Category Archives: Rigs

Guide Ready to ‘Bomb’ Vernita

Basin Beacon by Don TalbotFish 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.

Scent Bombs are rigged in front of the flasher. (DONSFISHINGGUIDESERVICE.COM)

Scent Bombs are rigged in front of the flasher. (DONSFISHINGGUIDESERVICE.COM)

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.

A man holds up a massive silvery fish

A happy Vernita angler shows off a very nice early-morning Columbia fall Chinook, caught a couple Septembers ago on a Supr Bait, flasher and Scent Bomb. (DONSFISHINGGUIDESERVICE.COM)

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 ( in Wenatchee picked up about 10 new ones this season to give a try, and many of us are already custom painting them.

Super Baits nestle in tuna. Trolling the faux cutplugs in deeper, slow-moving pools below Priest Rapids Dam and in the Hanford Reach is favored by the downrigger set, while eggs are preferred in faster, shallower water. With this year’s river conditions, the former technique could perform well.

Super Baits nestle in tuna. Trolling the faux cutplugs in deeper, slow-moving
pools below Priest Rapids Dam and in the Hanford Reach is favored by
the downrigger set, while eggs are preferred in faster, shallower water.
With this year’s river conditions, the former technique could perform well.

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; NS

Jerrod and Katlynn Gibbons hold a large Upriver Bright fish

guide-daughter day at White Bluffs! Jerrod and Katlynn Gibbons display her first upriver bright, caught in September 2013. (DONSFISHINGGUIDESERVICE.COM)

ROTM Vault: Barbless Spinner Rig For Buoy 10



Spinners have proven themselves season after season in the Columbia River estuary and are now considered a Buoy 10 essential. Just make sure you bring lots of different shaped spinner blades, colors and sizes. Also, don’t just crimp your barbs that come stock on your favorite B10 spinners – cut the treble off and crimp on a Big River Bait hook that comes in an open eye. Having a strong single 4/0 hook will ensure deep penetration into any salmon’s jaw. Run your spinner 5 feet behind a Delta Diver and Flasher and you will have a winning combination at the buoy.


Get All Choked Up

How to rig a whole herring for Buoy (and elsewhere).

By Brian Robertson

Have you choked your herring lately? If you haven’t, you should. Once you try it, you’ll do it over and over again.

Nothing puts a frowny face on a salmon angler like reeling up their cutplug and seeing it all blown out. Whether because of poor brine, bad bait or excessive current, the results are all the same: a herring that lasts about 2.5 seconds in heavy flows.

I had this exact issue at Buoy 10 last year. The 10 dozen herring I had brought for the week had thawed on our trek to Ilwaco and were already losing scales. We tried fishing them, but they just wouldn’t hold together. We thought about using herring hoods, but trying to find those on short notice during peak season was a bust.

Author's Client with Chinook

One of the author’s clients shows off a Buoy 10 Chinook caught last year on a choked herring set-up. (ROD RAGE GUIDE SERVICE)

Fresh bait is easy to come by in the B10 area and was really my only option. While typically not as large as the blue- and green-label herring, and though the quality can be hit or miss, depending on the harvest, there are a half-dozen places to pick it up in the morning before heading out. Now, I had never run whole herring with much success, and I figured it was how I was rigging the bait. I never could get them to spin quite right. So I hit the Internet. That’s when I found a video on “Rigging a Choked Herring” by Derek Floyd of Anglers Choice Fishing Charters on The Outdoor Line radio show’s YouTube channel. I’ve been choking my herring ever since.

I don’t have numbers to say it works better than plug-cut herring, but we filled a 5-cubic-foot chest freezer with nothing but fillets from a single week – proof enough for me.

The rig produces a thumping spin that mimics a crippled herring perfectly. You can run your herring fresh without brine, and in extremely fast currents without blowouts.

TO GET STARTED, TIE a herring leader just like any other solid-tie two-hook set-up, except space your hooks only 2.5 to 3 inches apart. I like to use double 4/0 octopus hooks paired with 30-pound leader.

Notch the bridge of the nose of your herring. This will be used to half-hitch the herring’s mouth shut. I notch the nose before threading the hooks so that I don’t have a knife anywhere near my leader.

Insert the trailer hook through the eye membrane from under the gill of your herring. Follow the trailer hook with the top hook.

Thread the top hook through the midline on the same side of the herring, lining up with the dorsal fin. Let the trailer dangle behind.

Lay the herring flat in your hand and use your thumb to put the desired curve in the herring, then hitch the nose of the herring, pulling the line tight to the top hook. This will hold the herring in the desired curve. Finish with another half hitch.

If you want some flair, put a spinner blade in front of the herring.

I run my choked herring 42 inches behind an 8-inch Fish Flash paired with a 10- to 16-ounce lead cannonball on an 18-inch dropper, all under a Lamiglas Kenai Kwik 1064. Lots of flashers and colors work very well at Astoria, but a choked herring in combination with a flasher is hard to beat; my top attractor last year was “Knock Out” (ice pink and pearl).

