No doubt you’ve read about boondogging or “dragging” for steelhead in the local fishing rags but you’re not totally clear on the definition, right? Well, Grasshopper, let me enlighten thee… Boondogging is the act of dragging roe downstream from a drifting boat. It’s fairly easy to get the hang of and, because you drift at the speed of the current, you can cover a lot of water in a short period of time – which can be key when chasing sea-run rainbows.
Start with an 7½ to 9-foot rod with a stout backbone and soft tip that’s rated for 8- to 12-pound test. You can go with either a spinning or baitcasting reel – whatever you’re most comfortable with.
To the end of your main line (12- to 15-pound test, depending on location and conditions), tie a snap swivel and the tie a 5-foot leader (2 to 4 pound test lighter than your main line) to the other eye of the swivel. The business end of the leader should feature a No. 4 or 2 Gamakatsu octopus bait hook attached via an egg loop knot (check out the video on how to tie an egg loop on this site). Slip a thumbnail-sized piece of fresh roe through the loop and then slide a light pink, peach or light orange Fish Pill strofoam ball onto the hook to give the bait some buoyancy.
Finally, add a Slinky sinker or piece of pencil lead to the snap portion of the swivel and you’re ready to go. Use just enough lead to keep your bait on the bottom.
The concept here is pretty simple. Get into position above a likely-looking piece of steelie water and then turn the boat broadside to the current. As the vessel starts to drift down river, cast directly upstream and allow the sinkers to hit bottom. As you drift along, your sinkers should tap-tap-tap along the rocks.
Use a trolling motor or oars to keep the boat perpendicular to the current and continue drifting with your lines upstream of your position. With your sinker constantly bouncing off the rocks, it can be a bit difficult at first to decipher a bite from a bounce, but, boondogging, as they say, isn’t rocket science.
When you’re blazing downstream at a high rate of speed, there are only two things that will interrupt your drift – snags and fish. At the point of initial contact, both feel similar in that your rod tip will load up. Snags will remain solid, while your tip will pump and feel spongy when you’ve got a fish. Another helpful clue to keep in mind is that a hooked fish will often “come with you” as the boat continues to drift downstream, while a snag will stay put. If the rod loads up and line doesn’t fly off the reel, it’s a fish. Since the boat moves so rapidly away from the fish in this technique, salmon will regularly hook themselves.
To learn more, you can also check out the book Side-Drifting for Steelhead (www.amatobooks.com) by two of my favorite authors: Big Fred Contaoi and…well…myself!