Salmon Season Success

Story & Photos By Troy Buzalsky

In the May 2017 issue of Fish Alaska, Troy Buzalsky penned a Boats Column dedicated to helping boating anglers achieve salmon-season success, detailing several techniques to get the job done. Here he continues with some information on the right terminal tackle setups for these techniques, as well as mastering the tides, moon phase and art of depth management to aid in salmon-season success. 

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When trolling in deeper water, such as an estuary, Chinook still prefer to travel in or around the 20-foot water depth.

Trolling Terminal Tackle:
Ideal for trolling from your boat is a 9-foot rod, which gives you enough length for your trolling leader with an in-line flasher. Some folks like longer rods, claiming that they can achieve better action with their bait, but remember, the longer the rod, the more difficult it will be to net your catch, especially when fishing out of a boat with a motor box and or windshield. 

A rod with a 10- to 30-pound line-weight, 1- to 6-oz. lure weight, moderate action, power-rated as heavy, makes for a nice trolling package. The softer action will allow the fish to chew on the bait and pull it down without much resistance so the hooks get a chance to dig in, yet a rod with a heavy butt section also gives the power to control the bruiser at the business end. 

Water conditions will dictate if an in-line flasher is warranted or not—the more off-colored the water, the greater the need for a flasher. Start with your mainline and attach some form of a spreader. A good go-to rigging utilizes a three-way swivel with a 6 bead-chain split-ringed to one of the three loops. Attach the mainline to one loop of the swivel, a 24-inch pound dropper line to the other loop and the leader to the bead chain. The leader should be 72- to 96 inches (never longer than the rod) of 30- to 40-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon. If a flasher is used it should be mid-leader; if running without a flasher, a 6 bead-chain should be run mid-leader to help reduce line tangles caused by the spinning bait. 

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Attach a sinker to the dropper that is just heavy enough to keep the bait down while trolling—6- to 8 ounces is a good starting point. 

Here’s another hot guide tip: consider using 100-pound-test for your dropper when trolling. This will not easily tangle and will help when trolling several rods. Plus a 100-pound-test dropper is very easy to clear once in the net.

Back-trolling Terminal Tackle:
Fiberglass rods may have fallen out of favor in recent years, but they have never truly lost their function, and back-trolling might be one of those perfect examples. There is no other material that can exert so much forgiveness while retaining so much strength. In fact, the people at Lamiglas claim that they have seen dramatic hook-up ratio increases from their pro-staff guides who back-troll using their classic glass rods. When asked for a rod specifically for back-trolling, Lamiglas recommends their CG 86 MHC  fiberglass rod rated for 10- to 20-pound line, 3/8- to 1-oz. lure weight, moderate/fast action, with a power rating of moderate/heavy. 

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Back-trolling proved effective for this Nushagak River king.

Guides differ regarding use of monofilament or super-braid mainline for back-trolling, as monofilament offers more stretch, which some believe allows the fish to hold the bait longer before feeling the sting of the hook-point. When rigging for back-trolling, take your mainline and attach a size #3 to #5 barrel swivel to its end. The Jet Diver attaches with its dropper line either in a fixed setup directly to the barrel swivel, or as a slider, above the swivel buffered with a couple 6mm beads and a golf tee. 

Phil Jensen recommends to always run the diver from the highest hole on the leading edge, which is how they come packaged. A 48- to 72-inch monofilament or fluorocarbon leader runs to the plug, lure or my favorite, cured roe. Jensen offers a tip for setting up Kwikfish, “Since most fish are hooked with the belly hook, I like to add a barrel swivel or a second split ring to the belly clevis and run a single Siwash or Big River hook.” This simple trick helps when a twisting and turning fish applies leverage to the fixed split-ring/ treble hook setup found on stock Kwikfish, and allows the fish to actually tear free.

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Back-trolling plugs can be one of the most successful techniques when targeting salmon.

Back-bouncing Terminal Tackle:
A good back-bounce rod should be at least 8 feet in length and ideally one-piece with a 12- to 25-pound line-weight system. The rod should handle ½- to 4-oz. lure weight, offer a moderate/fast action, and be power rated as heavy.  My personal choice for back-bouncing is to use high-modulus graphite because it gives you the sensitivity you need to feel the bite, the strength you need to lift your sinker off the river’s bottom, plus excellent hook-setting ability. If you want to treat yourself, check out the Edge BBC 805-1… truly the best back-bouncing rod I have ever held. 

Super-braid mainline tends to be the most popular line for back-bouncing, largely because the fish communicates the bite better to the fisherman at the other end of the rod. There is debate whether a sliding dropper or a fixed dropper is best suited for back-bouncing, but using a slider does give some benefit when it comes to netting your catch. The most overlooked piece of back-bouncing gear is your dropper respective to its length. Fishing at the correct level off the river’s floor often is the key to success or failure when back-bouncing. Use a dropper ranging from 6- to 24 inches, emphasizing the need to keep the bait on the floor.

A couple other tips: Consider cannonball weights, as they don’t snag as easy as other shapes of sinkers, and use a snap swivel on the end of your lead line so you can switch weights quickly. You may think you need 3 ounces only to find out 2 is what you really need.

Anchor Fishing Terminal Tackle:
A good rod for anchor fishing, especially when fishing plugs such as the Luhr Jensen Kwikfish, is an 8-foot, 6-inch, 10- to 20-pound line-weight, 3/8- to 4-oz. lure-weight, extra-fast action rod with a magnum power rating. Personally, I like the G Loomis 1021 IMX because of its fast taper and powerful magnum butt section. The rod is almost on auto-pilot when it comes to setting the hook. 

