Fishing Baits Under a Float for Fall Salmon by Jason Brooks
Hearing the guys upriver whipping their rods backwards and yelling “fish on” I just shook my head in disgust.
The snaggers were flossing kings out of one of my favorite egg fishing holes but there was nothing I could do. Arriving an hour after the tide had starting swinging back to the ocean I missed my chance to reserve the hole by float fishing it and making sure the snaggers knew that they weren’t wanted.
Instead I was now walking the riverbank looking into the shadows in the bright sunlight. Finally a small pod of fish, maybe ten of them, stacked and sitting in the shade.
I cast upriver from the overhanging branches so not to spook the fish and slowly let my float drift down to them. As it reached the pod of fish the float went down and I set the hook. I made sure not to yell or make any noise otherwise I would have a crowd around me before I could land the fish.
Float fishing baits can be a relatively easy and very productive way to fish. In fact much easier than learning how to drift fish, or throw spoons and spinners. But there are a few things thank can make or break the day, so let’s make it as simple as possible.
Basically it’s a bobber, some weight, and a big glob of eggs on a hook. But then there is that saying “10 percent of the fisherman catch 90 percent of the fish”. That’s probably because those 10 percent pay attention to the littlest details.
So here at the details that make a difference from being frustrated and not believing in floating eggs and catching fall salmon under a float.
Think about the fish you are going after, where to fish for them, and how to get your bait to the fish.
With those three things in mind you will become more successful.
Big Chinook can top 30 pounds and big Coho in the upper teens. Fall salmon like to seek deep pools or log jams for protection as they make their way upriver, this is where you need to fish for them. Getting big globs of eggs into the zone means using heavy weights. All of this added up means you need to use stout gear.
Float fishing eggs is not a finesse method. You don’t need to feel the bottom or decide “was that a bite or a rock” but you must be able to hold a big King and yard a Coho out of log jams.
Terminal gear: I like to fish a powerful rod.
The rods I use are at least an 8 ½ foot medium heavy action but don’t be afraid to use a rod 11 feet long with a stout backbone, known as “power”. The 8 ½ foot length is pretty universal for bank or boat fishing. You need the power of the medium heavy to heavy action to hold big fall fish.
My mainline is either 50 or 65 pound braided line.
Braided line is important as your mainline for various reasons including the fact that it floats so there is less drag in the water, it’s visible so you can see if you have too much line out, and it’s strong.
On the mainline put a sliding bobber stop knot and then a bead to keep the knot from going into the float. I like to put an extra large bright corkie under the bead for more visibility and also to make sure my float is going all the way to the knot.
Then I put on a float that can handle from 3 oz. to 5 oz. weights. This very large float allows me to put enough lead under it to get my eggs down into the hole fast. Under the float I put another bead to keep the float from going into the 1 ounce sliding egg sinker which is next on the mainline. Then another bead and a barrel swivel.
On the other end of the barrel swivel I tie on a fairly short, 18 to 24 inch leader of 15 to 25 pound mono. Again, using a heavy leader helps in times when a big toothy Chinook makes a mad dash for the stump in the middle of the run. On the leader I place three ¼ ounce split shot about halfway down the leader and about two inches apart.
This helps keep the leader and bait to be more in line under the float instead of dragging behind the mainline.
At the end of the leader is a sharp 3/0 or 4/0 hook tied on with an egg loop. Lately I have been using sickle style hooks as they seem to penetrate and hold the fish even in barbless fisheries. One of those “attention to detail” things I mentioned is to tie a piece of yarn on the egg loop. This helps when you need to re-bait by making it easy to just grab the yarn and pull the egg loop open and it also keeps the line from cutting through the cluster of eggs when you make a hook set a second too late and the fish is off but your eggs are still there to finish the run.
The last thing is the bait. Most of us have our own “secret cures” so I won’t go into detail on those. The one thing I want to mention is that you want to use a fairly large cluster about the size of a golf ball.
