When I think of back trolling for salmon on the Kenai or Kasilof River I think of a relaxing day interrupted by organized chaos in the boat. Telling stories, joking around, and having a good old time. Whether you are the kind of person who stares at your rod all day or someone who doesn’t pay attention while trolling how you set up your gear is critical for successful days on the water.

Back trolling is used in many salmon fisheries along the west coast and Alaska, usually to catch salmon. On the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, where we fish, it is a common method for silver salmon and king salmon. Back trolling is a controlled way to slide your boat downriver slowly thru a hole or run so you can move through a hole. Instead of anchoring and only fishing one area, back trolling provides the opportunity to cover more water efficiently. You can back troll in a drift boat with the bow facing down river or powerboat with the bow facing upriver. Back trolling is commonly noted as an easier, more relaxed style of fishing where the rod is in the rod holder, the people fishing are sitting in chairs next to the rods, and one person is on the oars or motor. Back trolling is great for kids, older fishermen, and those who want to crack a cold one and chillax.

When setting up your rod and reel there are a few things you want to consider. You are going to want a rod that is at least 8 feet long so you can project the line away from the boat. Most silver salmon fisherman use 8.5 -9 ft. rods while king salmon fishermen use 9-10.5 ft. rods. Your rod is going to need some backbone but at the same time have a somewhat sensitive tip so you can see the action of the bait you are using and detect bites. Personally I have always exclusively used GLoomis rods and never needed to try anything else. As for the reel you are going to want to have a reel that holds at least 150 yards of line and if you can afford it make sure you get a line counter on the reel, it will make your fishing experience a lot easier and the distance you let your line out more accurate. I really like the Shimano Takota reels they have a really nice drag and hold lots of line.

In terms of fishing line your options are braided line or monofilament. The braided line is a smaller diameter and a fiber material with no stretch and no memory. Powerpro has been a long time favorite of a lot of salmon guides. Monofilament has a certain amount of stretch and memory depending on what you purchase; my choice with mono is GAMMA copolymer. I always say it is important to get nice line for your trolling reel; it will pay off in the long run of not having to deal with a bird’s nest in your reel. On that note it is a lot easier to untangle monofilament than braided line if that is a concern to you. Finally one of the most important pieces of setting up your rod is to make sure you have an 8mm bead and swivel tied to the end of your line so you can snap your leader on easily and avoid reeling your terminal tackle into the tip of the rod.


When setting up for using a plug or crank bait you want to have a fluorocarbon leader anywhere from 4-5 ft. long. This leader will act as a shock absorber, sink to the bottom of the river faster, and help you be a little more stealthy while your line is in the water. I put quick snaps on each side of the leader since I have a swivel tied to the end of my rod.  Another trick is to use the snap swivel that came with the plug you bought. It is on there for a reason. There are different rules in every water system so you may have to consider if you need a single hook on the plug or if you can run treble hooks.

You are going to need to tune the plug as well. This is an art in itself but a quick note is if you have to ben the eye on the bill of the plug turn it the opposite direction that you want it to go to get a more consistent, straight wiggle. And if you put a sardine on the plug that can mess up how it runs as well so be very precise with what kind of sardine slab you are tying on the plug.

Every leader for a spin n glow setup is different. Some people on the Kenai River are running 4+ foot leaders from the diver to the hooks. The diver is a piece of terminal tackle that you use to get the bait to the bottom of the river and is between the mainline and the leader. On the Kasilof River in low water we are running leaders 14-16 inches.


The water current and depth of river has a lot to do with the length of leader. Bottom line you are going to have the hook tied on at one end with a bait loop knot and a quick snap at the other end which goes to the swivel of your mainline. Slide 2 beads onto the leader followed by your spin n flow, corky, or cheater. If you aren’t getting any bites change the leader length a little bit. You have to have the right sized spin n glow mixed with leader length first. Then if you are using bait make sure you don’t overload it on the hook. You’ll know if you are the only one getting hung up on the bottom all the time.

When going out back trolling for salmon on Alaska’s waters it is important to have your gear set up right or you will have trolling issues or not catch any fish. It starts from the rod and reel you set up to the terminal tackle you rig up with your plug or spin n glow. The more time you take to make sure you are dialed in the better your results will be.  And the higher quality gear you have the smoother everything will be when you get a big one on the line. Have fun this summer and see you on the water.

Jeremy Anderson is a contributing writer for Fish Alaska and loves to be on the water. He co owns Alaska Drift Away Fishing and this is their 12th season in business.