Flashers: Pro-Trollin’ Proficiency
Story & photos by George Krumm
Flashers: the hottest current technique for icing Chinook and coho salmon up and down the west coast is undoubtedly Pro-Trollin’
The technique was employed first on the Columbia River in eastern Washington and Oregon several years ago. Its use has since migrated west down the Columbia all the way to the coast, and has spread to other bay systems such as Tillamook Bay, and indeed up and down the coast in saltwater, especially in areas where maturing salmon are gathering. It flat out works, and works very well. This technique isn’t yet used much in Alaska’s troll fisheries, but in areas like Southeast, Seward, Whittier, upper Cook Inlet, and Valdez, it should be. It is highly effective at attracting fish and stimulating them to bite—even maturing fish in terminal areas that have slowed or stopped feeding.
The key to this technique is the use of what many refer to as “360 flashers.” That’s a little ambiguous, as all flashers rotate 360 degrees while being trolled. We’re definitely not talking about dodgers, which are designed to wobble from side to side. Rather, we’re talking about a specific type of flasher.
Flashers have been in use in salmon fisheries for decades. The particular flashers that make this technique work so well, though, are those that have the addition of a kicker fin, or “agitator fin.” This little fin near the stern end of the flasher grabs water and results in a consistent, aggressive rotation of the flasher—more so than flashers that don’t have the fin. The effect of this aggressive, kicking rotation is that the bait or lure in tow gets jerked around significantly more than with a non-finned flasher. This added lure movement, combined with the flash and thump of the flasher, seems to be the trigger for fish to climb on like groupies on a tour bus.
This flasher technique has several advantages:
- You can cover large amounts of water to locate fish.
- A variety of lures or baits can be used.
- Large attraction radius—fish will see your gear from a long way off and will approach the gear.
- It works extremely well for suspended- or scattered fish.
- Most significantly, it triggers bites where other techniques fail—lots of bites!
Pro-Trollin’ generally requires using significant weight or downriggers to get the gear down. As such, fairly heavy, composite trolling rods are the best choice for this technique. One I’m particularly fond of for this technique is the Cousins Columbia Composite Series CC 955TG. This rod is nine-and-a-half feet long, rated for four- to 12-ounce weights, and lines from 15- to 40-pound-test. The length and action of this rod transmits the beat of the flasher well, and it’s enough rod to handle Kenai-sized kings yet still make silvers fun. I will also use a Canadian-style mooching rod for this technique, with a single action reel. I like Islander’s TR3.
For conventional reels, line-counter models are the way to go. I like the Okuma Coldwater Low Profile and the Daiwa Lexa 400 LC (though the 300 will work in a pinch, too). Spool these up with 50- or 65-pound braid and you have a rod/reel/line setup that not only works for Pro-Trollin’, but also for Kenai backtrolling and other Chinook fisheries.
I mentioned that this technique requires significant weight to get the gear down. The flasher adds quite a bit of drag and I normally use cannonball leads of 10- to 20 ounces for this technique. I rig the weights on a slider, and one that works really well for this is the Shortbus Flashers Slide-n-Lock. Any slider will do, but this one has a built-in notch in the terminal end that catches the eye of your bead chain swivel, preventing line twist from traveling up your braided mainline. Trust me, with a normal slider your main line is going to get twisted. If the twist gets bad enough, your main line will be damaged and weakened. It is possible to cut a small notch in a typical slider that will catch the bead chain eye and prevent line twist, but the convenience of the Slide-n-Lock, plus the additional color and flash it provides, makes it a great choice.
The next piece of gear needed for this technique is a flasher leash. This is the section of material that connects your flasher to your mainline. Mono is popular, and most fishermen are using heavy mono from 100- to 200-pound-test for their flasher leashes. The reason? It is more durable and makes undoing tangles much easier than smaller diameter mono. Most use crimps to make their flasher leashes, and most make them two feet long. A lot of experimentation has gone into figuring out the right length of leash. Two feet is what I use. When I build my flasher leashes, I put a six-bead chain swivel on one end, and a large duo-lock snap on the other.
This technique is built around the specific type of flashers we use. Three brands in particular work well: The Pro-Troll ProChip 11, the Shortbus Super Series 11-inch, and the Leo Flasher. All work for this technique, and all come in a variety of eye-catching colors. I’ve used plain, chrome Mylar finishes as well as fluorescent-, glow- and UV finishes, even lighted flashers, and caught fish with all of them.
