October starts with cool mornings that often provides a haunting fog over the river and ends with Halloween. The month celebrates the harvest and for some reason the “scary” holiday that celebrates the dead. But for me, instead of witches when I see carved pumpkins I think of the twitching. Yes, October is the month of the “twitching hour”. You can head to any local river with just one rod and a handful of twitching jigs and catch fish. There are a few ways to use this technique so let’s go over them and instead of pumpkin spice latte’s and witches we can think of chrome coho and twitches.
First is the rod set up. The twitching rod is much more like a bass rod than a salmon rod, and in fact you can find specific bass rods just for twitching, or as bass anglers call it, pitching jigs. Salmon rod manufactures took these rods and modified them a bit as most bass anglers pitch their jigs using a level wind reel or low baitcaster with a pitching switch on them that allowed them to quickly open the bail and toss the jig, as well as control the drag. The problem with this for salmon anglers is that we cast our jigs and not really “pitch” them as bass anglers often fish within a few feet of the boat near cover. When fishing a river the cover-like log jams and root wads-can be several feet or further away. Then there is the technique of drift twitching, which we will cover in a bit.
So for the salmon angler the twitching rod is often a spinning rod that hads larger eyes near the reel seat allowing for the larger arbor reels to cast easily. Both the bass and salmon rods are around 7 ½ feet as this is a comfortable length to cast all day long and twitch. If you use a longer rod you are likely to over-twitch the jig meaning pulling it too high up and not letting it drop down to the fish. Plus, longer rods quickly wear out your wrist which is constantly flicking and holding the weight of the rod. The specifically designed twitching rod is well balanced with the reel and easy to twitch or flick and it won’t over-accentuate the jig. The reel is usually a size 30 spinning reel and a good mainline is needed. Almost all “twitchers” use braided line as it has no stretch and is strong. Some will use a 5-foot “bumper” of mono to help hide the line and make it easier to break off the jig if it gets caught up in the structure but it is not necessary. If the braid you have is a high visibility color you can use a black sharpie pen and color the last 5 feet but coho don’t seem to mind the bright colored line much. Braided line is strong and thin and 30-pound test is perfect for twitching. Anything lighter than that will easily wrap around your rod tip and if you hook a fish or a log it will snap the tip right off of the rod. Heavier braid can be a pain to break off and you will often hook into logs and stumps and lose jigs so it’s better to be able to break the line than to pull yourself right out of the drift boat. Don’t ask how I know this is possible, but I have learned to keep a set of extra clothes in a dry bag when floating rivers.
The jigs themselves are also specific to twitching. Unlike when you float jigs for steelhead or chums, where the jig is suspended under a float and tipped with bait or the flutter of the marabou draws the fish in, the twitching jig is fished alone. This means you need to be able to cast it without additional weight and it needs to sink in the current, plus create action when twitched to entice the bite. The most common weight is 3/8 ounce and a 2/0 hook. This jig is very versatile for the various conditions of our fall rivers. In some back eddy’s and sloughs a ¼ ounce jig will work and in fast runs the ½ ounce jig is preferred. But if you don’t want to take a lot of gear to the river then a pocketful of 3/8 ounce jigs will suit you just fine.
When you look at the many jigs on the market it can be a bit confusing. One thing to remember is coho are vicious fish and if you use a marabou jig that is made for floating under a bobber then it won’t last long when you cast it and twitch it. Coho will smash the jigs but you also are fishing structure so it will get tore up pretty good. Most commercial twitching jigs are a combination of materials including a strip of bunny fur with the leather making it tough, and marabou or a synthetic fur of some type. One very tough jig and is my most preferred is the Rock Dancer by Mack’s Lure. This jig was actually designed for walleye and bass fishing and is made of bucktail which is very durable and strong. The jig has a chenille collar on it that is actually a scent collar. Put all the sticky Pro-Cure bait sauce you want on this chenille collar and it won’t ruin the action of the jig. The head of the Rock Dancer has large painted eye’s that glow. Perfect for the low light on a cloudy day in the Pacific Northwest and it seems those eyes tend to entice the bite when a coho rushes at the jig.
