Salmon Fishing Tips
Several species of salmon have been successfully planted in fresh water lakes. There are only a few that host the acrobatic Atlantic salmon. These fish require cold clean water. Many people are familiar with the kokanee. “Kokes” are the fresh water edition of the saltwater sockeye salmon. Both silver salmon and chinooks have also become established in the Great Lakes and in various other deep, cold, fresh water venues as well. Before addressing individual species let’s discuss the pursuit of ocean-going salmon in fresh water. Much of what has been said about steelhead applies to upstream salmon too. They can be chased from tubes and toons while still down in tidewaters and freshwater lagoons, but once they get up in the rivers it is a different story.
You can effectively fish for salmon from a sturdy pontoon craft after they have gone upstream. As with fishing for river run steelhead you should know the holes and holding areas. You will want to have a variety of baits and lures with which to search out the salmon. And, depending on the flow and color of the water, you may have to try a variety of methods. First, find a good deep hole or run below a fast water area. Start by anchoring, if you can do so safely. Then, you can apply some of the effective salmon fishing techniques used by the boaters. That might be soaking a gob of fresh roe on the bottom or casting and bottom bouncing roe or lures. If you anchor your toon in flowing water, and you do not have a motor or enough rowing power to get you back upstream, you will need an anchor you can raise and lower with one hand while fighting the fish with the other. Boaters with powerful motors sometimes have quick release anchors that they can return to after following a big fish downstream. From a pontoon you should plan on going where a big fish
takes you and not returning.
Another effective technique to use while anchored is to trail a big spinner or wobbling lure downstream, behind your toon. Rig with enough weight to keep your offering on the bottom. Raise it and let out line a few feet at a time until you have worked through the fish-holding water. Salmon are also susceptible to the vibration and flash of a wobbling plug, just like steelhead. Always keep one working behind your toon as you move downstream between the deeper holes and runs. The main difference is that salmon will smack larger sized lures…especially if they are sweetened with a tied-on wrap of sardine or herring.
These are the big boys of the salmon kingdom. In Alaskan waters they may reach 100 pounds, but are generally much smaller elsewhere. In the Great Lakes they can be taken from tubes and toons during any time of the year when they follow their food supply close to shore. Keep track of the fish movements through local reports and drive to the closest access area. But, you don’t want to venture very far offshore, even for fish that can get up to 50 pounds in those waters.
During the summer months salmon gorge on baitfish. Your best lures will be spoons, hard baits or large flies that most closely match the size, shape and color of the forage species. Use current fishing reports and your sonar to find the depths at which they are cruising and feeding. Float tubes are limited in both range and speed. You can’t go very far from the launch site and you usually cannot get up enough speed to effectively troll for salmon. Pontoons, on the other hand, can be ideal for chasing inshore salmon, especially for trolling or “mooching”. If you have a good electric motor on your toon, and a good battery, you are well equipped to wash some lures.
Chinooks along the west coast are taken either in salt water, before heading upstream in the fall, or upriver on their spawning runs. On some of the larger rivers, with slack water areas known as “tidewaters”, these biggies will be available for a short time to tubes and toons. Like steelhead, they usually hang around for a while in the slow water while waiting for the fall rains to get the rivers flowing enough for the big run.
Actually, most of the salmon that come in early, and hold in the lagoons, are the small “jacks”. These are young male salmon that nature tricks into running upstream two or three years ahead of normal. Jacks are more active and aggressive than the larger fish that come in later. They hit spinners, spoons and flies well and are a lot of fun on light tackle. As with steelhead, once salmon run up beyond tidewater you are pretty much out of the game from a float tube, . However, as has been suggested, you can still float the rivers with a pontoon if your craft is up to it and the river is not too dangerous.
Silver salmon are smaller than kings. With the exception of a few fertile areas of the northern Pacific, most silvers run less than 10 pounds A large one might reach 15. Silvers have been introduced into several inland waters but have never done as well as the larger Chinooks or the smaller kokanees (sockeye). Unfortunately, silver salmon stocks along the west coast of the U.S. have dwindled in the past few years. They are caught much less often in the salt, and some formerly great river runs are now almost nonexistent. Fishing for silver salmon is pretty much the same as for Chinooks when it comes to floatation fishing. If you find them it will usually be in either tidewater or in a slow hole on a larger river. Otherwise, they will be upstream in heavier flow conditions that require a pontoon or drift boat.
There is really not a fishable population of sockeye salmon in the lower 48 states. However, if you can take your tube or toon to Alaska you can find some mind-blowing action on these acrobatic and great-tasting battlers.
