The purr of the idling outboard was numbing as we slowly followed the shoreline in search of king salmon.
After an hour without a strike on our trailing lines, conversation had died off and we even quit watching our rods.
All that changed in an instant when my reel screeched. I looked back in time to see a boil in the water and a broad tail in our wake, kicking the motor out of gear and reaching for the rod in one motion.
My companion moved for his rod to clear his line from the action, but not quick enough. Before he could free it from the rod holder, it too started to buck.
“Dang it! I’m in your line,” he mourned as he clicked his reel into free spool and started feeding line to produce slack, hoping to keep from causing me to lose my fish.
The fish made a long run out into deeper water as my companion held his rod high and continued to watch line peel off his reel.
I was working to control the fish when I heard him behind me.
“Where’s your fish, Hank?”
I pointed behind the boat and out into the bay, and he whooped.
“My line is going in the opposite direction!”
He reeled frantically to take up slack and was quickly enjoying a fight of his own.
Anyone who’s been through a double can appreciate our excitement and the frantic action that followed. In the end we managed to land both fish, near twins at 34 and 32 pounds.
I wish I could tell you that we went on to catch more fish that day, but no such luck. All the action had come in that one moment, even as we trolled for several more hours without a bump.
That’s a pretty good summary of king salmon trolling on most days.
Sure, you’ll have memorable days when the fish hit for long periods. But more often you’ll invest many hours in a day searching for hookups.
King salmon fishing reminds me of hunting. The fish are not widely distributed, and you have to find them before you can ever get a chance to hook them.
And it seems almost every rule about where to find kings was made for breaking.
Some folks fish deep in more open water. Some prefer to fish deep around reefs and capes. And a few like me like to make things really “up close and personal,” fishing close to kelp bed and rocks, and sometimes in water shallow enough to see bottom.
In truth, kings will go wherever they can find food along with conditions that make it easier for them to feed. From day to day and even from hour to hour that can change.
The best idea is to have a number of destinations in mind when you set out, and to hit them all. One or the other might produce, but it always pays to explore for new spots along the way.
When you connect, you might be able to come back to the same spot the next day and do as well or better. But you might also find that the kings have moved on. It might be another year before you find the kings in that spot again, but you should keep it on your list of places to check.
See why I claim king salmon fishing is a lot like hunting? They move around over wide areas, because in fact they’re mobile predators on their own hunts.
Kings tend to run in loose schools, and when you hook one there are often others. Many is the time we’ve brought one king to the boat, only to spot a second and sometimes a third swimming right along with it.
I’m always torn when we manage to hook up. Should you leave the other lines in the water and troll a bit longer while fighting the hooked fish? Or should you stop the boat and clear the other lines for more room and flexibility for the fight?
In truth it depends a whole lot on the size of the fish. Really big kings like we often encounter early in the spring can be too much to handle with the boat still under way and other lines in the water. But later in the summer when smaller kings are more the average, you can often continue to fish for additional hookups, even as you fight one on the line.
Especially in shallower water, I prefer to land the first fish before trying for more. Shallow water fights with big fish are just a little too crazy for anything else.
But there’s still the possibility that other kings are still nearby.
That’s when you enter a guessing game where to find them again.
I will make a quick trolling pass back through the area of the hookup, but more often I find the fish again when I move a few hundred yards up or down the current to try getting in front of them again.
There may be no science to it, but I have the best luck if I reposition in the direction we were moving when we got the first hookup. Quite often we’ll hook up again almost immediately after such a move.
Landing king salmon, especially large ones, can be an adventure. And if things go wrong, it can be huge disappointment when the fish swims free.
The up side of keeping your boat under way comes in limiting the opportunity for a king to dive under your boat at the last moment. The down side for stopping the boat for the fight is that’s exactly what can happen.
I’ve learned that it’s important to position your boat for the fight. As the angler fights the fish, I slowly maneuver the boat to keep it downwind and down-current from the fish. At the very least such positioning will keep your boat from drifting over the top of the fish when it’s directly below you or alongside.
Another issue in landing kings is the net you use. If the bag is not deep enough, all kinds of trouble can follow. You want a net bag deep enough to get the dorsal fin of the fish well below the rim once it’s in the net. And having a bag longer than the fish is even better.
But I’ve learned other tricks for netting kings.
You always want to net them head first if possible, so the touch of the net doesn’t cause them to squirt forward and out of the net, as can happen if you net tail first.
But you have to be really careful of hooks protruding from the king’s mouth when you net headfirst. If the hook gets snagged in the webbing before the king hits bottom, not only will the hook pull free, but the king will also fail to go all the way into the net. Sad to say, if the line is tight as the fish goes into the net, it will almost inevitably pull the head sideways into the web.
I coordinate with the angler, telling them to drop their rod tip at the exact moment I sweep the net over the king’s head. That little trick has virtually eliminated hooks fouling the web before the king bottoms out.
All this talk about fighting and landing kings makes it hard for me to remain at the keyboard.
Who can keep writing when there’s a good chance of catching the first king salmon of the year!