Roe, roe, roe your bait

Posted: Friday, August 22, 2003

The sunny days of summer are growing shorter, the vibrant pink fireweed blossoms are nearly at their tips and the shorelines of many peninsula rivers are littered with salmon carcasses. However, despite the misconception of many a fleeing tourist fishing season isn't over yet.

The silver salmon, a.k.a. cohos, are just starting to enter the scene in notable numbers with much ado from local anglers that have been eagerly awaiting their arrival.

With their fierce fighting style, high flying aerial acrobatics, and breakaway runs as long and hard as a locomotive, these fish are prized by many as the pinnacle of sportfish in Alaska.

The last of the salmon to enter our waterways for the year, silvers can be enticed by several methods. Sure, they can be landed using flashy Pixees, Vibrax and Mepps, but it's not uncommon for these fish to go off the bite for artificial lures.

However, a lack of interest in the artificial doesn't have to slow the fishing down, it just means a change in tactics. When this happens, many anglers would agree that "You've gotta fish the roe, if you wanna land coho."

Roe can often make the difference between landing a hawg or going home empty handed and here's the reason why.

While moving upstream to spawn, coho will often only briefly hold bait in their mouths before spitting it back out. They are adept at quickly detecting artificial lures and can't seem to spit them out fast enough, sometimes so fast that an angler may not even realize they had a bite.

A fresh, juicy cluster of roe, on the other hand, is the real thing and fish may hold it in their mouths for several seconds. If they do spit it the first time, they may pick it up a few more times. These extra few seconds can often be the extra advantage an angler needs to land a fish.

Roe has other advantages as well. It often "milks" or "chums" into the water as it is fished. This means the roe will leave a scent trail that moves downstream and is believed to trigger a feeding instinct in fish, or at the very least draw them in closer to striking range.

Roe can also be used to double the odds by using it in a bait/lure combination. In this technique the roe is fished with yarn or a bright colored artificial lure. This is a great combination when water is running silty or unclear as has been the case for most of the year on the lower Kenai and Kasilof Rivers because the bright color will lend to visibility, while the roe gives off a scent.

By this time of year many people have already dried out large amounts of roe from the chinook or sockeye harvests to have some bait for coho. For those who didn't, roe can always be purchased. In either case, roe should be firm, colorful and tough enough to stay on the hook.

However, there's more to it than just tearing a glob of roe off and sticking it on a hook. Eggs won't stay attached for more than a few seconds using that technique. Instead, an egg loop is needed to secure the roe to the hook.

This is an easy knot to learn. Like tying flies, many anglers find it more satisfying to tie their own egg loops rather than to buy them, but egg loop leaders can be purchased for those who are all thumbs.

Being able to tie an egg loop can be worth knowing though in case you underestimate your needs and run out of store-bought leaders.

This column is the opinion of Clarion reporter Joseph Robertia. Comments may be e-mailed to

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