Drift fishing is easy, fun and effective. The technique has gained popularity
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Ernie Fedoruk's CornerBy David Y. Wei & Suzanne Clouthier ,
Amazing! Even though we were fishing close to the bottom, in nearly 200 feet of water, I could still feel the action of the jig. The custom seven-ounce Striker lure at the end of the low-stretch Berkley Gorilla Braid superline fluttered enticingly on each downstroke. Our guide, and the new owner of Rip Tide Striker Lures in Campbell River, British Columbia, Ken Nastrom, allowed his charter boat to drift slowly in the ebbing tide as we worked the contours of the Hump.
"The Hump" is a gently sloping underwater hill just south of the Cape Mudge lighthouse on Quadra Island. The top of the hill lies at a depth of about 140 feet, and gradually drops off into about 270 feet.
Earlier, Ken found the crest of the Hump, then maneuvered the boat so he could back troll to control our drift against the heavy tidal flow. All around us small Boston Whaler guide boats from other lodges jockeyed for position to keep their clients' mooching gear relatively vertical. A few larger boats trolled around the edge of the moochers. A huge herd of seals cavorted in the tidal eddies, waiting for the sound of the clicker on a reel to screech out a dinner call. Normally shy Dall's porpoises swam lazily right through the fleet, their small black dorsal fins cutting gentle wakes behind them. There was something wrong with this idyllic scene though: no one was playing a fish.
When the Lowrance 55A sonar showed 147 feet on the backside of the Hump, Ken asked us to drop our 7-ounce needlefish Strikers, in the latest "army truck" colour, to within 10 feet of the bottom. As we drifted, the depth quickly dropped to 170 feet. Ken started up the main motor, then slipped it into reverse to slow our progress and allow the lines to go vertical.
I lifted my fishing rod, then quickly lowered the tip to let the jig flutter down. I felt a light bump, and pulled up hard on the rod. Something on the line pulled back even harder, and dragged the rod tip into the water. I put my thumb on the spool and set the hooks with a short, solid stroke. Line spilled off the reel, went slack for a split second, then spilled off again in a supercharged run.
Ken yelled only one word: "seal!" He spun the boat around and followed the fish. I frantically wound in the slack line. When I felt the weight again, it didn't feel like a seal had grabbed my fish - I was sure these were the solid tugs and runs of a large Chinook. Just to be sure, Ken kept the boat right over my fish for the rest of the fight. After another ten minutes of dogged battle, Ken slipped the net around a 20-pound Chinook.
He grunted with satisfaction as he showed me where I had driven two prongs of the barbless treble hook into the fish's mouth. We also noticed a jagged line on the tail where a seal had grabbed the fish early in the fight. Within five minutes of our very first drift, Ken had found me a trophy Chinook.
Ken Nastrom is the owner of King Jigger Charters in Campbell River. While Ken uses many techniques to catch salmon, he believes that jigging with Rip Tide Striker lures will outfish all other methods by a seven-to-one ratio. He has such faith in the jig that he bought the Rip Tide Striker company in 1997, and now manufactures the lures in Campbell River.
While my wife Suzanne and I have caught salmon on a variety of jigs, including the original Striker, we still needed some convincing that it was that much better. On our second drift, Suzanne and I each got several "bumps", but missed the sets. The guides and their clients in the other boats were starting to look at us more closely. Most of the others hadn't even had a nibble since they had started fishing hours earlier.
On the third pass, as we again drifted over the 170-foot depth, a vicious strike almost ripped the rod from my hands. Line peeled off the reel immediately. I only needed to put my thumb on the spool for a split second to set the hooks solidly. The fish suddenly turned back towards the boat, and I had to raise the rod high over my head, then reel to find it again. Ken reminded me that we were using barbless hooks and to keep tension on the line.
I appreciated the walkaround deck of Ken's Campion Explorer. The fish came to the surface and thrashed wildly for a few seconds before racing under the bow of the boat. I plunged the tip of the rod deep into the water and ran forward. As the fish cleared the bow, Ken put the motor into gear and followed.