The Pro-Troll ProChip 11 is the original flasher associated with this technique. The most popular Pro-Troll ProChip 11 flasher for this technique is the PC11-700 All Chrome. Regardless of brand, all chrome is usually a good place to start. If all chrome isn’t doing it, one of the other colors might. Pro-Troll also makes a lighted version of their ProChip 11 and during low light conditions (early- or late in the day, or deep water), this blinking flasher has proven to work well.
The Shortbus Super series flashers are another solid option for Pro-Trollin’. They have similar action as the ProChip 11 and are available in Shortbus’ wide variety of unique colors such as Sweet Abbey, Déjà Vu, and Green Pole Dancer aka Electric Pole Dancer.
A large Leo Flasher is also a great option. One of the advantages of the nearly round Leo is that it will rotate at slower speeds than the Super Series or ProChip 11 flashers. Another advantage to the Leo is that it has two attachment points at the front end of the flasher. Attached to the centered hole, the flasher spins on its axis like a triangle-shaped flasher. Attached to the offset hole, it rotates and kicks similar to the Super Series and ProChip 11 flashers. So, you essentially get two flashers in one with the Leo.
One of the major disadvantages with Pro-Trollin’ is the number of fish seemingly well-hooked that get off. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why this happens, but it has something to do with the drag of the flasher, and the difficulty of keeping a straight, tight line to the fish. Something that helps reduce the drag of the flasher once a fish is hooked is the use of flasher-release mechanisms. What they do is allow the stern end of the flasher to disconnect and “flap in the breeze,” so to speak, while you play a fish. This reduces the flasher’s drag, minimizing the number of pulled hooks and broken leaders. There are now a couple commercially-made models on the market, including the Good Day Fishing Quick Release and the Simon 360 Breakaway Flasher System. Both are easy-to-use and effective. I highly encourage you to use a release mechanism of some sort; you will land more of the fish you hook.
For the leader, I generally use 40-pound mono or fluorocarbon. For mono, I like Izorline Platinum Leader in clear. For fluoro, I like Seaguar STS Fluorocarbon.
The reasons for the heavy leader are threefold:
- The fish don’t seem to be leader shy when they respond to this presentation.
- The heavy leader minimizes break-offs due to the often-violent strikes and the drag of the flasher.
- Heavy leader material is durable and I don’t have to change leaders as often as I would if using lighter leader material.
Leader length depends on the bait or lure used, and the mood of the fish. Generally, I use leader lengths from 26- to 36 inches with lures, and four feet if using a herring bait. I’d use a shorter leader for the herring baits too, however, the aggressive action of the flasher sometimes tears the herring off the hooks. The shorter the leader, the more your bait or lure gets jerked around by the flasher. I tend to use short leaders of less than 30 inches with small lures like size 3.5 spinners, Brad’s Kokanee Cut Plugs and Mini Cut Plugs, and progressively longer leaders (around 36 inches) with larger lures such as Brad’s Cut Plugs and Original Super Baits. These are guidelines. Feel free to experiment.
Finally, we’re at the end of the line, pun intended. What you put on the end of the rig matters. For this technique, you don’t want to use too large a lure as the flasher will not be able to yank it around in the water. Remember, the key to the success of Pro-Trollin’ is the action the flasher imparts to the lure.
Brad’s Original Super Bait was probably the first lure to be used for this technique. Its slim profile allows it to get moved by the flasher easily, and its body cavity can be filled with a variety of bite-inducing fillings. Perhaps the simplest is just tuna packed in oil. The cheaper the better, as you want not only the oil leaching out, but small particles of tuna too. Scents can be added to the tuna mixture. I sometimes add Pro-Cure’s Powdered Krill, Bloody Tuna, anise oil and/or Salmon Slammer to my mixture. I’ve also added sodium sulfite, Slamola and Monster Bite to it and at times they have proven effective. Pro-Cure worked with Cody Herman of Day One Outdoors to make a product just for stuffing into Super Baits called Fish Nip. In a pinch, you can also mince up herring or anchovy and stuff it in the lure. The key is to fill the lure, but not to overfill it. If overfilled, you might break the lure while trying to close it, plus if the filling is packed too tight, particles and oils don’t leach out of the lure as well. A stuffed Super Bait easily fishes for 45 minutes before it has to be reloaded.
