(NOTE: This is an excerpt from my eBook Plug Fishing for River Salmon, available on Amazon Kindle)
Back-Bouncing wobbling plugs like Flatfish and Kwikfish is one of the most effective ways to catch king salmon that are holding in deep holes in a river. It takes some time to master this method and it requires focus, practice — and some muscle. Get it dialed in, however, and you will have an extremely important salmon technique at your disposal.
The idea here is to use a lead cannon ball sinker to get your plug down deep. You need enough weight to touch the bottom but not so much that you end up anchored to it. There are a couple variations of this technique that I often employ: Traditional Back-Bouncing and Hovering. Here are the basics of both:
Once you’re set up on a good hole, orient the boat just like we did while flatlining: Bow pointed upriver when fishing out of a sled and nose down when you’re in a drifter. Start by clicking the reel into freespool and then drop your gear into the drink. You want a rapid (but controlled) sink rate, so lightly thumb the spool on the way down.
When the sinker touches down on the bottom, smoothly lift the tip and then gently drop it back down, feeling for the tap of the lead on the rocks. If you don’t feel the sinker hit, let a short blast of line line slip out from under your thumb and then try to find the bottom again. Normally, you’ll have to repeat this process a few times to get enough scope out to feel the bottom on every drop of the tip.
The term “back-bouncing” is a bit misleading. What we’re really trying to do here is slowly “walk” the sinker downriver 6 inches to a foot at a time as the boat slips downstream at about one-half of the river’s speed. The word “boucing” implies herky jerky rod movement but instead you’re looking for a nice, easy pace. Lift, let the current walk the lure back, drop and pause for a second or two. Repeat. Remember, you’re not trying to impart a jigging action to the lure with the lift and drop routine. The objective is to simply keep the lure and lead following the contours of the bottom so you stay “in the zone” and out ahead (downstream) of the boat.
Feeling the bottom is one of the trickiest parts to pick up — especially on the initial drop. If, after a few bounces, you have not made contact with the riverbed, simply reel up and start over. When you are first learning, you may not feel the sinker hit bottom and then continue letting line out as you search for it. What’s often going on here is your lead is lying on the bottom and you’ve got an ever-growing bow in your line between the tip and the sinker. As the boat moves through the run, you pass your lead and it usually ends up getting snagged.
Keep an eye on the angle of the line between your rod tip and the water. If it’s straight down or pointed slightly upstream, you are hung up. Reel up fast!
Sometimes, salmon will be suspended somewhere up off the bottom and that’s where hovering comes in handy. It’s also quite useful when you have a super snaggy bottom. The basic gist is this: you drop down to the level you want to fish and simply hold the rod steady. For this technique to work, you need to have water deep enough that the boat won’t spook the fish because you will be sitting directly above them.
If you can see kings on your depthfinder, drop your rig down to a level that’s a foot or two over their heads. Remember, salmon see things above their position much easier than things below so err on the side of fishing too high rather than too low. If the fish are close to the bottom, let your sinker tap once and then reel up a couple cranks until you feel the plug throbbing. There is less current right near the bottom, so just be sure to come up enough to get the lure working.
Some folks like to sit, as if anchored, right over the fish and wait until one loses its cool and attacks. I prefer a more proactive approach and will let the boat slip ever-so-slowly down through the hole. Periodically check for the bottom and reel up or freespool more line as necessary.
Because you will have the boat “parked” over the fish, hovering is best practiced with oars or an electric motor. Also, be careful not to stomp around in the boat or drop pliers, sinkers, etc on the floor. The less worried the salmon are about you being there, the more likely the are to bite.
Whichever style you try, the same rule applies here when a fish bites: wait, wait, wait and then wait some more before you set that hook!
The Go Big Technique
On some rivers, you’ll encounter a unique situation in which the salmon will be holding in extremely deep, slow pools. In these spots, you’ll often see fish rolling but getting a lure to them can be problematic.
Typically, the water will be entirely too deep for a flat-lined plug — and yet too slow for traditional back-bouncing or hovering. That’s where a modified approach with giant plugs is the ticket. The idea here is to find a plug with enough surface area that it will wobble in slow flows and then match it with the right amount of lead so that it gets down.
It takes a while to find the right combination for a given hole, but this method is deadly when you get it right.
When looking for a slow water plug, you can’t beat Yakima Bait’s jumbo-sized T-55 and T-60 FlatFish. They feature a wider, slower wobble than do Kwikfish (though the K16 has its moments too) and work in awesome in froggy water.
Depending on the lure, depth and current, you may only need ¾-ounce of lead or less to get down to the fish. The weight of the sinker will take the lure down, and the wide profile of the lure will catch the current and pull your gear downstream.