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The key to anchor fishing is to be positioned in the right spot, which in prime locations means getting there shortly after the sun rises.

Running from the mainline to the dropper and bait line can be accomplished in many ways. Some folks prefer salmon spreaders, others prefer three-way swivels, but when running plugs, I have found one method that seems more foolproof, or should I say foul-proof, than the others. 

First, tie your mainline starting with a golf tee pointing towards the reel. Add four 6mm beads and then a size 5 barrel swivel. On the other end of the barrel swivel attach your dropper, 24 inches or so, with an appropriate-sized cannonball weight. Without any plug attached, cast your sinker into a location where you want to fish. Now for your leader and bait-line: Start with a 5- to 6-foot length of 30- to 40-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon and attach #4 duo-lock snaps to both ends. On one end attached the duo-lock snap to your bait-wrapped plug, which has its hooks sharpened to a needle point. Place the plug in the water to assure the plug runs true; adjust as necessary and give your plug its final scent application.

Now for the slick part, open the duo-lock snap at the opposite end of the plug and clip it to the mainline, then just toss the plug into the water, watching to assure that the hooks are not fouled. The plug will now float with the current and be taken downstream. Once the leader pulls tight from the current, the plug will start to dive, ultimately down the mainline to the golf tee. The duo-lock snap will nicely mesh up with the golf tee and the plug will start dancing with the current. At this point the rod tip should be communicating the back-and-forth action of the plug with the telltale up-and-down bounce of the rod tip. Now you’re fishing tangle-free and running true!

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Tides:
Each fisherman has his or her favorite time of tide, depending on if they are trolling, back-bouncing, back-trolling or fishing on anchor. Salmon fanatics like to get out at the break of dawn, regardless of the tide, because fishing seems to be best on both sides of the tide change. 

I like to pick my fishing method based on what the tide is doing. I’ll work my entire day’s fishing around the tide. Most experienced boat anglers will troll the low slack, incoming and high slack tides, and then anchor up for the outgoing tide. The logic is the slower slack and tide-change water is more conducive to trolling, and also easier to operate your boat. Depending on location, the faster outgoing water sometimes runs too fast to effectively troll, but oftentimes pulls hard enough to make plugs, such as the Kwikfish, dance enticingly while on anchor. Regardless of the tide, you have to have your lure in the water before you can expect to catch fish, so plan out your outing around the tide.

Moon Phase:
Most sportsmen understand the benefits of fishing at sunrise and sunset; however, an often overlooked predictor for good fishing is also to time your pursuit around what is known as the moonrise and moonset.  

Fish are most active during the 90-minute windows surrounding each of these four daily events: sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset. Moonrise and moonset information can be accessed in a host of ways, including information found in tide books, data available in your handheld GPS, Smartphone and by using an ingenious lunar program available at http://www.calculatorcat.com/.

Another one of the moon’s influences is how it affects the salmon’s migration schedule. Chinook stage in the bay in a ready formation, waiting for conditions to be just right. Water temperatures, fresh rainfall, moon phases and tides all contribute to the timing of when salmon will surge forward from the saltwater, in their relentless pursuit to return to their home of origin. A new moon phase is a good indicator for when salmon might just start their journey, and tracking their movement based on the new moon may pay dividends when choosing the days you fish.

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A few more fish like this on the deck and you, too, will find the salmon bug flowing through your veins.

The Art of Depth Management:
Fishing at the correct depth is one of the most important technical elements in fishing. Many anglers will refer to the depth in which they are fishing at in “Pulls.” A “Pull” is the act of pulling line from the reel to the lowest rod guide, which is approximately 2 feet. If you make 12 pulls your line will be roughly out 24 feet. Other anglers like to mark their mainline with a Dacron knot tied to the mainline at certain intervals, which gives them a more visual indicator of how much line is out. There are rod-attached line-counters available as well; however, my favorite and most foolproof method for managing depth is utilizing a line-counter reel such as the Shimano Tekota 500LC or Okuma Coldwater Series. The line-counter reel takes away the guessing game; plus it allows the captain in the boat to call out the depths, so everybody is fishing in the targeted areas, which increases effectiveness and also reduces entanglement between fishermen.

Somewhere between calculus, trigonometry and the Pythagorean Theorem is the answer to how deep you are fishing. Take the example that you want to fish at 20 feet of depth, and you will troll so your line runs at a true 45-degree angle from the rod tip. Using the Pythagorean Theorem, A^2+B^2=C^2, if A = 20 feet, B = 20 feet, then C would equal 28.28 feet, which translates to 14 pulls of line, or 28 feet on your line counter.  Assuming your line comes off the rod tip at a 30-degree angle (a slower troll), the hypotenuse would be 23 feet to get to the same 20-foot depth. And if the line comes off fairly flat at 60 degrees (a fairly fast troll), there becomes a 2:1 ratio, or you would need 20 pulls (40 feet) to fish at 20 feet.  So all things being equal, if you have a diver or lead line that pulls out at a 45-degree angle, then for every one foot of water depth you must have 1.4 feet of line out. 

* These calculations do not take into account variables such as bows in the line from wind or water current, or the amount of line from the rod tip to the surface of the water. 

Troy A. Buzalsky is a contributing editor for Fish Alaska magazine. You can read his work monthly in each issue’s Boats Column.