Dyed Herring Deliver Alaska Coho

By Rye Phillips | 09/02/2014

When coho go on a feeding frenzy, almost anything will catch them. Spinners, flashers, hoochies, spoons and plugs. But when the bite gets tough, trolling plug-cut herring will trigger bites when nothing else will. Add a little color and plug-cut baits work even better, especially for lock-jawed coho just days away from leaving the salt and charging into the rivers.


Starting with good, clean herring is vital. Just like the spinners, flashers and hoochies and spoons will produce during a wide-open bite, less-than-perfect herring also will work when coho go on a wide open bite. But when fishing is tough, high quality herring is crucial. I like green-label tray bait. I make sure the herring isn’t freezer burnt and the scales are in tact. It’s important to keep the baits frozen from the time you buy it until you brine it up.


Herring thawed and fished as is will work, but brined baits work much better for silvers. Generally you are trolling fairly fast for silvers, and unbrined baits will not stay on the hook well, or for very long. I like Pautzke’s Fire Brine. Green, chartreuse or red are hot colors for me in the ocean.

The brine toughens the baits up, ensuring they stay on the hook, and add bright colors silvers can’t resist, even when they don’t want to bite.


I thaw the baits just enough to keep the tails and fins from breaking off when pulling them apart. I then add them to a plastic container and pour in the Pautzke Fire Brine.


Pautzke Fire Brine is extremely potent and powerful. It’s great because it will brine baits in a short period of time. I add the baits to the brine just before leaving the dock and they are ready to fish in about an hour. If you leave baits in the pure brine all day, the baits can be over-cured. So I like to add about half Pautzke Fire Brine and half saltwater from the water I am fishing. That way I can leave the baits in the brine all day, instead of brining for a few hours and then removing from the brine and storing in a different container.


It doesn’t take long for the baits to toughen up and get the perfect color that coho can’t resist. To add more scent, I’ll plug-cut the baits and take the heads and add them to the brine. Two heads trolled on a mooching rig also will work if you run out of herring. I fish the baits with the guts in tact, but cut a vent on the belly to allow water to pass through and reduce the water pressure against the cut of the herring.


Two size 4/0 hooks work well when trolling plug-cut herring. I like the second hook to be placed near the tail and leave it as a stinger instead of hooking it into the bait. The typical speed for trolling herring for silvers is 2 1/2 to 3 knots. I look at the downrigger cables and keep them angled back toward the transom about 40 degrees. Coho generally are caught 20 to 60 feet below the surface. In most cases, trolling with the current is best, and a one-way troll will often out produce trolling both directions.

Editor’s Note: Rye Phillips is an Alaskan and Oregon fishing guide. His web site is www.fishingwithrye.com.