The other boats parted courteously so we could have a clear path. Standing at the bow, I was able to direct Ken, and also to indicate to the other anglers where the fish was heading. Ken wanted to keep right on top of the fish because of the seals, but had quite a time of it as my fish made one sizzling run after the other.
The tight drag took its toll. I could see the fish about 10 feet down in the clear water, still swimming head-down, but only at the same speed as the boat. The broad green back with dark spots snaked through the water.
I had to be careful now. With a big fish on a short line, one powerful sweep of its tail could sling a jig back at my head if the hooks pulled out. I eased the tension and the fish swam to the surface on its own. When it finally rolled over, I leaned back on the rod and Ken bagged a 22-pound "Oregon stubby" Chinook in the net.
In three drifts I had limited out. I set up another rod for Ken and all three of us jigged to get Suzanne a fish. Each drift we would hit salmon, but couldn't keep them on long enough for Suzanne to gain control. In all we hit over a dozen salmon in less than four hours.
We only observed two other salmon being played during the whole time we were out. That day, a lot of disappointed anglers were saying there were no fish. Ken says there are lots of fish; one only needs the right lure to get them to hit.
Ken did notice that Suzanne had difficulty feeling hits while jigging in deep water, and stated that a number of his clients had the same problem. He intimated that he was working on a new lure that would be a lot easier to fish.
For the next day, Suzanne suggested that we have a "stag" trip so she could sleep in, then go shopping. She bagged a beautiful ceramic serving dish, shaped like a mussel shell, from the Otter Gallery, and a lovely gift basket of soaps and bath bombs from The Bed and Bath Shoppe. Campbell River has many fine shops featuring the work of local craftspeople to tempt Suzanne. She considers Campbell River one of the nicest towns to shop in B.C.
In the meantime, I showed up at the marina at the laid-back hour of 10 a.m. to go fishing. When Ken arrived, he was talking to Tab Baker on his cell phone (Tab was, until his recent transfer to a new store, the manager of the Campbell River Zeller's department store, which features Ken's lures). Tab was asking if he and Scott Mackway from Maurice Tackle could come out fishing. Ken asked me if it would be okay to take Tab and Scott out. No problemo, the more the merrier.
Tab came out still wearing his business suit, holding what appeared to be a package of boxer shorts. Looking a bit uneasy, he said he tried to find something appropriate to wear for fishing on his way out of the store. As we raced back out to the fishing spot, Tab disappeared into the cuddy cabin. When he re-emerged, he was such a sight that Ken and I couldn't help laughing - barefoot, white dress shirt, and boxer shorts!
Scott, who knows Tab well, laughed uproariously and teased him without mercy. It didn't matter what Tab looked like. Two passes after arriving at the Hump, Tab set into a good Chinook that bent his rod over double. He admitted that he hadn't played many salmon before, and we reminded him to keep the rod up, wind in the slack, let the fish run, et cetera. He had on a good Chinook, so after about five minutes of playing the fish with Ken and me giving him advice, he got the hang of it.
Just in time! Tab's fish suddenly got very active. It peeled off line at will. Ken chased the fish through the pack of boats, then hovered over it when it sounded. Tab did the pump-and-wind to slowly work back some line. The fish kept swimming under the boat, so Tab also had to go from one side of the boat to the other, occasionally sticking his rod deep into the water to clear the prop. Just when we could see the fish under the boat, it would streak off again.
As the fish's runs got shorter, a sheen of perspiration on Tab's face showed how hard he was working. He really wanted this fish. A final desperate splashing and rolling on the surface gave Tab some worrisome moments just before Ken netted the lovely 20-pounder - Tab's biggest trophy ever!
The Strikers were working well. Within minutes of fishing again, I missed a strike and Scott slammed into a feisty 18-pounder. Ten minutes later, Tab had his limit with a nice 15-pounder. A final 11-pounder for Scott, and it was time to go.
