A New Approach For Delta Salmon Trollers?

Written By: Cal Kellogg, July 13, 2012
Species: River Salmon Saltwater Salmon

A New Approach For Delta Salmon Trollers?
A New Approach For Delta Salmon Trollers? A New Approach For Delta Salmon Trollers?
A New Approach For Delta Salmon Trollers? A New Approach For Delta Salmon Trollers?


Salmon trolling is a Delta favorite during the late summer and fall when anglers flock out of resorts like Vieira’s to pull spinners on the Sacramento River.

Delta salmon trollers have been relying on spinners for untold decades and there is no denying their effectiveness, but might there be another way? Perhaps a method as effective or even more effective than pulling spinners…

If we travel a few hundred miles to the north and take a look at how anglers chase kings in tidal rivers in Washington and Oregon there are definitely lessons to be learned that can be applied to our Delta fishery. Northwest tidal rivers are very similar to the tidal section of the Sacramento, so why wouldn’t the approaches used up north work down here in the Golden State.

While I’ve trolled for kings in the Willamette and other northwest rivers I am nothing but a beginner if that, so I got in touch with Buzz Ramsey of Yakima Bait to help me out with information for this piece. Buzz is one of the nation’s foremost authorities when it comes to chasing salmon so his insights are beyond valuable.

In recent years three way spreader trolling rigs armed with in line Fish Flash Flashers and rigged herring have become the gold standard for pulling big kings out of tidal rivers. These are rivers where spinners have been a go to offering for many years just like the Sacramento. The big flash and vibration of the flasher draws the fish in and agitates them.

When they hit the natural bait they tend to hang onto it and mouth it, making for very secure hookups that you just don’t get with hardware. Let’s take a closer look at this fascinating, perhaps revolutionary rig and technique. Give it a try this year and you might just find yourself on the cutting edge of a Delta salmon trolling revolution!


The Rig

The rig I’m about to describe is extremely popular on the Willamette during the spring chinook season, but with a few tweaks it is the standard bait trolling rig used throughout the northwest these days.

Starting out with a fairly stout rig armed with 50 or 65 pound braided line. Tie a three way to the end of the main line. To the lower eye of the swivel attach a 12 to 18 inch dropper of 15 pound mono tipped with a snap. This is where you’ll attach a weight ranging from 6 ounces to a pound.

The actual leader attaches to the third eye of the swivel. To that eye you attach 24 inches of 40 pound mono. Then you snap on a Fish Flash inline flasher. These plastic flashers put out a bunch of flash and vibration without creating much drag. To the rear of the flasher connect a 50 to 60 inch 25 pound test mono leader tipped with either a rigged herring or a rigged anchovy. You’ll want to put a swivel at the mid-point of the leader to help eliminate line twist.

The baitfish can be rigged on a standard two hook rig or you could go with a bait rotator like a Rotary Salmon Killer from Pro-Troll. I’d go to the river armed with standard double hook leaders, Rotary Killers and E-Chip model Rotary Killers and I’d feel pretty well armed.

Some anglers substitute the baitfish for lures, like spinners, Flatfish and Wiggle Warts.


Buzz Talks Presentation…

In the following comments Buzz is speaking specifically about the Willamette, but I firmly believe that the ideas and style of trolling he refers to will work well on the Sacramento. Yet, only actual on the water experimentation will answer the question definitively.

“Surprising to some, ocean tides affect the Willamette all the way to the falls at Oregon City and can influence the river more than one might realize; for example, a large flood tide can slow, stop or reverse the current of the lower Willamette,” says Ramsey. “Willamette salmon respond positively to tide changes in the same way as ocean salmon – with the best bite often occurring around the tide change. Because tides affect when and where there will be current, their timing makes a difference.”

“Forward-trolling is best when tides are flat or flooding. You can enhance your forward-trolling success by maneuvering your boat in a zigzag pattern. By trolling in an irregular pattern your lure or bait will change direction and action, which can trigger strikes from following salmon. You should realize that zigzag trolling may not be possible when the area you’re fishing is crowded with other boats, since playing bumper cars (boats) is frowned upon. If you have a small boat, you may have the advantage here since it’s a lot easier to effectively zigzag troll with a small boat than a big one,” quipped Ramsey.

“Depth is one of the most important factors to consider when forward- trolling. The general rule is: if the water is 25 feet deep or less position your outfit on or just off the bottom, since salmon will usually be found there. If the water is deeper, or when tides are flooding, fish can suspend above bottom. Most anglers find success in deep water (over 25 feet) by trolling their outfits 12-to-20 feet below the surface. There are exceptions to this basic rule; for example, in early morning or when the river is turbid, fish can be found closer to the surface, say 6-to-10 feet down; given clear water conditions combined with a bright sun you may find salmon near bottom - even in water over 25 feet deep,” said Ramsey.

“Although herring combined with a Fish Flash attractor is the most popular outfit for trolling, some anglers will employ offerings other than a herring; for example, a size M-2 FlatFish or a spinner.”

“A downstream-troll produces best when tides are ebbing and the current flowing. Many regard the first half of the ebb, referred to as the outgoing tide, to be best. When tides are ebbing, meaning currents are flowing, a downstream- troll is the most effective fishing method; the reason, salmon will face into the current and you will encounter a lot more of them when trolling downstream – the opposite way they are facing,” related Ramsey.

“The most popular outfit used by those forward or downstream-trolling is a herring rigged 50-to-60 inches behind a spreader with a 6, 8, or 10 inch no-drag Fish Flash attractor rigged 20 inches behind your spreader. Both plug-cut and whole herring work. For king salmon, Green Label size herring are the most popular. Both whole and plug cut herring produce results when rigged to spin and then pulled behind your boat at a slow troll speed of two miles per hour or less.”

“Fish Flash is a spinning flasher used to attract salmon to your lure or bait. The Fish Flash triangular shape and wings that extend outward make it work when attached directly to a diver or in-line weight set up. When used in combination with a sinker rigged on a dropper line, like when using a wire spreader or three way system, it’s recommended that you rig a 12-to-20 inch section of heavy leader from your spreader to Fish Flash. To eliminate possible tangles, your weight-dropper line should be a few inches shorter than the distance from spreader to Fish Flash,” advises Ramsey.


Final Thoughts…

Every time I’m around salmon and steelhead guys from the northwest I can’t help but think how much more advanced they are at river fishing techniques than we are here in California. It stands to reason that a lot of the advanced salmon and steelhead approaches used up north will work  right here at home, after all the fish and rivers are quite similar in many cases.

As an angler the worst thing you can be is closed minded. We’ve got to be willing to try new approaches and new gear. This year with a big run of salmon expected on the Sacramento, it’s the perfect time to experiment with the Fish Flash rig and others.

Remember there is always more than one way to skin a cat, but the question is why would anyone want to waste a bunch of time skinning cats, when there are salmon in the river just waiting to slam a rigged herring?

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