(NOTE: This is an excerpt from my eBook Plug Fishing for River Salmon, available on Amazon Kindle)
Back-Bouncing wobbling plugs like Flatfish and Kwikfish is one of the most effective ways to catch king salmon that are holding in deep holes in a river. It takes some time to master this method and it requires focus, practice — and some muscle. Get it dialed in, however, and you will have an extremely important salmon technique at your disposal.
The idea here is to use a lead cannon ball sinker to get your plug down deep. You need enough weight to touch the bottom but not so much that you end up anchored to it. There are a couple variations of this technique that I often employ: Traditional Back-Bouncing and Hovering. Here are the basics of both:
Once you’re set up on a good hole, orient the boat just like we did while flatlining: Bow pointed upriver when fishing out of a sled and nose down when you’re in a drifter. Start by clicking the reel into freespool and then drop your gear into the drink. You want a rapid (but controlled) sink rate, so lightly thumb the spool on the way down.
When the sinker touches down on the bottom, smoothly lift the tip and then gently drop it back down, feeling for the tap of the lead on the rocks. If you don’t feel the sinker hit, let a short blast of line line slip out from under your thumb and then try to find the bottom again. Normally, you’ll have to repeat this process a few times to get enough scope out to feel the bottom on every drop of the tip.
The term “back-bouncing” is a bit misleading. What we’re really trying to do here is slowly “walk” the sinker downriver 6 inches to a foot at a time as the boat slips downstream at about one-half of the river’s speed. The word “boucing” implies herky jerky rod movement but instead you’re looking for a nice, easy pace. Lift, let the current walk the lure back, drop and pause for a second or two. Repeat. Remember, you’re not trying to impart a jigging action to the lure with the lift and drop routine. The objective is to simply keep the lure and lead following the contours of the bottom so you stay “in the zone” and out ahead (downstream) of the boat.
Feeling the bottom is one of the trickiest parts to pick up — especially on the initial drop. If, after a few bounces, you have not made contact with the riverbed, simply reel up and start over. When you are first learning, you may not feel the sinker hit bottom and then continue letting line out as you search for it. What’s often going on here is your lead is lying on the bottom and you’ve got an ever-growing bow in your line between the tip and the sinker. As the boat moves through the run, you pass your lead and it usually ends up getting snagged.
Keep an eye on the angle of the line between your rod tip and the water. If it’s straight down or pointed slightly upstream, you are hung up. Reel up fast!
Sometimes, salmon will be suspended somewhere up off the bottom and that’s where hovering comes in handy. It’s also quite useful when you have a super snaggy bottom. The basic gist is this: you drop down to the level you want to fish and simply hold the rod steady. For this technique to work, you need to have water deep enough that the boat won’t spook the fish because you will be sitting directly above them.
If you can see kings on your depthfinder, drop your rig down to a level that’s a foot or two over their heads. Remember, salmon see things above their position much easier than things below so err on the side of fishing too high rather than too low. If the fish are close to the bottom, let your sinker tap once and then reel up a couple cranks until you feel the plug throbbing. There is less current right near the bottom, so just be sure to come up enough to get the lure working.
Some folks like to sit, as if anchored, right over the fish and wait until one loses its cool and attacks. I prefer a more proactive approach and will let the boat slip ever-so-slowly down through the hole. Periodically check for the bottom and reel up or freespool more line as necessary.
Because you will have the boat “parked” over the fish, hovering is best practiced with oars or an electric motor. Also, be careful not to stomp around in the boat or drop pliers, sinkers, etc on the floor. The less worried the salmon are about you being there, the more likely the are to bite.
Whichever style you try, the same rule applies here when a fish bites: wait, wait, wait and then wait some more before you set that hook!
The Go Big Technique
On some rivers, you’ll encounter a unique situation in which the salmon will be holding in extremely deep, slow pools. In these spots, you’ll often see fish rolling but getting a lure to them can be problematic.
Typically, the water will be entirely too deep for a flat-lined plug — and yet too slow for traditional back-bouncing or hovering. That’s where a modified approach with giant plugs is the ticket. The idea here is to find a plug with enough surface area that it will wobble in slow flows and then match it with the right amount of lead so that it gets down.
It takes a while to find the right combination for a given hole, but this method is deadly when you get it right.
When looking for a slow water plug, you can’t beat Yakima Bait’s jumbo-sized T-55 and T-60 FlatFish. They feature a wider, slower wobble than do Kwikfish (though the K16 has its moments too) and work in awesome in froggy water.
Depending on the lure, depth and current, you may only need ¾-ounce of lead or less to get down to the fish. The weight of the sinker will take the lure down, and the wide profile of the lure will catch the current and pull your gear downstream.
Drop the plug into the water and let the current slowly pull it back. Lightly apply thumb pressure to the spool as it goes and then stop the lure about every 10 feet. Wait until the tip starts pulsating and then you can start the descent again. It’s a slow process, but stay with it until you get as deep as you want into the hole. Always make sure the lure is working and know that a barely noticeable pumping on the rod tip is okay in this situation. Once everything is working properly, begin to ever-so-slowly slip downstream with the boat. Stealth is key here!
Oddly enough, a lot of the grabs you’ll get fishing this way will be incredibly violent, rip the rod out of your hands type of affairs, so hang on and try not to react until line is ripping off the reel!
Rods, Reels & Line
As with all plug fishing, back-bounce and hover rods should have enough softness in the upper end to allow the plug to work freely. There also has to be enough “give” there so that a king can chew on your lure with feeling a lot of resistance. And of course, it must have power in the lower 2/3 of its length to handle big fish.
The also need to be capable of lifting heavy sinkers — sometimes up to 12 ounces or more. My two favorites are the Douglas Outdoors LRSC 835M and the higherend DXC 835M. Amazing sticks with a crazy weight to durability ratio!
The good ol’ classic Shimano Calcutta is a great back-bouncing/hovering reel. I prefer the 200 size, but you can bump that up to the 400 series if you need the extra muscle and line capacity. For a little less money, you can also go with the standard Abu Garcia 6500 Ambassaduer.
As far as line goes, braided line is the way to go — great strength to diameter ratio, incredibly durable, sensitive and low stretch. I prefer 30- to 50-pound braid but guides on places like the Kenai River will go up to 80-pound when gorilla-sized salmon are a possibility. There are plenty of good brands out there. P-Pline’s TCB8 has worked well for me.
I already covered the jumbo plugs I like in those extremely slow, froggy pools but for most situations, I go a bit smaller. A great all-around back-bouncing plug is the silver/chartreuse bill T55 Flatfish, as is the K-16 Kwikfish.
The basic back-bounce rig looks like this: You side a quality barrel swivel like a Rosco or SPRO over the end of your mainline and then slide 1 or 2 plastic beads up the line. Tie another barrel swivel to the end of the main line and add a 3- to 5-foot leader (25- to 60-lb. test, depending on the river and size of the fish) to the other eye. At the end of the leader, tie on a duo loc snap with a Palomar Knot.
To the other end of the swivel that you initially slid up the mainline, tie a 6- to 24-inch section of 12-pound test and finish it off with another snap. This is the dropper line to which you’ll connect your lead. Go with a shorter dropper in faster/shallower water and a longer one in slower/deeper water. Cannonball-style sinkers work best for this technique and, depending on the water you’re fishing, you may need anything from ½-ounce to 12 ounces.
This is just a small sample of what’s inside my eBook, Plug Fishing for River Salmon, available on Amazon Kindle.