Drop the plug into the water and let the current slowly pull it back. Lightly apply thumb pressure to the spool as it goes and then stop the lure about every 10 feet. Wait until the tip starts pulsating and then you can start the descent again. It’s a slow process, but stay with it until you get as deep as you want into the hole. Always make sure the lure is working and know that a barely noticeable pumping on the rod tip is okay in this situation. Once everything is working properly, begin to ever-so-slowly slip downstream with the boat. Stealth is key here!
Oddly enough, a lot of the grabs you’ll get fishing this way will be incredibly violent, rip the rod out of your hands type of affairs, so hang on and try not to react until line is ripping off the reel!
Rods, Reels & Line
As with all plug fishing, back-bounce and hover rods should have enough softness in the upper end to allow the plug to work freely. There also has to be enough “give” there so that a king can chew on your lure with feeling a lot of resistance. And of course, it must have power in the lower 2/3 of its length to handle big fish.
The also need to be capable of lifting heavy sinkers — sometimes up to 12 ounces or more. My two favorites are the Douglas Outdoors LRSC 835M and the higherend DXC 835M. Amazing sticks with a crazy weight to durability ratio!
The good ol’ classic Shimano Calcutta is a great back-bouncing/hovering reel. I prefer the 200 size, but you can bump that up to the 400 series if you need the extra muscle and line capacity. For a little less money, you can also go with the standard Abu Garcia 6500 Ambassaduer.
As far as line goes, braided line is the way to go — great strength to diameter ratio, incredibly durable, sensitive and low stretch. I prefer 30- to 50-pound braid but guides on places like the Kenai River will go up to 80-pound when gorilla-sized salmon are a possibility. There are plenty of good brands out there. P-Pline’s TCB8 has worked well for me.
I already covered the jumbo plugs I like in those extremely slow, froggy pools but for most situations, I go a bit smaller. A great all-around back-bouncing plug is the silver/chartreuse bill T55 Flatfish, as is the K-16 Kwikfish.
The basic back-bounce rig looks like this: You side a quality barrel swivel like a Rosco or SPRO over the end of your mainline and then slide 1 or 2 plastic beads up the line. Tie another barrel swivel to the end of the main line and add a 3- to 5-foot leader (25- to 60-lb. test, depending on the river and size of the fish) to the other eye. At the end of the leader, tie on a duo loc snap with a Palomar Knot.
To the other end of the swivel that you initially slid up the mainline, tie a 6- to 24-inch section of 12-pound test and finish it off with another snap. This is the dropper line to which you’ll connect your lead. Go with a shorter dropper in faster/shallower water and a longer one in slower/deeper water. Cannonball-style sinkers work best for this technique and, depending on the water you’re fishing, you may need anything from ½-ounce to 12 ounces.
This is just a small sample of what’s inside my eBook, Plug Fishing for River Salmon, available on Amazon Kindle.
To catch a big trout the next time you go stream fishing, ditch all the usual stuff — salmon eggs, small spinners and worms — and give the fish something meatier: Jerk Baits!
While aquatic invertebrates account for the bulk of the average stream trout’s diet, the largest fish in the creek prefer to dine on smaller fish. Jerk baits imitate forage fish extremely well and by using them you will see the average size of your catch go way up.
Jerk Bait is a term that refers to a wide array of minnow shaped plugs that are designed to be retrieved with a JERK-JERK-JERK-PAUSE type of retrieve. In my early days of throwing minnow baits for trout, we had a few basic ones from which to choose — chief among them were Rapalas and Rebels. Thanks to the explosion in the popularity of this technique among bass anglers, there are now more plastic baits than you could hope to try in ten trout seasons. In the warm-water world they’re often called “rip baits” and are pretty slick tools designed to solicit reaction strikes from bass. It just so happens that big trout love ‘em too!
The old balsa and plastic baits I used as a kid were basically cast out and crank-in types of lures. The modern ripbait’s function is to be tossed out and retrieved with an aggressive popping (ripping) of the rod trip and cranking of the reel, punctuated with frequent pauses.
These new baits feature all kinds of fancy technology like tungsten rattles and weight transfer systems for bomb-like casting (remember the way a light wood plug would pinwheel when you’d throw it?), but the most important feature is their neutral buoyancy.
How far down these lures dive is governed by the size of the bill, but once you’ve cranked it down to its working depth and pause it, a jerk bait will hold its place in the water column. There’s no sinking or rising up like the baits of yesteryear and that’s one of the things that make these things so deadly.
The new generation of minnow baits is designed to be fished fast (though they also work well in cold water on a painfully slow retrieve), which allows you to quickly cover lots of water. Additionally, they’re adorned with some extremely sexy laser finishes and super realistic paint jobs. When you look at all the attractive attributes of rip baits, it’s easy to see why bass of all persuasions love ‘em – and it doesn’t take much critical thinking to understand why big trout also fall all over themselves for them too!
