Get Down To Salmon Basics

The estuary fishery made famous by Zane Grey still teems with salmon on either side of the Rogue River's iconic Hwy. 101 bridge.

King salmon truly rule much of the angling world. Kings occur naturally in the North Pacific from the Kamchatka Peninsula to Central California and have been successfully introduced into waterways from the Great Lakes to New Zealand.

Our store specializes in the tackle and tools you'll need to successfully chase after kings, which are the largest member of the salmon family. While kings over 90 pounds have been caught in Alaksa's Kenai River and California's Sacramento River, some call anything over 30 pounds a tyee. Catch a Chinook bigger than that and you'll be calling for a taxidermist. We'll give you the number.

The name Chinook comes from a Native American tribe that inhabited the Columbia River. Traders in ships and the Lewis and Clark Expedition got their first taste of king salmon courtesy of the Chinooks. Now the rich, red meat of the king salmon is famous across the world for its flavor and nutrition. King salmon taste even better when you catch them yourself. To help you get started on your salmon quest, here are some basic tips for catching king salmon:

  • Depth is everything when it comes to kings. You have to put your bait/lure where the salmon live. In a river or estuary that means just a foot to several feet off the bottom. In the ocean or big lakes, kings will often be found on a thermocline (water temperature break) or at the same level as their forage (krill, squid, herring and other small fish). In the nearshore saltwater environment, salmon can be shallow as they feed along ledges and dropoffs on their migration into rivers to spawn.
  • Countdown for action. We have a variety of tackle that will help you keep track of how deep you are, from reels with built-in counters to both manual and electric downriggers with depth displays. On the high-tech end, we can show you how to link your sonar/fish finder display with your downrigger to know precisely how deep you are trolling. Or you can do it the old fashioned way with "pulls." To let your line out, grab the line from just in front of the reel and pull it off the spool until your hand reaches the first guide. Keep track of the number of pulls and adjust accordingly to get to the right zone.King salmon caught from California's Smith River with Phil Desautels of Smiling Salmon Guide Service.
  • Get into river kings. The simplest way to get a bait to a king in a river is with a weight. We can show you a number of different sinker rigs for fishing in the current, such as dragging, sidedrifting and backbouncing. When the fish are kegged up in deep pools, however, floating a bait under a slip bobber is often the best method, while wobbling lures with elongated bills will dive down to the fish when backtrolled in the current or fished off a sideplaner. These are simple rigs that we can show you how to put together in a few minutes when you visit our store.
  • Get down on the troll. Downriggers, jet divers, sinker releases, banana sinkers, dropper weights, cannon balls, stacked lines, finned, keeled or coated downrigger weights, braided line versus monofilament – how you get down to biting salmon might seem complicated. Yet we can get you set up with the right rig for the way you fish.
  • Spin and you win. A wide slow spin can be better for king salmon, while a fast tight spin is often best for their silvery cousin, the coho. Spin as in how the anchovy, herring or sardine used as bait rotates when rigged. The shimmering scales of a spinning bait produce an irresistible flash. We have the threaders and the right hooks (some areas require barbless circle hooks) to put a spin on your bait, or you can use the various clip-in products that make a bait spin. We'll help you discover which works best for you.
  • Scent and flash work wonders. While a spinning bait or plump clump of roe is often all you need to catch a salmon, most  fishermen add to the attraction with a variety of beads, blades, spinners and flashers that either are put just ahead of the bait or inline several feet away from the bait. When fishing a waterway that has a ban on bait and/or scents, then flash is everything. Even when bait is allowed, soft plastic lures that imitate small squid and bait fish are often a great choice, especially if you can give them a good squirt of a prepared scent. Some swear a quick spray of WD-40 is all it takes. Salmon have an incredible sense of smell that allows them to travel thousands of miles and still sniff out their home river, so at the very least you have to cover up the foreign smell of the human body. After all, who wants to get skunked? Good luck!