King salmon grow to almost 100 pounds. For those questioning the lighter leader, remember that mooching means drifting. That means that the fish have as long as they like to inspect the bait and terminal tackle. Heavy lines and leaders tend to spook fish in the clear waters of the Pacific. Lighter lines and leaders draw far more strikes. A reel spooled with the proper amount of line and a properly set drag will catch an awfully big fish.
ReelsReels need to hold at least 300 yards of line. Remember, you are fishing with twenty-pound test line or less, and a fifty-pound salmon will spool you in a hurry if your reel can’t hold that much line. In general, mooching reels are conventional reels, although a number of anglers will use spinning tackle. If you choose a spinning rig, make sure the reel has a large capacity spool.
RodsMooching rods are specifically designed for this fishing. As long as eight to ten feet, they have a good backbone coupled with an extra fast taper on the tip. This super flexible tip is a key ingredient in the tackle recipe.
The Subtle BiteSalmon tend to be “up feeders”. That is they will take a bait while swimming up toward the surface. Many bottom varieties of fish come off the bottom, grab a bait and head straight down. Rods double over when these fish strike, and they generally hook themselves. Salmon are far more subtle.
When baits are down and rods are in the rod holders, all eyes are on the tips of the rods. The flexible tips are bent over because of the downrigger weight. Since salmon feed up, they tend to take a bait and swim up, taking the weight with them. Anglers watch to see the rod tip moves up ever so slightly, indicating a fish has taken the bait. At that point, it becomes a race of sorts to catch up with the fish by quickly reeling line until it tightens. This has to be a quick reaction, because the salmon will spit the bait once the drag of the weight and terminal tackle is apparent.
HooksCircle hooks are used both by choice and by law. Barbless circle hooks are also stipulated in most locales. As with any circle hook, the trick to hooking the fish is to simply apply pressure and let the circle hook do its job. Fish will almost always be hooked in the corner of the mouth, allowing for an easy catch and release.
BaitsBait used for mooching is almost always anchovies or herring. Live or dead, whole or cut, there are numerous “secret” ways to get your bait on that circle hook. The key to all the dead baits is that they need to spin. Even drifting, the wave action moves the boat enough to cause baits to move in the water. Baits that don’t spin don’t catch fish! East coast anglers find that hard to swallow, because in general, the exact opposite is true for them.
The art of the “cut plug” bait has a variety of options. Most anglers use a 45 and 45 cut, meaning that the head of the baitfish is cut off at a 45-degree angle vertically and a 45-degree angle horizontally. Like a carpenter’s crown molding cut, this combination angle literally makes the bait spin under the slightest water pressure, something the salmon almost require.
Bottom LineRemember, this is slow fishing. Salmon have time to inspect and re-inspect the bait. Baits need to be neat and clean. They need to have as few missing scales as possible. Once a bite is missed, it is fruitless to fish with the same bait, even if it is still on the hook. Missing scales and scars on the bait will deter more action.
Mooching often works when trolling fails to attract a strike. Sometimes the fish just want a slower presentation. So, if you troll for a while in an area where fish are present (fish finders are a great tool to have), try slowing it down to a drift and mooch your way to the fish.
Slow fishing – drifting with the current or wind and watching the rod tips - a little music and friendly conversation – it just doesn’t get any better on the west coast. Salmon fishing like this is like “mooching” a good time away from work!