If I am in waters where Coho are present I will make the egg cluster a little bit smaller. Other baits are sand shrimp, cured prawns, or a combination of shrimp and eggs known as a “cocktail”. A chunk of herring or sardine along with the eggs and even eggs, sand shrimp and sardine can turn on a bite. The idea with using bait is to get the fish to bite by scent and sometimes it takes a buffet to get them to bite.
No matter what bait you use make sure that the point of the hook is exposed and just below the bait, utilizing the bait loop will help in doing this.
Now you know the gear, set up, and baits, let’s discuss how to fish bait under a bobber.
Starting at estuaries salmon come in during the tides upswing as the water rises. I have found that while the tide is coming in and up to high tide the fish have one thing on their mind and that is getting into the river.
They are not much of a biter at this point so I target just upriver from the tide line.
But as the tide recedes back to the salt fish get a bit nervous and grumpy as they stack up in deep holes and slots. Look for deep slots or areas being shadowed by overhanging trees as the fish really don’t like the bright sun.
When fish start to endure a bit of stress they get aggressive which triggers a bite.
I really don’t know why salmon eat these big globs of eggs, shrimp and sardines, as I have heard various reasons like instinct from their smolt days, to survival of the fittest to being “mad” at the bait on their nose, but really the important thing to know is that they do bite. And it seems the falling waters causes them to become aggressive and is a prime time to fish eggs under a float.
Other areas I target fall salmon besides tidewaters are the holding areas of fall fish. Again any deep slot in the river or cut bank where a fish will be hanging out waiting for rain or until the urge to move upriver becomes too overwhelming and they head up.
Prime areas are log jams with a cut underneath them. Often overlooked by those twitching jigs, pulling plugs, swinging spoons or drift gear, as it is too hard to get the presentation to hold “just right” near a log jam, this is where float fishing shines. A few years ago I was floating down a river with a buddy of mine, Grant Blinn. As we came to the top of the run that was a huge log jam to the rivers outside bend I rowed the boat along the inside shallow water.
Grant tossed his offerings as close to the logs as he could with a well-placed cast a foot off of the jam. He kept enough tension on the line to pull the float away from the logs as it slipped past. Knowing that the main flow of the river was under the log jam we knew that this meant it was a deep hole under all that twisted and sunken timber. By allowing the float to cruise along just to the edge of the jam he could offer the bait to any awaiting fish. Then his float went down. He admitted at first he thought his leader wrapped around a sunken limb that he didn’t see but he set the hook anyway and to his surprise and 18 pound Chinook hen was on the other end.
I kept the boat drifting along as he pulled backwards and downstream, with his heavy mainline, stout rod and leader he was able to keep the fish from turning to the logs and we were able to float down below the jam where we anchored and Grant got out and fought the fish to shore. Only by using the gear mentioned above and knowing how to fish the structure got him that fish. You simply couldn’t use any other kind of tactic in that situation.
So whether you are fishing a deep hole, a slot in a run, in the shadows under overhanging limbs or along a log jam the thing to remember is that you need to be able to control your drift.
This is not float fishing jigs for steelhead where you need to keep it going along at the pace of the river, or use finesse in mending line and reading the bobber. Floating eggs is more like back bouncing them with control coming from the top of the eggs instead of bouncing along the bottom. If you know Chinook are in a deep slot you want your eggs to float by at a slow rate so to keep that bait in front of them for as long as possible.
You don’t want to hold or stop your float as this will cause the current to lift your eggs up but you can slow your float down a bit by keeping your line out of the water and controlling your float. This also helps for when the float goes down and you need to set the hook fast.
For me fall salmon fishing is float fishing time.
Seeing the float go under and setting the hook only to have a big Chinook submarine down on you will get the adrenaline going. Soon you will be figuring out your own “secret” egg cures, and places to fish. This is also a great way to get others into fishing.
This last fall I took my 9 year old son Ryan down a Grays Harbor River. It was mid-September and the flows were low. We used the drift boat to get access to distant gravel bars away from crowds. Soon he was casting and mending his line and when the bobber went down he set the hook for his first ever Chinook.
Even he is now addicted to floating baits for fall salmon. Give this technique a try and remember to pay attention to the little details as they can make all the difference.
- written by Jason Brooks