The next time you are out with your buddies and you’re worried about your bait blowing out, go ahead and choke your herring instead. They will be impressed. NS

Editor’s note: The author operates Rod Rage Guide Service on the Columbia and Cowlitz. Reach him at (509) 307-3040.

Shotgun Your Plug And Bait

Morning light is just starting to break. A thin sliver of grey to the east slowly drowns out stars as I beach my sled onto the rocks at the Cowlitz River’s Blue Creek launch. The big motor falls silent and there’s a calming and exciting silence: There’s nothing but the gentle sounds of the river.My thoughts race. What will the day bring? Will the fish cooperate? Bait or plugs? Which bait? Which plugs? Last fall’s salmon fishery had a phenomenal egg bite. By the close of season, I had burned through over 60 pounds of eggs. My boat looked like it had been blasted by a paint ball gun, and the rods and reels had a crust that I thought was going to be permanent. It was worth it: I boated  a lot of Chinook on divers with Spin-N-Glo and eggs. It was fantastic, but I found myself wondering, how many plug fish was I missing? Moreover, how many more hatchery fish can I bonk? Most plug fish are so aggressive they hit any intruder to water they occupy. But does this same plug-crazed salmon turn up his nose at bait?

little fish

The same goes for steelhead, for that matter. Divers and coon shrimp are the ticket on the Cowlitz, but some days they are a bunch of crackheads over a plug. So there is the quandary: How do you fish plugs and bait at the same time without giving up the effectiveness of either? Some anglers have tried tying the bait leaders to the belly of their favorite plug and leaving the trailer hook. In my mind it works, but the added pressure from that bait leader will ultimately decrease the action of the plug. This may decrease the predatory or territorial reaction bites. In heavy currents, a belly leader can cause your plug to roll over and ski up to the surface. Over the last two seasons I have been fishing with a better mouse trap. I am running plugs the same way I would run a Jet Diver. It’s that simple. So simple I am mad that I had not figured it out years ago.

THIS ISN’T NEW, BY any means, but my variation is one that works best for me. I know several professionals who have their own versions that work – Cody Herman of Day One Outdoors, Dan Houfek of D&H Guide Service and TJ Hester of Hester’s Sportfishing have their own twists to the shotgun rig. The idea is that the fish get a look at both bait and plug all in one shot, and it really works! So well, in fact, I have for the most part gone away from using divers all together. I have had several occasions where steelhead have eaten both the plug and the coon shrimp. Who needs barbs when they have a bait hook stuffed down their throat and a plug anchored in their jaw? I am no mathematician, but doesn’t this set-up kind of double your odds? I mean, why wouldn’t you use two presentations at once? The sky is the limit on this rig. I have been able to run Spin-N-Glo and eggs, herring, prawn spinners, coon shrimp – the list goes on. And it can be run in all of the plug and/or diver-and-bait water you have fished in the past.

It has also worked on every species I have tried it on. Walleye with a worm harness. Chinook with prawn spinners, choked herring, and Spin-N-Glo and eggs. Steelhead with prawns, pink worms and Spin-N-Glo with egg. Coho with prawn spinners. Even running a plug for summer Chinook paired with a Triple Teazer or Dick Nite for shad in June. It’s no secret I have a love for Mag Lips that goes a bit beyond platonic. They just work the best for me, but they are not the only fish killer on the block. If you have a favorite brand, I am sure this technique will work for you. I know shad anglers who use a metallic blue Brad’s Magnum Wiggler for a diver for their Dick Nites, and other anglers who run a Kwikfish. It is whatever floats your boat. I base my plug selection on depth, water speed and fish location. Pick a plug that puts the set-up where the fish are. Keep in mind the added weight of the bait will affect the diving depth of your plug. Just tinker with diving depth until you get to that ideal sweet spot you’re looking for. For steelhead, I use a Mag Lip 3.5 as the diver. I prefer to run single 1/0s attached with a crane swivel. It’s my opinion that they stick better with the barbless rule. The swivel allows for full rotation during the fish’s out of-water acrobatics. I tried double split rings, but had some failures due to binding. Nothing triggers a man’s thought process faster than gear failure resulting in a lost fish.

Story & Photos by Brian Robertson

Cowlitz Salmon, Steelhead Shotgun Rig

For steelhead, this is the set-up I use: rod:
Lamiglas Certified Pro Kwik XCC 802 or
803 GH; reel: Shimano Tekota 300LC; main
line: 40-pound Shimano PowerPro; leaders:
12-pound Maxima Ultragreen to the bait,
15-pound test to the Mag Lip 3.5; hook: No.
1 or 1/0 Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp or TroKar.

For salmon, the Mag Lip 4.5 and 5.0 work for me, and 4/0 single hooks are best – they just stay anchored. You can also still run a bait wrap because the bait leader does not put pressure on your plug. Here’s the rest of the set-up:
rod: Lamiglas Certified Pro Kwik XCC 904 or 934 GH; reel: Shimano Tekota 300LC; main line: 40-pound Shimano PowerPro; leaders:
25- to 40-pound Maxima Ultragreen to the
bait, 20-pound to the Mag Lip 4.5 or 5.0;
hook: Double 3/0 or 4/0 Eagle Claw TroKar.
–Brian Robertson