The Fish Sniffer - Back Bouncing For Salmon
Back Bouncing For Salmon

Written By: Mike McNeilly, June 26, 2014
Species: River Salmon
Location: American River - Lower, Feather River- Lower, Klamath River, Russian River, Sacramento River- Middle,

Back Bouncing For Salmon
Back Bouncing For Salmon

To a back bouncer, there is nothing like feeling the rhythmic thump of your sinker as you slowly walk it downstream with the current.  Your bait may be a cluster of roe, or it may be a Kwikfish or Flatfish.  Either way, the key is to feel the weight touch bottom every time.

In the example I have in my mind, I was fishing a deep clay bank on the American River back bouncing roe from my driftboat, when I suddenly lost contact with my sinker.  “Lift, thump, pause, lift… nothing… lift…?”I lifted the rod even higher and realized that the reason I wasn’t feeling my 1oz sinker was because a fish had inhaled my bait and was moving slightly upriver.  The sinker was no longer able to free fall.  A good three Mississippi had probably passed before my razor sharp mind was able to compute what was going on.  I reeled two cranks on my reel and felt tension and set the hook.  The fish immediately began to violently head shake, and the best salmon fight of 2013 ensued.  

The 20lb bright buck jumped three times, peeled line, made 180 degree direction turns, and sulked under the boat.  I applied maximum pressure and eventually subdued the beautiful buck.  Back bouncing had paid off yet again.

There is no doubt in my mind that back bouncing is my favorite technique to catch river salmon.  For starters, you can get away with using heavier tackle than you’d use while side-drifting or bobber fishing.  Heavier tackle allows you to land big fish.  The romantic idea of gossamer thin leaders and small hooks does nothing for me.  I’m anticipating hooking a 50lber one of these days, and I fully intend to land that fish when I do.  I like to run a 40lb braided mainline to a three way swivel.  From that three way swivel, I run a 15lb test dropper line to a 1-10oz sinker, and a 4-5 foot leader of 20lb P-Line CXX or Maxima Ultragreen; with the latter being my favorite.  Another advantage of back bouncing to side drifting is that you can use a larger hook.  Let’s face it, the bigger the hook the more metal you can dig into their face.  The more metal you can slam into their jaws the better.  I usually run a 1/0 or 2/0 hook while back bouncing with roe.  

I also like to use a larger cluster of eggs.  Think quarter to 50 cent piece sized versus nickel sized while side drifting.  The length of the sinker dropper can vary depending on how far you want your bait off the bottom, but I would say 30-36” is probably a good place to start.  

Here’s the biggest key to back bouncing for salmon: You must feel your sinker hit bottom every single time you lift and drop the rod!  If you aren’t feeling that rhythmic thump, you either aren’t on the bottom or you are hung up on the bottom.  Everything else will fall into place if you can detect that thump.  On the American River, you will be using a lot less weight than you’d use on the Sacramento River.  Most of the time you’d be using 1-4 ounces on the American, whereas on the Sacramento you might have 4-10 ounces of weight to properly back bounce.  The more weight you have on, the easier it will be to feel the sinker when it hits bottom.  Newbie’s have a tough time feeling a one ounce sinker hitting the bottom, and you can count on them getting hung up.  If you are the guy running the boat, you need to pay careful attention to the angle to the line coming out of the other guy’s rods.  If the line is heading upriver, you can bet that they are hung up, and they don’t even know it.  


Boat Management


I reckon that I forgot to mention that this is exclusively a method for boat fishermen.  You can not apply this technique from the bank.  That being said, if you are the boat owner, there are a few things to do to get your friends into fish.

As the name “back trolling” implies, you will be moving backwards.  In this case, before you even wet a line, you need to identify spots that are conducive to this style of fishing.  For starters, I like a minimum depth of 10 feet.  Truthfully, I prefer 15-30ft water, but there isn’t too much of that on the Upper American for example.  Really swirly holes that have a big eddy in them are a real pain.  Those holes favor the closely related, but entirely different “hover fishing.”  I really like long straight deep runs.  

If you can find a run that is over ten feet deep, has a consistent straight shot current flow, and water that is moving about walking speed, you will find perfect back bouncing water that definitely holds fish.  To start with, motor up to the top of the run.  Usually, there will be a shallow riffle at the head of the deeper run.  Aim at the point where the riffle and the run meet as your starting point. Point the bow of the boat into the current as you begin your presentation.  If you are the guy on the throttle, try to keep the boat stationary with the current as your angler’s deploy their lines.  The key is to slowly let the lines descend.  Don’t just let them free fall down to the bottom.  It’s also extremely important to use a level wind reel for this kind of fishing.  I like a Shimano in the 301 size range.  Note I said “301.” I am right handed, therefor I reel with my left hand and control the rod with my right.  I digress.   

Once the sinkers hit bottom, continue to hold the boat in position for a few more seconds.  Just because you’ve hit bottom once doesn’t mean you will stay on there.  The line will rise off the bottom a few feet as the current drags on it.  Lower the sinker down again.  Once you hit again, you are about in the zone.  At this point, the guy running the boat should start to ever so slowly back the boat down river.  Depending on the speed of the water, this can be accomplished by leaving backing off on the throttle or kicking the boat into neutral periodically.

The goal is to keep the lines angling slightly downstream.  If you are straight up and down vertical, you can lighten up the weight.  If you need to release a lot more line on a regular basis, you don’t have enough weight or the boat isn’t backing downriver fast enough.  Either way, keeping your gear moving with the current downriver and right on the bottom is paramount.  

The back bouncing bite is one of my favorites in the fishing world.  Sometimes it will be a tap-tap trout bite, and that means you are actually feeling the fish bite.  Often times though, even a guy a like myself who spends a lot of time fishing will miss the actual bite, and the bite will be signaled by the fish surging down river with the bait inhaled.  Even though salmon don’t eat while in freshwater, we’ve actually had them swallow our Pro Cure cured Red Hot Double Stuff eggs.    I also feel that this is the best way to get maximum fight out of a salmon. You will usually hook them in a deep powerful hole and be pulling upwards on the fish.  This causes them to sulk and bulldog, and you will really get to feel the power of a big terrified Chinook with this method.  




What, I’m already out of space?  I could go on about salmon back bouncing for hours.  I didn’t even get into jet divers in light currents and shallower water.  Damn.  Anyhow, rods for back bouncing need to be on the stout side.  You will definitely fatigue if you are raising a 10oz sinker with a rod that is rated for 3/4oz.  I like a rod in the 7.5-8.5’ range rated for 15-40lb test and 1-5oucnes of lead.  I don’t know if those are exact rod specs, but I’d look for something in that range.  The bottom line is that a noodle rod is suited for wimpy fish in wimpy situations.  This is meat and potatoes big game fishing at its finest.

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