How to fish for cohos, this year’s derby darling

Boats head out from Douglas Harbor to fish the 2017 Golden North Salmon Derby on Friday, Aug. 11, 2017. (Emily Russo Miller | Juneau Empire)

With king salmon fishing closed in Southeast, cohos will get their chance to shine at this year’s Golden North Salmon Derby.


Derby fishing starts today, and come Sunday, expect a coho to take home the $10,000 grand prize. If you haven’t bought a ticket or read the rules, you can find them in the Empire’s special section.

Aside from the rules, here’s what to know to land a money fish.

Anyone has a chance

The closure placed on king salmon retention has a big silver lining for derby fishers.

Cohos return to the Juneau area in much greater abundance than king salmon, so they’re easier to find. They are also the most aggressive biters and the easiest to catch on sport gear, Fish and Game officials say.

So it’s not unheard of for novice anglers to go out and catch a coho, or two, or hit the Fish and Game daily limit at six — all in one day.

Of the top 70 fish turned into derby officials last year, only 27 were king salmon, the rest were coho.

All of this means just about anyone dragging a bait fish or hoochie through the water has a chance.

Last year’s top coho weighed in at 19.5 pounds, good for 14th place. But the 69th-place fish, also a coho, came in at 15.8.

Those are both big fish, but the range between them is small. Fish and Game reports that fishermen land anywhere between 1,000 and 4,000 fish during the derby’s three days.

If you catch one of those and it’s more than 16 pounds, you’ve got a shot at a prize.

Green is in season

As an avid angler, Fish and Game sport fish biologist Dan Teske likes to take Fridays off every year to fish the derby.

His advice?

“Fish any color as long as it is green,” Teske said.

Sport fishermen are most successful landing cohos with chartreuse or green lures, at least as far as artificial gear goes, Teske said.

Anything you put in the water should be actual fish food (like herring) or something resembling food. Coho have a varied diet, but eat a lot of herring, and when they’re in the ocean, squid, which may be the reason they’re attracted to squid-imitating hoochies.

Bait fish aren’t any less effective, but if you’re going to fish a lure in the derby, which can mean less hassle, go green this year.

Where to go? Anywhere

The backside of Douglas is a hot spot for coho fishing. If you want to travel a little farther, the area offshore of Point False Retreat to Cordwood Creek, just around the corner of Admiralty Island, is another good drag.

But cohos can be found all over in the Juneau area. The winning fish could be caught anywhere, Fish and Game biologist Phillip Richards said.

Hit up one of the hotspots if you believe the hype, or if you want to avoid the crowds, just drop a line anywhere on derby grounds. The important thing is to keep your gear in the water.

Fish shallower

Cohos are generally found in shallower water than kings.

Richards said it’s common to catch them at the surface or down to 150 feet.

That’s a little shallower than most king salmon. This is good news if you don’t have a downrigger as weights or divers will get you down far enough for cohos.

Tide changes can start a bite

Many fishermen report having good luck around tide changes.

It’s not clear why — or even if there’s any merit to that theory — Richards said, but hypothesis is that prey for fish are more vulnerable during a tide change. When the current goes slack, they aren’t travelling as much, making them vulnerable and triggering fish to bite.


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