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Fly fishing for Coho has been gaining popularity over the last few years. Although the river is crowded during peak times, the “fly guys” seem to find their turf and do very well. As the Coho enter the river they work their way through the lower canal and into the lower river. Water depths in the bottom end are minimal with a deep spot being sometimes only a few feet. The fish moving through this area are very wary and will spook easily. The “plop” of a float hitting the water will cause them to scatter. On the other hand a skillfully placed fly will drift unsuspectingly towards the fish. As you get further up the river, Coho will commonly be found hanging back in the tail outs of pools or in smaller riffled water which is not being occupied by their bigger cousins the Chinook. Coho and Chinook do not tend to hold closely in the same waters. Difficult to fish with drift gear without spooking the fish, the tailout water is ideal for the fly fisher. Coho can be caught in the mid and upper stretches of the river although the water structure is much more dramatic, mostly pools and shallow rapids. Coho will find guts and depressions in which to hold and again, provided they are not spooked, will be interested in a well placed fly.

In the lower river where water depth is minimal, the use of floating lines, intermediate sinking lines, or slower sink tips will work the best. Beadhead patterns will sink that little bit extra to get down to the fish. In low light conditions, early or late in the day or on overcast days, the Coho will often take flies subsurface. As light increases or fishing pressure, it will be necessary to get your fly close to them in order to entice them. That is when you will need a heavier sink tip fly line to get down. The faster, more broken up water of the upper river will require the same line. Do not make the mistake of using a long leader as it will only get caught in the current, defeating the efforts of your sink tip to get down. Keep the leader short, about 5’...even less. With regards to leader length, in the lower river it is fine to use with a floating line, a longer leader with a beadhead fly. Carefully mending the line will allow the fly to sink a couple feet subsurface which is adequate for Coho freshly entering to system. A length of about 9’ with the last 4’ being tippet is about as long as needed. One other word of caution is that when fishing a full sinking line, the entire line sinks. In itself this is not necessarily a bad thing however in the lower river it is common to have twigs and branches protruding from the bottom. The full sinking line will catch on these without fail so it is advisable to be somewhat familiar with the water you are fishing and just where those snags are. The use of polarized sunglasses will often make the difference in visually locating snags and carefully avoiding them or wasting your time tying on yet another fly. By far the best line for fishing larger expanses of shallow water is the intermediate slow sink line. Designed to cut through the surface film, eliminating surface disturbance which often raises the caution flag for Coho holding in shallows. The sink rate is low at between 1.5 and 2.75 inches per second, this is based on stagnant conditions so in a river condition the sink rate is minimized. These lines are clear, typical of “Stillwater”, “Clear Camo” and a host of other clear sinking lines. Newest on the line up is the “Striped Bass” line which has an aggressive forward taper designed to turn over a large or heavy fly and give optimum casting distance. The forward taper leads into the thinner mono running line which will shoot through the guides for better distance. Regardless of which line is used , Coho are readily caught on the fly. The presentation of the fly is most important. I have found that most fish hit the fly in free drift as it parallels the current downstream. Often just as the fly swings to the shore the fish will have been tracking the fly and hit it just as it slows. After the drift I will retrieve for about 15-20’ in short strips of about 8”. Sometimes the Coho will hit on the retrieve, sometimes not. In any sort of current it is important to mend the line properly to allow the fly and line to sink. In very slow water where there is little current it will be necessary to retrieve the cast fly, again a halted retrieve of short pulls usually works. As the fly is drawn closer I tend to quicken the speed of retrieve and often the fish will latch onto the fly quite close to the rod tip.

As with any fishery where stealth is an asset, the use of fluorocarbon leader material will likely bring better results. Less visible than mono it makes a great difference. With any sinking line it is important not to use too long a leader, 7’ is a maximum. With a clear sinking line you can get away with as little as 5’. Sink tips fished in pockets or faster current need only a 3’- 4’ leader.

The choice of fly remains! Everyone has a favorite once they put some time into it and hook a few fish. One thing for sure is that you do not need to have a great big fly to attract a Coho. Granted they have been feeding on herring and needlefish so one would expect them to have interest in flies of the same size. For Coho having entered fresh water this is often not the case. I find that the best results are on smaller flies, from #6 and down to a #10. On average, a #8 works fine. More emphasis should be put on the “dress” of the fly rather than on hook size. Flies tied a little on the sparse side often catch better, especially on spooky Coho. Coho which have just entered will be way more aggressive and attack fuller, brighter or more flashy flies. The most popular attractor fly is the “Christmas Tree” or its sparser version commonly called a “Flash Fly”. Green/silver and blue/silver are commercially available. If you are tying them yourself there are a lot of appealing colors in pearlescent and metallic finishes that produce some great looking variations. The “Coho Blue” and “Coho Green” have been long time favorites in streamer style flies. Variations with different accents of Flashabou, Krystal Flash or Angel Hair will liven up this steadfast pattern yet the originals remain tied, tested and true. The “Rolled Muddler” has been used with both confidence and success for decades now in Lower Mainland streams as well as throughout the Vancouver Island streams and beaches. Commonly tied in gold body or silver body, a little bit of imagination with some of the accent materials available now can create even more productive variations on the original theme. Although not that renowned on this river the “Spider” is a larger soft hackled streamer originally tied with a natural mallard flank hackle which undulates in the current. Tied with dyed flank feathers of blue, olive or green, these have worked really well over the last few years.

The addition of a beadhead assures that the fly will sink readily or at least minimize the tendency for the fly to be “blown” around by the current and therefore be an easier target for any fish interested. The weighted fly will be more awkward to cast and if distance is an issue of importance it may be better to use an unweighted version. If you are tying your own flies, be sure to cement over the body wrap of tinsel or diamond braid. A bit of cement on the thread wraps over the hook shank will stop any movement of materials on the hook. Give the fly head a couple of coats of cement to ensure that wing and hackles remain firmly affixed. It is surprising how beat up a fly can get in a battle with a Coho. If you have lots of flies then it may not matter. If you have only a few it takes no time to thrash them when the bite is on. As a rule it will most likely be the fly that you only have one of that will be the hot ticket. A little bit of extra time at the tying bench will be priceless at this time.

It may take the better part of a day or even two to figure out where, when and with what you will catch a Coho, but it will happen. When it does it is just awesome to experience.... the rod buckling ,the line slapping through the guides and swishing through the water...then the reel will scream and a Coho will burst through the surface into the air.

By Peter MacPherson
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