Here’s some fun footage of salmon chasing down and eating my spinners. See if you can identify chinook, coho, sockeye, chum and pink in here…
Fall is here and that means it’s time for one of my all-time favorite activities: Plugging for king salmon!
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It’s a quick read full of diagrams, photos and how-to goodies. And at $ 2.99, it costs less than a single lure!
Here’s a quick glance at what’s inside:
Just click the link above and it will take you to Amazon or google my name and the title of the book and you’ll find it.
I love it when fishing makes me do some outside-the-box thinking — when a situation challenges conventional methods and requires a creative solution.
That’s exactly how casting plugs for kings came about for me.
For me it all started with a spot we call the Reindeer Hole on a favorite king river. The kings always pile by the hundreds…heck maybe even thousands…into that spot. They’d roll and splash around like crazy in there but were always very difficult to catch be- cause the hole has essentially no flow.
It’s a deep, frog water pond seemingly better suited to largemouth bass than fresh-from-the sea Chinook and it’s hard to effectively fish.
With no current with which to work, backtrolling plugs is out and fishing bobbers and eggs is also tough because your gear doesn’t move downstream. Trolling is no bueno either be- cause you end up spooking the fish by driving your boat over them in the clear water. You can catch a few on spinners but we never really had any good days in there until I started casting plugs.
The fact that the hole looks like a bass pond got me thinking about casting crankbaits to bucketmouths — and that’s essentially where the concept came from.
But instead of tossing shad or crawfish pattern plugs, I simply started throwing around the lures we already used for salmon: FlatFish, Kwikfish, MagLips and Brad’s Magnum Wigglers.
In short: It worked! Really well. The technique was so effective that I started trying it elsewhere. I wanted to know if was just something that worked on that particular stream or would fish bite castes plugs everywhere?
Well, the Cliff’s Notes version of the tale is I have found kings from Alaska to California and back very receptive to this technique. In fact, what start-ed out as a quick fix to get those pesky slow water kings of the Reindeer Hole to bite has now has morphed into a family of techniques that I use almost daily in my salmon guiding.
Let’s take a look at where and how to cast plugs for kings:
FROG WATER From the above story, it’s obvious that plug casting really shines in all those slow spots that are hard to fish with more traditional methods.
What’s cool about that is now you’ll have a way to fish a bunch of spots you previously just passed by!
I like to get off to the side of the pool (either in an anchored boat or on the bank) and toss plugs in all directions when there is absolutely no flow. I’ll start with a few casts upstream of my position and then make some straight out and then a few below me.
If there’s even the faintest bit of current, I normally cast straight across or slightly downstream.
In either case, the trick is to make several fast turns of the reel handle as soon as the plug hits the water. That helps get the plug down deep, at which point you can slow the retrieve to a slow crawl.
The idea is to get the lure down as far as you can and then work it just fast enough to keep it in the zone.
Since plugs float, keep reeling until you are finished with the cast — otherwise the lure with rise up towards the surface.
Speaking of that, kings in deep holes aren’t always on the bottom. So it makes sense to cover a few different parts of the water column.
To do that, I’ll cast my shallowest diver first to try to pick off fish hanging closer to the surface. Then, I’ll use a medium diver to work the mid depths and, finally, a deep lure to probe the bottom.
When you get bit, a king will often nudge the plug before he inhales it. You might feel a “thump” in the rod tip, followed by some heavy pumping. At that point you should do do…nothing. Set too soon and you will jerk the plug away from the fish.
Trust me, it’s extremely but if you can delay your strike for a bit until the fish really loads up the rod, you will convert a lot more bites into salmon in the net.
SEARCHING TOOL After I got confidence in casting plugs for kings, I started adapting the technique to other situations.
As it turns out, it’s an excellent “searching” technique that allows you to quickly cover a lot of water. I particularly like it on long, wide flats on which the kings can kind of be here, there and everywhere.
Searching works best from a moving boat but you can also cast from shore. What I like to do is point the bow of the boat upstream and use the motor to slowly slip downhill, transom first. I’ll keep the boat off to the side of the preferred holding water and have my guys cast straight across.
