We tried the shallow areas we like so much, moved out to around 90 feet like most boats in the area, and hit several depths between. We couldn’t find kings anywhere.
On top of that, the tide had turned and we were entering a period that had never produced for us.
Tired of the drone of the outboard and more than a little frustrated with the lack of salmon action, we opted to move offshore into a favorite deep spot to drop the anchor and laze while waiting for halibut.
Surely we could count on fresh halibut for dinner.
As it turned out, we dined on fresh king salmon.
After setting the anchor my wife dropped a jig to the bottom, as planned, for halibut.
In the process of getting the boat settled for a long rest, I glanced at the fish finder.
About 50 feet down in almost 200 feet of water a wavering stripe of what looked like “pepper grains” had appeared.
I’ve always liked signs like that for mooching silver salmon in the fall, so on a whim I rigged a salmon rod for mooching herring and dropped it to 50 feet.
I didn’t have a chance to sit down before I was hooked solidly into a king!
After we landed it and nestled it in the fish box, my wife decided it must have been a fluke. She sent her jig back to the bottom for halibut while I baited the mooching rig with another herring.
I lowered it back down into that ribbon of pepper grains and slowly pumped the rod up and down.
It took a little longer for the action to develop. This time I managed to raise and lower the rod tip three times before hooking another king!
That settled it for my wife.
We traded rods so she could get in on the action while I took over the search for halibut.
In her enthusiasm my wife forgot all her lessons and experience from past mooching adventures and missed the strike that came five minutes later.
The action was definitely slowing, but a half hour later she managed to connect and landed our third king of the day.
If you were keeping track through that account, we had four hits and landed three kings in under an hour.
As meanwhile the trolling action had been terrible.
That’s often our experience with mooching. If the trolling is poor, the mooching is likely to be hot. Almost any day we can’t hook king salmon with a purring outboard, we stand a good chance of doing so in blessed silence.
Mooching was undoubtedly the most popular and productive way to catch Northwest king salmon before the advent of downriggers. If the fish were too deep for traditional trolling with divers or weights, they could easily be reached by mooching.
I’ll be the first to admit that using downriggers has greatly simplified the challenge of catching king salmon when they’re deep.
But trolling can become seductive however, even numbing. It’s so easy to troll and look for fish once the gear is in the water. We keep doing it even when fishing is poor. Hope springs eternal, as they say, but I’m as guilty as the next person in my reluctance to stop trolling once I start.
That’s hard to explain, when in fact I have proven to myself that mooching often produces on days when trolling doesn’t.
What is mooching anyway?
Basically it’s jigging with bait, hoochies, or sometimes even spoons.
It takes advantage of something obscured by trolling.
King salmon move. If you shut down your motor and wait, the kings are as likely to come to you as you are to overtake them while trolling. All you have to do is find the right bait layer in locations where kings normally feed.
As with all forms of fishing, the basics will catch you a few fish, but refinements will help you catch a lot more.
Pinning a herring to a longish mooching or trolling leader behind a crescent trolling weight will get you started. But in my experience it helps to use lighter-than-usual leaders and hooks for trolling, so the herring moves more freely when you move your rod.
It also helps to allow the herring to move on its own, rather than slavishly following the sinker in a straight line like trolling.
By that I mean you should raise your rod fairly quickly, then pause a few second to allow the herring to veer and even start sinking. Then you need to lower the rod slowly so the herring can continue to sink and wander on its own rather than be pulled quickly back down by the sinker.
And once your rod is lowered all the way to horizontal, pause for five or ten seconds to allow the herring to continue sinking to the full length of the leader.
Why is that important?
Here’s why: Because something over 90% of our strikes come as the herring is slowly sinking and twisting rather than while rising upward in a straight line behind the sinker.
As a result, virtually all strikes are gentle, hardly more than a tap. You need a sensitive rod even to feel them.
Most folks miss those strikes because they impulsively set the hook.
It goes against all your instinct and training, but you need to drop the rod tip when you feel a gentle hit. Wait a few moments until you feel the fish again, then raise the rod tip a little until you start to feel the weight of the fish.
Only then should you set the hook.
We catch a high proportion of our mooched kings while we’re anchored. That’s because we usually don’t start mooching until we’ve anchored in a search for halibut and a seductive looking bait layer appears on the fish finder.
Lots of very good moochers in the Northwest never anchor, but rather, they drift while fishing. I’m slowly learning not to be so hasty with the anchor. More and more I’m cruising in search of the bait layers for mooching rather than waiting for them to show up.
In fact there’s another form of mooching that has really caught my attention.
It’s called “motor mooching.” You rig up just as you would for mooching, but instead of reeling up your lines, you simply kick the boat in gear and slow troll between likely spots.
When you see a bait layer or bait ball, simply kick the boat out of gear and allow the mooching rigs to sink to depth and mooch. It promises the best of both worlds, both trolling and mooching, and those who have tried it are avid.
It’s still too soon for me to promise great results on Kodiak, but if you see us on the water and our boat is making a lot of stops while “trolling,” you can bet we’re researching the effectiveness of motor mooching!