While Scott and Tab were landing their strikes, Ken and I had a number of hits, but none of the salmon would stay on ... only dogfish. I learned very quickly that salmon hit mostly on the downstroke, when it was harder to get a hookset. Dogfish, on the other hand, are often hooked on the upstroke, and are on almost instantly if one happens to snag a needlefish on the bottom.
I was staying in the shark zone because I wanted a halibut . Only a few days before we arrived, one of Ken's guests landed a 70-pound hali on a green and white Striker right where we were fishing. I had caught all the salmon I wanted, so I was holding the lure closer to the bottom in hopes of a halibut.
Ken said that any time you're fishing near the bottom and the lure doesn't sink properly, it usually means it's snagged a needlefish whose struggles soon bring dogfish. Only when I was finally able to feel the difference between a proper "drop" and a slower, snagged-needlefish drop was I able to drag a few needlefish off the bottom before a dogfish hit. The new seven-ounce needlefish Striker in "army truck" colours closely resembles an actual needlefish in both size and colour. All the salmon that we had landed were stuffed with needlefish.
Ken likes to combine some sightseeing along with fishing on his longer charters. After our "boys" fishing trip, Ken's wife Danita suggested that Ken and I take the "girls" and his young son Cody for a tour of Desolation Sound.
Ken helped as Cody steered us east across the Strait to the quaint communal village of Refuge Cove on West Redonda Island. Refuge Cove has its own post office, general store and, of all things, a Starbucks coffee shop.
We just had time before sunset to sneak into Teakerne Arm to view pretty Cascade Falls. Ken ran the boat into a narrow, steep-sided box cove until we drifted almost right below the torrent of water. We tied up at a small wharf that B.C. Parks has provided nearby, and clambered up a path to the lake at the top of the falls. The view of the islands to the west in the early evening light was breathtaking.
At dusk we did a final cruise up Calm Channel so that we could enjoy the panorama of forested islands and the majestic mountains of the mainland. As we raced home between Quadra and Cortes Islands, the setting sun to the west and a full moonrise in the east gave our day a magical ending.
In Campbell River, Ken offers fully guided fishing, sightseeing charters, and arrangements for accommodation. Ken loves taking kids fishing, so family charters have a substantial discount for children.
On a subsequent trip, Ken brought out his latest creation: the Rip Tide Nuclear Needlefish trolling spoon. This narrow five-inch spoon looks and acts just like a real needlefish. Ken had said he would create a lure that would catch fish as well as his Strikers, but that would appeal to anglers like Suzanne, who don't like vertical jigging in deep water. Suzanne could now relax as the Nuclear spoon fished the depths horizontally from Ken's downriggers.
We had only travelled about one hundred metres at the Hump before the needlfish spoon, in a blue-pink glow finish, attracted the attention of a 20-pound Chinook. Two hard smacks on the deep line popped it from the downrigger clip. Ken wound in the setback, slammed the lure's big single hook home, and handed the rod to Suzanne.
The sound of the screaming reel was music to Suzanne's ears. The Chinook put on a show as it surfaced and porpoised through the pack of boats with the blue Hot Spot flasher skipping along behind it. Suzanne let it run against the tight drag until it sounded, then worked it hard back to the surface. The fish's initial runs were so furious that it tired quickly, and Suzanne was soon able to bring it to Ken's waiting net.
Although Suzanne and I have caught many salmon at Campbell River, this was Suzanne's first trophy Chinook. Over the next two hours Suzanne and I each took our limits as well as releasing another eight smaller (though still legal Chinook). Ken certainly showed that his lures, fished vertically or horizontally, would take fish!
Rip Tide Strikers and Nuclear Needlefish trolling spoons are sold in most tackle shops, notably at Nikka, Canadian Tire, Zeller's and Walmart. Ken makes six sizes of Striker, from one to seven ounces, and the five-inch Needlefish spoon. The lures come in a myriad of colours that can match whatever feed is present.
Ken Nastrom and King Jigger Charters can be reached by phone at 1-888-910-2288; by fax at (250)923-3340; or by email at email@example.com.
Danita Nastrom has created a wonderful and informative website that is linked to this site where you can order Rip Tide products or book a King Jigger charter.