Extra: We recognize our favorite gear with our yearly Editors’ Choice Awards
Brad’s Super Bait Cut Plug series is also a great lure to use Pro-Trollin’. It has a wider profile, and is made in three different sizes. All can be effective. Bear in mind that although the Kokanee and Mini Super Baits are small, Chinook and coho will both whack ‘em when fished behind a 360 flasher. Note that there are a large number of ways to rig hooks for Super Baits. See Brad’s website for suggestions.
Another great lure to use behind 360 flashers is a spinner. I’m not talking about the big, size 6- and 7 models. I’m talking about little spinners—nothing more than a hook, short section of tubing and a couple beads, plus a small blade. A size 3.5 blade is most popular. It’s small and the flasher is easily able to jerk it around, creating the action that produces bites. Commercially made versions of 3.5 spinners are made by a variety of companies. I generally make my own. Most are made with treble hooks, but I did some experimenting last year that deviates from the norm. I rigged my spinners without wire on the monofilament leader. I ditched the treble hook, instead tying two octopus hooks (size 2/0- and 1/0) in tandem about an inch apart. I slid a one-inch length of tubing onto the leader, then two- or three 6mm beads. I then attached a clevis from Dutch Fork Tackle that allows me to change blades without building a new spinner, and added a plastic Dutch fork blade to it. The reason for making the spinner this way was to avoid wire spinners getting destroyed by the fish, and to try to increase the hook-to-land ratio. Though my sample size was small, every fish that bit this lure wound up in the boat. Real promise, indeed. At times, spinners out-fish Super Baits. Sometimes it’s the other way around.
Although people don’t do it often, you can also fish herring or anchovies behind a 360 flasher. If you’re fishing whole or plug-cut, it’s helpful to lengthen the leader to about four feet. This results in a little less action on the bait but keeps it from getting ripped off the hooks by the action of the flasher. Though this can be incredibly effective, in my experience a Super Bait or spinner works as well or better, and saves a fair amount of money over the season from not buying herring at $6.00 a dozen.
From top to bottom, here’s how I put the rig together. First, thread a bead or Gum Pucky to your main line, then slide on the slider you plan to use. As mentioned previously, the Shortbus Slide-n-Lock is a great choice as it prevents line twist. Attach a cannonball weight of 10- to 20 ounces to the slider. Next, tie on a six-bead chain swivel to your main line with your knot of choice. Snap the duo lock end of your flasher leash to the bead chain swivel. To the other end of the flasher leash, you will add your flasher. Be sure to attach the flasher release mechanism to the flasher if using a Pro-Troll ProChip or Shortbus Super Series per the instructions on the package. If using a Leo flasher, no release mechanism is used. To the aft end of the flasher, attach your leader/lure. If using a Super Bait, stuff it with whatever you plan to use for stuffing.
To fish the rig, put the motor in forward and simply lower the gear in the water as follows: Lure first, then flasher, then weight. This will make handling all that gear a little easier and prevent you from tangling it up. Wind line until the bead or Gum Pucky is at the rod tip. Zero out your line counter, then slowly lower your gear to the desired fishing depth. Adjust boat speed so that the rod is thumping about once per second. It’s just like any other trolling after that.
Strikes while Pro-Trollin’ can best be described as violent. Either this rig really makes them want to crush the lure, or the lure is moving so much that the fish has to aggressively charge it to capture it—whatever the case there will be no doubt when a fish strikes.
Landing fish with 360 flashers has been the most frustrating part of using the system. On a good day, we might land 70% of the fish that bite. On a really bad day, you might go two for 10. The flasher release mechanisms help, but we still lose a lot of fish using this technique. I’ve heard some say to play the fish really aggressively with a fairly tight drag to get them to the boat quick. Others say using lighter drag or a softer rod helps. I’ve tried everything and still lose a fair number of fish with this method. However, the number of bites you get in a day seems to make up for it.
Pro-Trollin’ is a sure-fire way to get more bites while trolling for salmon. Whatever the reasoning, salmon respond aggressively and frequently to this technique. Lower this down in the vicinity of fish and prepare to load the fish box.
George Krumm is the Editor for Fish Alaska and Hunt Alaska magazines. He can be reached at George@FishAlaskaMagazine.com.
This article originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Fish Alaska.