The salmon species are a well-regarded fish species for both their sport and excellent table fare. While native to the North Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, they can be found in the Great Lakes and have legions of fans fishing for them yearly.
The size and species may vary by location, but some themes run true no matter where anglers target them.
One of the most common ways to catch them is by trolling. Whether with spoons, plugs, or spinners, the moving lure appeals to how the fast-moving salmon species feed and allows anglers to cover vast distances to search for feeding fish.
Instead of simply trolling a lure behind the boat, subtle strategies and a few new technologies can help you be more successful whether fishing in British Columbia, Washington state, or the Great Lakes.
B.C. Island Kings
British Columbia offers some of the most breathtaking Pacific Coast scenery and a thriving salmon fishery that attracts visitors every summer. Denis Isbister, host of Wild Fish Wild Places, believes that the Queen Charlotte Islands area is of the best salmon fisheries in the world.
Heading out with Sandspit Adventures in Sandspit, B.C., Isbister recently put a new spin on salmon when filming one of their shows.
“We ran a new program this last trip and it was outperforming everything else,” he began. “Flash is crucial for attracting salmon. We were running four to five Yakima Big Al’s Fish Flash flashers, and 5- to 6-feet behind was our spoon or plug. It’s something you can do all summer there, trolling along beautiful rock walls with bald eagles, but it also transfers and applies to anywhere salmon swim.”
With the added flash helping attract fish, they found success on Kings up to 27 pounds, with plenty of fish over 15 pounds. A Yakima SpinFish in the 3.0 and 4.0 sizes and pink 12.5 Tasmanian Devil spoons are on the business end. The SpinFish allows for the addition of scent or bait inside the chamber, adding a natural taste to go with the flash and action of the lure. Inserting both squid and tuna proved successful.
Using the Depth Cycle feature on their Cannon downriggers, the depth range can be set to cycle automatically, altering between the 40- and 60-foot zones while trolling around 3 miles per hour.
“The technology is there to change depth automatically, so why not use it?” he asks. “Those two depth ranges is where most of the fish were and the change in direction as the rigs moved up and down triggered plenty of bites.”
The preferred Canadian trolling setup included an 11-foot mooching rod and reel and a 5-foot leader of 25 lb. Seaguar STS Salmon fluorocarbon leader material.
“STS was exceptional and held up to big salmon with teeth and the friction from the line coming in and out of downrigger clips all day long,” he says. “Fishing this way abuses line and it performed flawlessly. We never even had to retie.”
The Washington Sockeye Run
The Pacific Northwest is home to storied salmon and steelhead runs, with many seasonal opportunities for the different species. Although he’s a professional bass angler, Washington’s Luke Clausen spends as much time as possible chasing salmon in his home region. One of his favorites is the annual sockeye run on the Columbia River’s Brewster Pool as the fish stack at the mouth of the Okanagon River before they spawn.
According to Clausen, the fish aren’t the only thing that is stacked. “As the run gets going in July and into August, it’s nothing to have 500 or more boats in one small area. Your rod tips are almost touching,” he says. “To catch fish with so many boats around and not get tangled constantly, we basically troll vertically with a system that works for us.”
They run 50 lb. Seaguar Smackdown braid with a leader of 40 lb. Seaguar STS Salmon fluorocarbon tied to a chrome or chrome and chartreuse dodger. The fluorocarbon is a “bumper,” so the dodger doesn’t get twisted in the limp braid. From the dodger, they rig a leader of 20 lb. STS fluorocarbon, a couple of beads, and a pink, orange, or silver Mack’s Lure Smile Blade above a 1/O octopus hook with a coon shrimp. A 4- to 6-ounce lead dropper keeps the presentation down and allows them to troll around countless other boats effectively.
“STS is a stiffer fluorocarbon and allows the blade to have more action from the dodger,” he says. “It’s also a very strong fluorocarbon and stands up to catching a lot of fish and the invisibility of 100% fluorocarbon helps you get more bites in extreme fishing pressure.”
Lake Superior’s Coho Salmon
The Great Lakes have their own runs, with species such as coho and steelhead vying for anglers’ attention. On Lake Superior, these runs offer an opportunity to target coho in shallow or deep water. While you can do this in the summer with down riggers and lead core line, Wisconsin guide Josh Teigen prefers to target them as they are more accessible near the surface in the spring and fall months.
“Right at ice out, usually the months of April or May, the fish are near the mouths of creeks because the water is warmer,” he says. “Trolling in 5- to 30-feet of water in these areas with a planer board and lopping around in front of the rivers is the best way to catch them. Then, in the fall, they return to these same rivers. They’ve gotten bigger and are getting ready to move in to spawn and you can catch them the same way in the same places.”
Tiegen runs crankbaits like the Rapala Scatter Rap or Bait Rig Tackle T-Boned Unhinged on 8′ trolling rods with a line counter reel spooled with 10 lb. monofilament line with a leader of 8 lb. Gold Label fluorocarbon leader.
“We use the monofilament because you need some stretch in your line from the planer boards working and the hard hits from the fish,” he says. “But, the water is generally very clear and Gold Label is both thin, strong and helps hide your line from the fish. It holds up to the salmon and occasional trout you catch, which all can damage your line.”
Trolling at speeds of 2 to 2.5 miles per hour, Tiegen bases his distance behind the boat based on what he sees on the Precision Trolling App, which provides diving depths based on the lure and speed. “It’s a cool app that makes it easy to keep your bait to where the fish are with data about different line sizes and lures,” he adds.
Salmon fishing can be done with many different methods and varies considerably based on the species, season, and location. Among all salmon species and across North America, trolling is the common theme and is a time-tested way to catch some of the best eating fish in both fresh and saltwater.