King Salmon Fishing Tutorial
Salmon fishing is considered by many anglers as the premier “Sport” fish in Northern California — Nothing fights, runs and breaks your heart quit like a salmon. The frequency of heart breaks is more likely on a kayak, but that doesn’t need to be the case. Along the Northern California coast King Salmon (Chinook) is the predominate species. Coho (Sliver) Salmon also inhabit the California coast line.
Best Time and Locations
King Salmon in California starts in early April (Check with DFG) as the dates sometimes change, or in some years shut down all together. In the early part of the season veteran anglers rely upon trolling to find the fish scattered from Monterey to Eureka.
As the summer progresses and bait fish moves inland the salmon become more easily targetable by Kayak fisherman. Popular Kayak fishing areas where salmon have been known to feed are: The Golden Gate Bridge between Duxbury Point (Bolinas Point), Half Moon Bay (Ritz Carlton, or between RED and Green Can), Monterey (Lovers Point), Muir Beach, Stinson Beach, Bodega Bay, Shelter Cove, Noyo harbor, Pt. Arena, Albion, Fort Bragg.
Salmon are voracious predators. Their biology and feeding instincts are testament to their evolutionary predominance on the ocean order. Wild salmon can be identified by their dorsal fin. Hatchery salmon are missing the adipose fin.
King Salmon can also be identified by their gum lines that are black, a Coho salmon have white gum line. In northern california it is legal to keep King but slivers (Coho) must be released.
Fish Finders, Depth and Bait.
Targeting salmon requires having a good fish finder that can correctly mark bait and feeding fish. Salmon are versatile fish that move up and down the water column. Unlike bottom fish like, Halibut or lingcod, identifying the correct depth and bait location is critical to being successful.
Salmon Primarily feed on:
Bait fin Fish (*Anchovies, Sardines, Herring)
Baby Rock Fish
*Anchovies are the preferred bait for salmon. Anchovies can be mooched or placed in a RSK/Cripple anchovy for trolling. Keeping a good “roll” on an anchovy is critical to getting a bite. Popular lures that work for salmon include: Watermelon Apex, Purple Haze Hoochies, various spoons and cast masters.
Mooching is fishing style where a fisherman keep the dead bait suspended around a bait ball. (Above or Below). The object of mooching is to drift live or dead bait across a school of bait fish in pursuit of a salmon. Salmon attack bait around the perimeter bait balls. They will stun the bait then come around to swallow it whole. They are actively looking for damaged or stun bait to eat around the perimeter. Mooching mimics the damaged bait and is extremely effective method of fishing when bait is concentrated and causing the salmon to school up around them.
TIP: When mooching make sure to pay special attention to the line. If the line goes slack before hitting bottom chances are it has been hit by a salmon. Reel the line in as fast as possible to set the circle hook and keep tension on the line at all times.
- Salmon unlike other species will “RUN at you” ,or jump making the line go slack. This does not necessarily mean the fish has come off the hook –keep reeling!!! chances are the fish is still on the line.
- Circle hooks are different from”J”or other hooks. Setting the hook “Bass Pro Style” will pull the hook out of the salmons mouth. To properly set the hook, lift the rod out of the holder and reel in the line. The reeling action will automatically engage the circle hook leading to a proper hook set, typically on the corner of the mouth or on the bottom lip.
When mooching it is important to keep the bait moving. This can be done by slowly releasing line with small pulls or reeling up slowly in the strike zone. An important part of salmon mooching is “pumping” the rod every so often. Releasing and reeling line will make the bait look like it is “leafing”, meaning falling back and forth like a leaf. This action mimics bait that has been stunned and falling which leads to increase strikes.
Trolling for salmon is effective in the early season because the bait is not concentrated in any particular location and the fish are scattered. When trolling for salmon it is important to keep the bait presented well and in good condition. Trolling can be done with lures (spoons and apexs) or with bait (FBR, Cripple Anchovies). Make sure the bait is spinning properly. A proper spinning bait will entice the predatory instincts of a salmon leading to more consistent bites.
Deep Six Divers (Dipsy Divers), Sinker Release and downriggers
Maintaining the right depth is key to successfully landing salmon. There are a few ways to go about this: Deep Six Divers (Dipsy Divers), Sinker Release, and Down riggers.
Deep Six Divers:
Pro: Low cost, Good for down to 40-50 ft.
Con: Depth is based on trolling speed and line output; There is a lot Drag.
Pro: Consistent depth maintenance; Good for all depths (Especially deep); considerably less drag.
Con: Expensive (Purchasing 1-2 lb lead balls)
Pro: Maintain good consistent depth and can get bait/lure down deep
Con: Expensive Gear and complex
Brining bait is a method used to preserve and hardening bait for fishing. It is useful for preserve bait for multiple day fishing trips and increase the effectiveness and strike ratio. Salmon University: Brining Herring. A basic brine consist of salt, a whitening agent and powdered milk. The salt hardens the bait by drawing water from the fish into the brine. The whitening agent such as “Ms. Stewarts bluing Agent” shines the bait, and the powdered milk helps keeps the scales on the fish. This combo of salt and shine will keep the bait looking its best and ensuring a higher hook up ratio.
Sliding & Banana sinker set up
The sliding sinker set up is my preferred method for mooching and drifting, mainly because it offers flexibility to change out weight based on drifting and wind conditions. Banana sinkers work in the same fashion but without the flexibility.
TIP: Sometimes salmon will nibble at a bait. When the fish do this it is important to “FEED” the fish (meaning give it some line). Salmon will not immediately take the bait but rather check it and tap it. Continue to “FEED” the bait until the rod tips loads up (meaning the fish has taken the bait), thus ensuring a solid hook set. This may sound counter intuitive but it works and his very effective.
Landing a wild salmon is one of the most challenging endeavors to undertake as a kayak fisherman. The erratic and unpredictable behavior of the salmon, combined with state regulations (Barbless Hooks) and the limited maneuverability of a kayak stacks the odds against any fisherman. Here are a few tips to even the odds:
- BRING A BIG NET – Salmon are big fish so bring a BIG NET (BIG 5 trout nets will not cut it)
- PROPERLY SET THE DRAG – Properly setting the right tension and drag on the line is important. Set the right tension and forget it. (Do not tighten or loosen the drag during a fight, doing so is asking to lose a fish!)
- CHECK THE LEADERS – This is simple. Just do it. There is no excuse not to.
- KEEP THE HOOKS SHARP – Make sure the hook is sticky to the touch. It will ensure the hook is buried deep in the salmon jaw line when it hits.
- MATCH THE HATCH – Match what the salmon are feeding. If they are feeding on anchovies feed them anchovies.
- LAND THE FISH WHEN IT IS READY– Salmon sometimes come up “HOT”, especially when it is a surface bite. Net salmon when they are ready, and not before. Many new fisherman’s natural reaction is to land the fish as fast as possible to limit the possibility the fish will come off. The “real” mistake is landing the fish when it is not ready. When a salmon is “ready” it will make one last dash to save itself. This last ditch effort will drain its remaining energy making it much easier to land. Being calm is a byproduct of experience. Staying calm and in control will drastically increase your chances of landing big fish.
Catching salmon from a kayak is one of the most rewarding and exhilarating fishing experiences on the north coast. Losing big fish on a kayak is part of the experience and accepting that truth will make you a better fisherman. Be patient, stay hungry and take things in stride. There will always be more salmon.Good fishing and tight lines.
The Lost Anchovy