Some anglers will make their own jigs by using a Gamakatsu jig head and a rubber squid skirt or otherwise known as a hootchie. Simply slide it over the jig head and poke the eye of the hook out and you have a jig. One really good thing about this jig is the ability to fill the cavity with Pro-Cure bait sauces. When it comes to scents and bait some anglers will tip the jigs with a piece of cured prawn but because you are twitching the jig the bait often comes off pretty quick. Instead use one of the many scent products on the market. Pro-Cure bait sauce in shrimp is one of the most popular because it stays on the jig but if you are using a jig with marabou or a strip of bunny fur then it is best to use one of the water soluble products and again, Pro-Cure makes them in a simple to use spray bottle and they have UV enhancers, again perfect for those cloudy fall days.
Colors of jigs can make a big difference. A friend of mine who tied his own custom jigs really liked a black body with a blaze orange head. It seemed to work well towards the end of the month and we would joke how the coho were celebrating Halloween. Other popular colors are all black, black and purple, all purple and black with cerise. I often wondered why coho strike twitched jigs so much and thought maybe it is the dancing action or mimicking a wounded baitfish. Then one day while fishing we caught a couple of coho at the same time. With no time to mess around the first fish was scooped up in the net and dumped onto the bottom of the boat. The second fish was then netted and landed and it was then that I noticed the first fish had puked up a bunch of leeches. All black and about the size of my jig. I know we often think salmon stop eating when they hit the freshwater but this fish’s belly had leaches in it, and a quick cleaning of the second fish showed the same thing. Maybe they gobble them up out of instinct but either way they like leaches and is one possible reason why they strike twitched jigs.
How to fish jigs is fairly simple, but if you do it wrong you will either end up foul hooking fish or not catching any at all. The most common water to twitch jigs is the holding water, otherwise known as back eddy’s and sloughs. These soft and calm waters often find coho resting in large groups and if you cast out the jig and let it sink to the bottom and then start twitching you are likely to foul hook a fish. Instead, cast and wait a second or two then then start the retrieve. The idea is to cause the jig to “dance” or twitch as you reel it in. Quickly raise the rod tip about a foot and then drop it so the jig rises quickly and then drops back down. Once the line lays on the water crank the reel one or two cranks and twitch again. It is that simple. If you find yourself not getting bites it is likely you are twitching too fast. You need that pause to let the jig sink as this is when the coho will bite it. What happens is that when you twitch the jig upwards it comes into sight of the fish as fish cannot see downwards. As the jig falls the fish realizes that it will soon be gone and grabs the jig. Most of the time it is a violent bite but sometimes you don’t feel anything until you go to twitch again and feel resistance. Be sure to set the hook as a fish grabbed the jig on the drop and just held it in their mouth. The best water for standard twitching is calm water that has structure such as log jams. Think like your bass fishing and cast into the log jams and twitch out of them as the coho are often hiding under those logs and will chase down your jig.
Drift twitching is just that, using the current in a seam or along a log jam and twitching the jig. Cast it out and pause to let the jig get to the fish and then simply start twitching. Again, about a foot quickly twitched upwards and then the pause to let the jig settle back down. Here you are fishing a run where the fish are either resting or making their way upriver slowly in a seam or using logs and other debris as current breaks and cover. You don’t need to crank on the reel handle as the current pushes the jig downriver and once you get to the end of the drift you reel it in and do it all over again. It is kind of like fishing a spoon or spinner where you let the river do the work, but you do need to impart action on the jig by twitching it.
October is carved pumpkins, ghost and goblins. But for me it is not the witching hour but instead the twitching hour. Head to a river with a pocketful of jigs, one rod and catch some fish. It is that simple.
By Jason Brooks