As they crank the plugs along the bottom, the current will sweep the lures in a downstream arc. Instead of backtrolling down one specific lane, this sweeping approach, combined with slow-ly sliding downstream, gives you a lot more bottom coverage. And fishing often boils down to a simple math problem. The more ground you cover, the more fish you are likely to get your lure in front of.
In addition to being effective, casting plugs is oh, so fun! It’s just like bass fishing…only the fish in this case are much bigger and a lot more shiny!
PLUGS There’s a wide variety of plugs that work well for this method. The right one for you depends on the situation, and you sometimes just have to tinker around until you get the right combo.
Some plugs dive too deep for a given spot while others may not get down far enough. Some have rattles and that can be the ticket in off-color water but you may want a quieter lure in low, clear water.
To get you stared, I’ll give you a look at my arsenal. My all time favorite, go-to lure for this technique is the Yakima Bait Co. MagLip 4.5. This thing has caught me more kings while casting than any other lure. I think it’s ability to dive quickly, combined with its good action is what makes the 4.5 so deadly.
It’s larger brother, the MagLip 5.0, gets bit a lot too. And if i really need to get down, I’ve been known to throw some HawgNose Flatfish from time to time.
I have also fared well with the K15 Kwikfish in shallower spots. Brad’s Magnum Wiggler is another must-have lure that will cover you in a lot of situations.
As far as colors go, I usually don’t get too fancy. Good ol’ chrome/chartreuse bill is my number one king getter. I also like chattreuse/lime and chartreuse/metallic blue patterns.
It doesn’t hurt, however, to have some other plugs on hand too — just in case the fish are playing hard to get on a given day. Metallic pink is another solid choice, as are straight chrome, chrome/fluorescent orange and copper.
Where legal, I always spice my plugs up with some sort of bait wrap on the belly. Sardine or herring fillets work well, but you can also wrap canned oil packed tuna — or even cured roe — onto the lure.
Affix the bait to the plug by wrapping it on tightly with Miracle Thread. If bait’s not available, try smearing the lure with something like Atlas-Mike’s Lunker Lotion in sardine or shrimp flavors or Pro Cure’s bloody tuna
TACKLE When casting for kings, I prefer baitcasting gear, but you can do it with spinning tackle too.
Either way you’ll need a rod that’s somewhere between 7’9″ and 8’6″. The tip needs to be soft so that a fish can slurp down the plug without feeling a lot of resistance but you also need power in the bottom end to turn rampaging fish — or lift them up off the bottom.
A nice smooth reel with a buttery drag is essential too. Spool up with 30- to 50-pound braid and then run a 4- to 10-foot section of clear 25- to 40-pound mono for a leader.
You may also want to look at the hooks on your plugs. Sometimes factory trebles won’t hold up to big bruising, kings, so I normally replace them with 3x strong aftermarket up- grades. For casting, I like to run just one hook on my plug. With two trebles on there, you can get some mid-air tangling on the cast. Each lure has its own balance point, but when possible, I like to run either a single treble or siwash hook off the back of the lure.
Sometimes, to get the lure to run true, you’ll need to add a little weight to the belly hook attachment eye when that hook is removed — something like a couple split rings or a split ring and a barrel swivel. Just something to replace the weight of the hook you took off.
OTHER SPECIES Now, here’s where things get really cool! Kings are just the tip of the iceberg. All salmon species (except sockeye) can be readily caught by casting plugs. And since coho, chums and pinks are often found in slow water, they make perfect targets for this method.
You can occasionally catch some reds too, but I haven’t been able to consistently score with plugs yet.
The key to catching these other species is to scale down your offerings. The plugs listed above will catch fish but you will get a lot more grabs by customizing your lure selection to match your target fish. When chums and silvers are on the menu, the 3.5 MagLip is about as effective as it gets. Brad’s Wigglers are also good and I have caught quite a few fish on K11X Kwikfish too.
Metallic pink, hot orange and chrome/chartreuse are my top three colors for silvers and chums but there are also times when metallic purple also works.
Humpies are pushovers on small pink plugs like Brad’s Wee Wigglers and the 2.5 size MagLip.
