Do You Boon Doggle?

Written By: Cal Kellogg, March 13, 2012
Species: River Salmon

Generic Saltwater Salmon Image

Ocean going chinook salmon may not be simple to locate, but once found they are fairly simple to catch, given that they feed voraciously on various baitfish that are similar in appearance, such as anchovies, herring and sardines. Troll past them with a rigged baitfish or baitfish imitating lure and very often your next task will be firing up the smoker.

Once kings hit the river they are a different critter entirely. They stop feeding and their entire focus becomes pushing up river to spawn. Despite the fact that river salmon aren’t feeding they can still be fooled into mouthing or striking various offerings presented in a number of different ways. The methods for hooking river run chinooks are as diverse and colorful as the guides and anglers that pursue them.

If you’ve read What’s Hot Freshwater, you know that I spent a couple days on Feather and Sacramento this week with Jason Tatcher of Northwest Executive Guide Service and Rene Villanueva of Steelie Dan’s Guide Service. Since the fishing was slow these guys tried everything in the book and a few things that aren’t to manufacture strikes. I got to observe, learn and ask questions about some of today’s hottest approaches for fall run kings.

There are two basic categories of fishing techniques when it comes to hooking river run kings in northern California. The first category is made up of various roe fishing strategies. The second category is focused on plug fishing. This week lets take a look at some of the proven roe fishing techniques that are sure to help you bag a king this fall whether you fish from a boat or the bank.

For boat anglers fishing with roe, a technique known as “Boon Doggling” is all the rage for a number of good reasons. While this technique sounds more like something done by cowboys rather than salmon anglers, I can assure you that it is both a simple and highly effective method for corralling kings.

To boon doggle you’ll need a 7 to 8 foot fast action spinning or casting rod rated for 10 to 20 pound line mated with a reel spooled with high quality abrasion resistant 20 pound monofilament. To the business end of the main line attach a three way swivel. On one eye tie on a 6 inch dropper of 10 pound test tipped with a slinky weight. On the third eye tie on a 36 inch 20 pound leader tipped with a No. 4 octopus style hook on an egg loop snell. Place a quarter size piece of cured roe in the egg loop, tip the hook with a puffball for floatation and you’re ready to fish.

The presentation consists of trailing the rig 30 to 60 feet behind a drifting boat and allowing it to tick across the bottom of pools and riffles. When a strike occurs it is signaled with sharp taps or steady weigh. At that point set the hook and start fighting the fish. This technique is simple, effective and allows you to cover a lot of water quickly and thoroughly.

In deep holes that feature current seams and eddies, jigging with roe is an effective approach that keeps your bait in the salmon’s strikes zone for a sustained period of time. Jigging is done with the same rig used for boon doggling, except the slinky weight is replace with a 2 to 6 ounce ball sinker. To present the roe, drop the rig to the bottom and then bounce the sinker by raising and lower the rod. Bouncing the sinker keeps the sinker from becoming snagged. When jigging, the boat is allowed to drift with the current, keeping the presentation vertical. Once again a strike will be signaled by sharp tugs or a sustained pull.

Back bouncing is a compromise between boon doggling and jigging. Back bouncing is a technique that is used during the middle of the day or early in the morning when the salmon are inactive and holding in the deepest pools. Back bouncing can be done from either a powerboat or a drift boat. To back bounce, the boat has to be moving slower than the current, but still moving downstream.

With a rod armed with the same rig used for jigging roe drop the bait to the bottom and begin raising the rod tip up and down when you loose contact with the bottom let out more line until the sinker is on the bottom and then start pumping it up and down once again. At the point when you have about 200 feet of line out, reel up and begin the process again.

Strikes are typically violent and the salmon hook themselves. Since line is constantly being retrieved and released a conventional reel is the best choice. The ability to feel the bottom is important when back bouncing and as a result a lot of anglers are using low stretch braided line, which provides maximum sensitivity.

Slip bobber fishing both from a boat or the bank is a great way to cover the deep slow flowing water that guides often refer to as “frog water”. This type of water is difficult to fish effectively with nearly all approaches because the fish are spooky and the current is very light. The slip bobber rig works great because it allows the anglers to present a natural looking piece of roe from a distance with maximum stealth.

To set up the rig, slide a string bobber stop and a bead on the main line of a spinning rod. Next slide on a large slip bobber, followed by a bead. Finally tie on a snap swivel. Place an 18 inch leader tipped with an egg loop snelled octopus hook in the snap followed by a light slinky. The bobber stop should be adjusted such that the slinky is only ticking the bottom slightly as the bobber drifts. Place a small chunk of roe in the egg loop and pin a puffball on the hook. As the slinky works along the bottom, the puffball will float the roe up into the face of the salmon, setting the table for subtle reflexive take. If the bobber stops, dips or moves to the side immediately pick up any slack and set the hook with authority.

Plunking is the final technique we’ll discuss. This method is used exclusively by bank anglers. To plunk, take a stout spinning rod and tie a snap on the end of the line. Put a 6 to 10 ounce pyramid sinker in the snap and place a large split shot 18 inches above the sinker. Then take a 30 inch piece of 20 pound leader material and tie a snap to one end. Thread a spin ‘n’ glow on the leader and tie on an octopus hook using an egg loop snell. Place a medium size chunk of roe in the egg loop and set the leader aside.

Cast the spinning rod into a lane where you believe salmon will be traveling and put the rod in a holder with the rod tip high. Tighten the line until the sinker is holding firmly. Snap the baited leader on the line and allow it to slide down into the water. It will travel down to the split shot placing it right in front of any salmon moving through the slot. Generally when plunking, the strike will be obvious and the salmon will hook itself.

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