Flatlining Kwikfish for king salmon is one of my all-time favorite things to do. When a big chinook eats your plug and starts shaking his head, it’s a feeling like no other. Ready to get in on the fun? I’ll show you how.
First, a quick definition: Flat-lining refers to backtrolling plugs like Kwikfish or FlatFish without any weight — kinda like you would run a Hot Shot for steelhead.
Tuning the Plug
Without the help of lead or a diver, you’re relying on the lure’s ability to get down to the bottom. Several factors can influence the way a plug swims and dives, the most important of which is how it’s tuned. Run the plug next to the boat and check the action. If it pulls off to one side or the other, take a set of needle nose pliers and turn the line attachment screw the direction you want it to swim. You may over-correct a few times until you get it right, but that’s okay. If you absolutely can’t get the plug to run straight, toss it in the trash (or give it to a buddy) and start with a new one. I’d say one out of about every 20+ plugs runs just right and catches fish. Guard those babies – your “A-Team” – with your life!
Line Diameter & Knots
The line you run has a great influence on how deep your lures will dive. Basically, the thicker the diameter of the line, the more water resistance against it there is and the shallower the lure runs. That’s where braided lines really shine. The small diameter cuts through the water easier and that helps you get better diving capabilities. On all my flat-line rigs, I either use 30- or 50-pound Power Pro, which has the equivalent diameter of 8- and 12-pound mono, respectively. As far as leaders go, I generally run a 10-foot section of 20- or 25-pound fluorocarbon between my braided line and lure.
Another factor that will influence a plug’s action and ability to dive is the size and positioning of your sardine wrap. Generally speaking, I’ll make my fillets about as long as the distance between the bill of the plug and the belly eyelet. In most situations, I place the sardine so that only about 1/10 of it is forward of the belly eye. apabilities get compromised as you slide your sardines further away from the plug’s center.
Choosing the right Plug
As far as specific plugs are concerned, my flat-line arsenal is made up entirely of Kwikfish and FlatFish. K15 Kwikfish are probably the best all-around flat-liners and fish well in slower stretches as well as the sections with strong flow. I can get them, under the right circumstances, to get down to 16 or even 18 feet but they really fish shine in water that’s 6 to 15 feet deep. For fast water at the head of a run, I like the M2 Flatfish. K16 Kwikfish (not the X16) handle slow to moderate current exceptionally well and they even do okay in the really fast stuff. Sixteens hold a tune really well and, best of all, kings love ‘em.
Rods & Reels
The ideal flatline stick will have plenty of muscle in the lower two-thirds of its length, yet also feature a very soft tip section. A slow tip will allow the plug to properly work and will also give the fish a chance to munch on the lure without feeling a lot of resistance.
In the reel department, keep it simple: you’ll need a good, quality levelwind with a bad-ass drag system. Also, a line counter device is helpful so you can keep track of where everybody’s lures are.
Distance behind the Boat
After you’re rigged up, position the boat upstream of some good water and drop the lines 30 to 60 feet downstream of the boat. When backing down, watch both your rod tip and line where it meets the water to see if you’re fishing at the proper speed. Your tip should have a nice, methodic vibration to it – not a frantic pumping action. Also, there should be a slight bow in the line from the tip to just above where it hits the water.
Wait, Wait, Wait
The biggest problem newbies have with flat-lining is waiting to set the hook. I’ll admit that one of the hardest things to do is to sit on your hands when a huge king starts wailing on your plug, but you’ve got to hang tough — set too quickly and you’ll be lucky to land 1 out of every 10 bites you get.
Wait until the rod really loads up before you grab it — this gives the fish a chance to eat the lure and then turn with it, which affords you a better hooking angle.