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Written By: Cal Kellogg, May 13, 2014
In the last issue of the Fish Sniffer, Cal Kellogg started this essay about catching landlocked kings, here is the conclusion-Editor.
A secret many guides rely on when the bite is tough is trolling with rigged baitfish. In lakes where threadfin shad are the predominate forage this technique is known as “rolling shad”…Basically slow trolling a rotating shad (or a small anchovy) through the water.
Some companies produce plastic bait holders that can be used for trolling frozen shad. These devices can be very effective at times, but when the fish are spooky the plastic surrounding the bait’s head makes it look unnatural and discourages strikes. Another drawback that is inherent with these devices is that they limit your ability to experiment bait’s rate of spin.
For these reasons I seldom use a head or rotator device. Instead I run my shad and anchovies on special hand snelled leaders. To the end of the leader I attach a No. 8 treble hook. Next I attach a No. 8 octopus hook to the leader on a special sliding snell. The critical aspect is that the octopus hook can be moved up and down the leader. It’s this sliding hook that makes the bait rotate.
When I’m ready to start trolling I often inject the shad minnow with Pro-Cure bait scent. The new water soluble oils are prefect for this work. After loading the bait with scent I pin the leader’s octopus hook up through the shad’s lips and pin the treble hook in the bait near the tail. The final and most critical step is sliding the octopus hook down the leader until the shad becomes bent. This bend makes the shad roll as it is drawn through the water. The sharper the bend in the shad the quicker it will spin.
As a general rule of thumb when rolling shad or anchovies for kings you want to creep along at about 1 mph to impart the slow roll that kings generally want…generally, but not always. At times I’ve found success on big kings while trolling rigged bait in excess of 2 mph.
A trip I had last spring is a good example of this. Paul Kneeland and I were fishing the big spring team tournament at Lake Shasta. The fishing on day one had just gotten started when we pulled into Centimudi Bay. The bay was covered with white caps and we wasted no time getting our gear into the water. Paul went with an Excel Spoon, while I spooled out a large 3 inch rigged shad on three colors of leadcore. Our speed was 2.2 mph.
I’d barely put the rod in the holder when the clicker screamed. I was into a heavy fish that turned out to be a king in the 3 pound class. That salmon blitzed a jumbo size shad screaming along at over 2 mph a mere 10 to 15 feet below the surface!
Brine Your Bait?
Some guys prefer to troll their shad and anchovies right out of the package, but most anglers like to brine their bait. Brined baits tend to be tougher then unbrined baits and they also tend to look brighter and more “alive”.
Both Pro-Cure and Pautzke offer ready-made liquid brines. I’ve used these brines in the past and I’ll use them more in the future because they work and because they offer convenience. Having said that, in this piece I’m going to focus on the tried and true salt brine method that has been used by generations of commercial salmon anglers.
The simplest cheapest brine you can use is a simple salt solution. This is accomplished by putting a gallon of ice cubes and a gallon of water in your cooler. To this add a tablespoon of bluing to make the bait shine and two cups of rock salt, kosher salt or canning salt. Avoid iodized salt, as it will make your bait turn brown.
Stir these ingredients and then incorporate your bait. By draining off the water and continuing to add ice, salt and bluing you can keep bait fresh for up to 3 days using this solution.
Remember that the better the bait looks when you start the process, the better it will look 3 days later. If you start with ugly beat up bait, the best brine in the world won’t make it look like tray bait.
As good as a simple salt solution is, it can be improved upon by adding either baking soda or powdered milk or some of each. Baking powder neutralizes the enzymes that cause the flesh of the baitfish to break down and soften. Powdered milk is a protein. It causes the flesh to become firm, while maintaining it’s flexibility.
The rule of thumb when adding baking soda or powdered milk is to use half as much as these ingredients as salt. In other words if you used two cups of salt, you’d use 1 cup or baking soda or powdered milk. If you decide to go with both use a half-cup of each of baking soda and powdered milk.
Whether you use straight salt, salt/baking soda, salt/powdered milk or salt/baking soda/powdered milk all these brines will keep your bait fresh, firm and attractive looking for up to four days, provided you continue adding ice, brine powder and bluing.
These brines are also great for preparing bait for freezing. Simple soak the bait in the ice and brine mixture overnight, drain the bait, put a single layer of bait in a zip lock bag, squeeze out the air and pop it into the freezer. When you want to fish with the bait thaw it in brine and keep it in the brine throughout the fishing trip.
A lot of folks are confused about bluing. Bluing is what folks used to use for brightening white clothes before chlorine bleach hit the market. Bluing makes your bait look shiny and alive.
Mooching for kings simply refers to drifting with baits hanging at specific distances beneath the boat. Mooching is most effective when the salmon are spooky or inactive because it keeps the bait in the strike zone for a maximum amount of time while creating minimal disturbance.
Shad minnows, anchovy fillets or tails and night crawlers rigged 18 inches below a large split shot or egg sinker are the most widely used offerings. I stay away from brined baits when I’m mooching if I have a choice. These baits should be fished on an octopus hook tipped leader. Threading the baits is the most effective approach, but you can achieve success by just pinning the bait on the hook too.
You’ll want to position your bait slightly above the level at which you believe the salmon are holding. Some anglers like to hold the rod while mooching, but I prefer to set it in a holder.
A bite is signaled by light tapping. When a bite is registered don’t pick up the rod. Kings will often mouth the bait for an extended period of time before committing. When the rod loads up and begins to pulse the salmon is hooked and it’s time to begin reeling.
Whether you are trolling or mooching it pays to add scent to your bait. Salmon don’t locate their meals by using smell, but when inactive fish approaches a bait scent can certainly help close the deal. I’ve been using Pro-Cure scents for a long time and I’m very satisfied.
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