the center rod. I love to put on the mini Blue Hawaiian and crush fish out the back.
I rig all my baits with a single siwash 4/0 Gamakatsu and 30-pound Big Game Leader. I don’t like to handle kings with trebles, no matter how much the hooks have sewn their mouth shut. The tie-up is similar for a cutplug as an original. The only difference is the amount of leader protection to the hook. The typical leader length at Vernita is 5 feet for all Super Baits, but I have seen guides play around with super-short leaders – in the 2- to 3-foot range – at the Hatchery Hole from time to time when the water flow is super slow. Pay attention to those around you who are catching fish and check out their leader length.
I like to use a full-size Pro Troll flasher with the agitator fin so that I can get the maximum roll at the slowest trolling speed. My favorite is chrome and my second favorite is glow green.
WHAT COLOR BOMB WORKS the best? I really don’t know. I like glo white, but all the colors work great. The devices come either wired or unwired. I prefer to use them on a wire, and the night before I’ll put three times as many as I need in to soak in tuna oil. The scent is the added edge that is usually top secret on many guide boats. I prefer to use Super Dipping Sauce Salmon, Krill and Garlic on three-quarters of my rods being fished. I will also use Pro Cure Sardine in the guide bottle as my big-fish attractor from time to time as needed. If you talk to 10 guides who fish Vernita, you will get a variety of answers on the scent being used. Many products mix well with the tuna fish base to get what you need to make a more powerful smell.
How important is scent? All you have to do is fish next to me without the extra power tuna fish provides and see what happens. Also ask the fish checkers. They know when the Super Bait/Scent Bomb teams are on the water. The catch rate per boat generally goes way up if the water is low and slow!
How often do I switch out my bombs? For my guide service, I set up 12 cans of tuna in three containers every day. I will change out the filling every half-hour during a strong bite, and every hour in between bites. I am constantly putting in fresh bait with more scent power. Watch the rods very closely after they get fresh bait – the action can heat up instantly.
I am headed down to Vernita early this season and staying until the end of the run to find some great fishing in the Columbia’s slow, low trolling holes. I believe that we will be able to find some great catch numbers early this year as the fish get trapped in the deeper water.
If you have any questions about this subject, contact me at Don Talbot’s Fishing (509-679 8641; donsfishingguideservice.com). NS