Sockeyes are among the smallest of the salmon species, rarely exceeding 10 pounds, even from fertile ocean waters. The average is about half that for the fish that crowd the traditional spawning streams every summer in Alaska. They are highly prized as a sport fish. They do not feed while in the rivers but they are aggressive and competitive for spawning territory. They swat almost any fly or lure you run by them while they are in fresh water. They are great battlers, often leaping clear of the water. Tubes and toons are ideal for fishing some of the small lakes along the spawning rivers. The rivers themselves are sometimes too shallow even for pontoons. However, since sockeyes often travel through two or three natural lakes to reach their spawning grounds they become viable targets for floatation fishing…especially at the inlet end where they school up before advancing.
Fortunately, there are some sockeye lakes that are reachable by roads. Most are remote and require a fly-in trip. If you can talk an outfitter into flying you in with your tube or toon you might get into some of the wildest and most exciting fishing of your life. These “red salmon” are some of the best eating fish too. Just don’t let one of the resident grizzlies join you in your craft.
As previously mentioned, kokes are merely fresh water sockeye salmon. In fact, one common name for them is “landlocked” salmon. They never get as large in fresh water as they do in the ocean. In most lakes, an average koke might be less than 16 inches. Only in some of the bigger and deeper western impoundments, like Flaming Gorge Reservoir, do kokanee regularly exceed 3 or 4 pounds in weight. Kokes are typically a fish of the depths and open water on big lakes. They do not often come near the surface. More often they suspend along the thermocline or feed at the depths where they find concentrations of the zooplankton upon which they subsist. You definitely need sonar to locate kokanee and to keep your lures at the right depth.
Since kokanee do not feed on minnows or large invertebrates, it does no good to try to “match the hatch”. To catch them on fishing gear you must stimulate a “reaction bite”. Just like their salt-water ancestors…the sockeye…kokes will sometimes whack bright and colorful lures that annoy them or seemingly intrude upon their space. Trolling is traditionally the most effective way to catch kokes. Again, tubes are not good for trolling. But pontoons with electric motors can troll large areas at the right speeds. You can even install downriggers on your toon. (Just don’t screw the hardware to your air chambers,) Large concentrations of kokanee in a small area will sometimes respond to a vertical presentation, like during the fall spawning period. After locating fish on sonar jig at the right depth with small jigs or spoons in bright colors. Tipping with a bit of worm or a kernel of white corn is helpful (where legal).
Whether you hook them from a boat, tube or toon, there is one thing about kokanee that you need to know if you want to land those you hook. They have very tender mouths. The use of heavy tackle and a heavy hand will rip the hooks right out of their soft mouth. Many koke pros use a small rubber “snubber” on trolling rigs to cushion the pull. Those who fish with bait or jigs usually prefer rods with a soft action. Your best shot at kokes, from a tube or toon, is probably in the late summer or fall when they mass up for their spawning runs. In most lakes where there is a decent population of kokanee, and viable spawning tributaries, the fish will congregate and mill around for a period of time before heading up the flow. It may only last a few days but the fish are close to shore and restless. They will usually hit flies and lures well during this period. Tubers and tooners couldn’t ask for more.
Salmon is one of the easiest fish species to catch and especially during and after breeding seasons as they normally swim up streams in large numbers thus increasing the chances for anglers to make a kill. However, this does not make the process easy if one doesn’t have the necessary tactics required for a catch. Catching salmon involves various methods and techniques and these include back-trolling plugs. This method involves you letting down a line that has an attached plug into the water. You should throw and hold your plug against the water current and in areas inhabited by huge numbers of salmon thus allowing it to worm around. The wiggling of the plug entices the fish causing them to strike thus giving you the catch.
Whichever method you opt for, it is advisable to try your luck along the migration route as this is where huge numbers of salmon can be found. Additionally, try using bright colored bait as these are ideal for luring and attracting salmon fish thus making them to bite. For increased catch chances, you should also consider using scented markers to the bait as a way of enticing the fish. You can easily use sand shrimp, sardines or salmon roe which are well known for attracting salmon to attack. While doing so, using a sturdy and heavy fishing line is recommended since huge and adult salmons are heavy and do not give up without a fight. Your catch can easily snap during the fight thus making your fishing efforts ineffective. The use of planer board or downrigger is also suitable if you are seeking to catch many salmon fish. This method allows you to use many fishing lines at the same time and this increases your chances of catching more salmon. Additionally, you can use float, trolling and fly fishing for a more enjoyable experience. Always seek to tire your salmon fish as these species do not give up so easily without a fight.