The Best of the Best
As I noted earlier, there are dozens of companies making ripbaits – and there are a lot of really good lures out there. In fact, if you wander the aisles of your local tackle shop or flip through the pages of one of the big tackle catalogs, there’s a good chance you’ll get a little overwhelmed by all the choices. I’ve fished a bunch of different models and brands of rip baits for trout and have pretty much settled on one for most stream fishing situations: Lucky Craft’s Pointer 65.
They’re a bit pricey (typically around $14 to $16 a pop), but the little Pointer 65’s will get straight up medieval on rainbows, browns, cutties, dollies and brookies. They’ve got an erratic side-to-side darting action that I just don’t think any other lure can touch. I actually started fishing the larger versions for stripers and eventually added Pointers to my trout kit. Now, I hardly throw anything else – spinners, spoons and crawlers included.
At first glance, a 65-millimeter (2 ½ inches) lure seems kinda over-the-top in a small stream. It takes a little getting used to throwing them, but what you’re doing is targeting the biggest fish in the creek. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to have to sacrifice quantity for quality as the smaller fish eat ‘em too. While the 65’s are my all-around favorites, bumping up to the Pointer 78 size is a good call on larger rivers. When fishing big browns and macks on lakes (a topic I’ll cover in a future article), Pointers as large as the 5-inch No. 128 can solicit some punishing strikes.
As far as colors go, the best advice I can give you is try to match the shades of the natural trout forage in the waters you fish. Some of my favorites include Rainbow Trout, Ghost Minnow and American Shad.
That being said, color isn’t as important in this style of fishing since the lures are moving through a trout’s territory so rapidly. The idea here is to present the bait quickly enough to a fish that he doesn’t have much time to think about things.
I run my rip baits stock out of the package with only one minor modification: I pinch the barbs, which makes releasing fish much easier. Also, be sure to tie your line direct to the bait – swivels and clips will compromise the lure’s action.
As the name “ripbait” implies, the basic technique is to “rip” the lure aggressively through the water with a combination of sharp pops of the rod tip and corresponding turns of the reel’s handle. Ideally, you fish these things from a position above the water (as in a bass boat), with the rod tip pointed down and across your body towards the water. Obviously, that’s not practical in most stream fishing situations, so a modified approach is in order. Depending on the water I’m fishing, I’ll hold the rod parallel to the water or with the tip slightly up.
I generally start out with a rip-rip-pause-rip-rip-rip-pause type of retrieve and then experiment from there. The fish will tell you how they want it on a given day – just keep varying your cadence until a pattern develops. And try to keep the speed up – remember, we’re looking for a reaction strike here.
When you’re tossing a ripbait in still water, the majority of the bites will come when the lure’s lying motionless on the pause. It’s a different deal, however, in moving water. You still want to throw pauses into your retrieve but they need to be a lot shorter in duration. Perhaps it’s better to think of them as “hesitations” instead, but they’re still extremely important. I think it’s that change from the darting action to the stop that really makes fish want to eat the lure.
Depending on the type of water you’re fishing, casts can be made directly up or downstream, though the down and across swing type of presentation seems to draw the most grabs.
As is the case with so many of the other “outside the box” methods I’ve written about in the past, nobody makes a technique-specific rod for throwing small rip baits for stream trout. Luckily, there are some light bass rods designed for drop-shotting and small darter heads that fit the bill pretty nicely (check out the Daiwa Aird, which is a nice stick for under $50).
Basically, you want a rod with a soft tip and a little bit of beef in the back end – something that won’t collapse on the hook set. Most of us are used to throwing hardware for trout on ultralight gear, but the standard 5 ½-foot ultralight stick is going to be way too soft for this style of fishing – and you’ll lose most of the fish you hook.
Pair the rod up with a quick-retrieve spinning reel. The Abu Garcia Revo S in a sweet reel in the $100 range, while the Orra S is still nice but a few bucks less. I usually run 6-pound mono when fishing smaller streams and then bump it up to 8- or even 10-pound on larger waters. Line with some stretch like P-Line CX is a good choice because you want a little “give” in your mono when a trout decides to try destroy your plug.
In addition to being a super-effective technique for catching trout in moving water, tossing ripbaits is a total blast. The strikes are awesome and the results can be, too! So, go ahead and feed those big fish what they want…give ‘em “meat for dinner.”
Some folks wonder if this could be caused by some Fukishima radiation in the ocean, while others blame pathogens in the water from BC fish farms.
State biologists say this kind of thing does occur from time to time and are watching to see if more mutant salmon show up.
Read the entire article HERE
I’m starting to get fired up about kings…if you’re not there yet, this should change your tune!