If you have never fished Alaska, it should certainly be on your bucket list!
The state is rich in salmon fishing hot spots, and the incredible Togiak River has to considered as one of the best of the best. Here’s a little action from my most recent summer of guiding up there…
There’s no debating that wrapping the belly of a banana-shaped salmon plug (MagLips, FlatFish, KillerFish, Kwikfish, etc) with a fresh sardine fillet will get your more bites than an unwrapped lure. That much we know.
But what if you don’t have any ‘dines handy…are you out of luck?
Not at all! Try these three plug wrap alternatives — you just may find that they even out-fish the old tried and true sardine!
I stared messing with different plug wraps for kings when sardines got scarce in California. One fall, the only baits we could get in the shops were old, yellow and completely freezer burned.
Rather than use garbage sardines, I looked to other “meats” to add to my plugs. Another season, I was in the Alaskan bush and sardines just weren’t easy to come by so I turned to experimenting with other baits. Through these tests, I have found that all is not lost of you can’t find sardines!
Salmon love tuna — in fact, lots of guides add tuna oil to their eggs so why not wrap a plug with the stuff?
Well, the bottom line is tuna works at least as well as sardines — and sometimes better. If you can get some fresh tuna bellies from your buddies who chase albacore, you’re golden. The real stuff works great — it’s oily and durable and the fish really chomp it.
In the absence of fresh tuna, simply head to the grocery store and buy oil-packed tuna (not water packed!). Canned tuna has some obvious upsides: it is readily available and easily portable. It works well, too!
At first, you’d think that there’s no way tuna from a can will hold onto the underside of the plug, but it actually wraps pretty well.
I’ll start with several wraps of Miracle Thread around the plug to give the tuna a little something to cling to and then will add a bunch of meat and then wrap it tight. Start with a lot more fish than you think you’ll need as at least a third will crumble off in the wrapping process — then you’ll lose some more when the lure hits the water.
Wrap it tight enough, however, and the tuna will stick nicely to the plug — and it gives off oily scent longer than a sardine fillet would.
“Coonies” have become quite popular in many Northwest fisheries in recent years and I have found that they also make excellent plug wraps.
Put a small one on a 3.5 size MagLip and you have a steelhead slayer — go with a large one on a salmon sized plug and you have a very good sardine replacement. In fact, in some waters shrimp works better because it is something the fish haven’t experienced before.
Coon (coon-stripe) shrimp have a natural “U” shape to them, which makes them perfect for wrapping.
Simply snug the bend where the tail and body meet against the forward side of the plug’s belly hook attachment point and wrap him on there tight. Coon shrimp give off a scent the fish really seem to like and they stay in place.
We know that kings are sulfite junkies, they love eggs and are attracted to bright red and pink colors — so why not add eggs to a plug and make the perfect combo meal?
Well, I’m here to tell you the “steak and egg” program works really well. Plus, it’s just too cool to watch the plug wiggle while trailing a white egg “smoke” trail!
Wrapping eggs is similar to tuna in that there is some waste. Be sure you have a good piece of skein attached when you cut a chunk for wrapping. I like rectangular pieces that stretch from the belly hook to about an inch or two from the tail of the lure (depending on plug size).
Again, I like to make some wraps on the plug itself first to give the eggs something to stick to before I get started. Then I’ll vigorously wrap the eggs on tight and then will wrap thread right under the leading and back edges of the cluster as well before finishing off with a few half hitches.
After you get a grab, most of the eggs will likely be gone, but a good base of skein and thread will remain. Use this foundation to wrap your next bait on — it will hold much better than the first one.
It takes a little more time, but you can greatly extend the life of your eggs (and tuna) by making some “bait pouches” out of spawn sack mesh. Simply cut some rectangle shaped sections of mesh, fill them with eggs, tuna or a combination of both and then fold the backside closed (like wrapping a present). Then, apply the pouch to the lure and then wrap it in place just as you would a sardine fillet.
You’ll be surprised how well these sardine alternatives work when you are plug fishing — give them a try this fall and let me know how you do!