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Derby Tips from Owen Sound Area Anglers

Grant Ferris
Grey/Bruce Outdoors

Every year at this time local anglers and guides chip in tips on lures that are hot, where fish are biting and how to cope with lots of competition. 
Some years Chinook are crowded into harbour approaches by derby time, some years big fish are piled up below Owen Sound’s Mill Dam and right down the rivers. Most years though, the majority of spawners are still gorging themselves at derby time, especially if baitfish schools are plentiful. More bait fish mean bigger salmon and according to fisheries biologists, more baitfish mean they feed longer too. It seems that nature puts reproduction ahead of a long life for Pacific salmon and when a couple of years ago their food source was limited, some salmon even spawned a year early. 

This year, like always, there will be some early runners but according to Fishin’ Fever guide Randy Eldred, the majority of large Chinook salmon are feeding heavily on the schools of baitfish out in the deep approaches to Owen Sound harbour.

Eldred recommends fishing the preferred temperature (50-54F) in deeper water in an area reasonably clear of other boats during at least the first week of the derby. His lure choices are Silver Foxes and Northern Kings in the magnum sizes. In fact, he told me, the smaller NK28’s will catch fish just fine right now, but their smaller hooks may not hold some of the really large Chinook to be found at this time of year.
Sydenham Sportsmen’s Association President Richard Manley has the following tips to share:
1. Don't discount shallower water, between 40-80'. Especially early in the morning or late at night.
2. Increase boat speed a little bit over springtime speeds, try fishing 2 - 3.5 mph.
3. Try using flashers and herring strips or smelt.
4. Experiment with colours, lead lengths etc. if you aren’t getting bites.
5. Have a very safe and enjoyable time - remember this is a fun 10 days!
Local angler and tackle store proprietor Drew Watson pointed out that recent rains should bring some early runners in close just in time for the first days of the derby, fish which traditionally strike bigger lures like Lymans and other aggravation body baits. The “stairway to heaven” Lyman and the white with black dots Lyman has been a big seller in his store.
Silver Hook charter captain Jack Thompson suggests using a 2-3 foot length of 30 pound test line tied between your lure and mainline to prevent the break-offs so common in late August, early September. Another good suggestion from the Silver Hook is to make a trolling pass through Thompson’s Hole on the way back to harbour when the morning bite is over and most of the early morning derby crowd are taking a break.
Keen rainbow and salmon angler Lee Strong echoes some of the charter captains’ observations from his own fishing experience and also points out that prior to evening low-light fishing hours, spoons fished on temperature seem to produce the best but from sundown on, you can do well by fishing higher in the water column, using less realistic lures. During the recent Chantry Chinook Classic, Lee’s boat had good success using silver and blue or silver and green spoons.
Lorne Fletcher was out fishing Sunday morning in Owen Sound and he suggests watching for weather changes. He started before first light but caught nothing until 8:30 am when it began to rain. Suddenly salmon began to feed and other boats joined him in fishing action as his rod bent with a 27 pound Chinook. The lure the big hen salmon hit was an NK magnum in orange monkey puke.(sic) 
Beside lure tips, the old fishing basics are still true. Take a sharpening stone or file with you and make your lure’s hooks extra sharp before you use them, even if they’re fresh out of the package. If your line isn’t fairly new, don’t take a chance on losing a big prize for the sake of saving a few dollars, get fresh line on your reels. Use proper knots on your lures and retie after hooking a big fish. Run your line through your fingers after a day of fishing to make sure there aren’t any worn places where the downrigger release holds the line or where a big fish rubbed his tail. Take a look at your net; worn sections or broken strands might let a salmon tear its way free. Lastly, don’t forget a derby ticket, someone always forgets every derby. Just this week in the Georgian Triangle Summer Salmon Derby, an angler caught a Chinook weighing 34.41 pounds that could have and would have taken over first place. If only the not-so-lucky angler had purchased a derby ticket. 


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