By Andy Couch | 08/23/2014

Even after 30 plus years of salmon guiding and another 10 years of personal salmon fishing, “Bobber Down!” remains one of my most exciting moments of salmon fishing. Of course, the moment after the hook is set with a chrome coho salmon skyrocketing from the water ranks high on my list as well.

For faster action, an opportunity to see each strike, consistent catches, and economical use of bait and tackle, fishing cured salmon roe under bobbers provides maximum thrills on my guide boat. Below are a few tips for getting started or stepping up your game to a higher level with this technique.

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Gearing Up

While a variety of rods, reels, lines, baits, bobbers and hooks will work for this technique, I’ve refined my gear list to items that produce better results. I like a size 40/4000 spinning reel with a fast action spinning rod, stout enough to jerk slack line tight, when setting the hook. Thin-diameter super braid line flows easily off the reel when drifting, providing an extra margin of strength. Briad also floats and once again provides superior hook sets because there’s no stretch (I like 30-pound Suffix Performance Braid or 40-pound Power Pro). My bait of choice for enticing maximum number of strikes is fresh salmon roe cured with Pautzke’s Fire Cure.

ESB (Everlasting Slip Bobbers) are my choice for a reasonably priced float that holds up well to a season of salmon fishing. Gamakatsu Finesse Wide Gap Hook (#230412) is made from a finer wire that penetrates easily and is also factory sharpened to provide more hookups. With this hook I most often fish a double hook rig with a 5/0 hook followed by a 4/0 trailer. The bait is placed only in the egg loop of the 5/0 hook with the 4/0 trailer fished bare to increase hookups. I also fish one or two split-shot sinkers, 18 inches or more above the bait and under the bobber.

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Ready, Set, Action

During my guided salmon fishing trips I’ll often anchor my boat upstream of good salmon holding water and simply have my guests drop their baits in the river. They open the bail on their reel, continually letting line out, so the bobber, sinker, bait combination floats naturally downstream. The line flows most freely off the reel if the rod tip is pointed nearly directly at the bobber as it floats out. Sometimes the line catches on the reel’s spool causing the bobber to stop drifting. When this happens, lift the rod sharply (to once again get the line flowing smoothly off the reel) then slowly drop the rod back down to where it is pointing at the bobber (to avoid dropping excess slack line into the water).

When fishing a section of relatively clear salmon holding water that has not been recently fished, drifting bobbers and bait will often produce strikes in the first few drifts. The first quality 4-5 drifts through a spot with undisturbed salmon are the most likely drifts to draw strikes. Drifts can be as short as 10 feet or in long, straight holes, bobbers and bait can be drifted 100 yards or more. When fishing a long hole I often drift long distances to cover water quickly when searching for salmon, but if strikes are consistently occurring a long ways behind the boat I often re-anchor closer to the active fish to make it easier to hook the biters.

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Setting Bait Depth

When fishing Mat-Su Valley rivers I usually set the depth so my bait is bouncing along the bottom. With the split-shot or bait bouncing along the bottom the top of the bobber should tip slightly down river as it floats along. If the bobber is floating straight up and down the bait is floating above the bottom.

To adjust an ESB Bobber I simply slide the stop knot up or down the line to reset the bait/sinker depth. When fishing slow or nearly slack water (and especially deeper water like the mouth of Deshka River) silver salmon often suspend a considerable distance above the bottom. In such spots more bites may be achieved by setting the bait depth at two or three feet below the bobber even though the bottom may be considerably deeper.

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Detecting Bites and Setting the Hook

When a salmon starts mouthing the bait the bobber may dance around on the surface, but if you wait until the salmon either submerges the bobber or swims off with it, you will hook many more fish. It is easy to get excited and set the hook too early, but more often than not all you do is jerk the bait off the hook.

My advice, in most cases, is to wait for the bobber to go down. The situation where you may want to adjust and set the hook earlier is if you are continually getting light strikes with the fish letting go before submerging the bobber. Another trick that often turns light biters into bobber dunkers is to put on new salmon roe and/or smash a few of the individual eggs to disperse more scent.

Undisturbed salmon tend to bite more aggressively, but still often cause the bobber to dance a bit before they really grab the bait and submerge the bobber. When you see the bobber dancing it means, “Get ready.” When the bobber goes down point your rod directly where the bobber disappeared and reel until the line is going straight toward the biter, then sharply jerk the rod back to set the hook. I instruct guests to jerk off to the side, so if they do not hook the fish and happen to pull the bobber and bait out of the water, it will be flying away from them.

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Hold and Reel

If you jerk to set the hook, but only feel slack line and the bobber is still submerged, keep the rod back and reel as quickly as you can, until you either feel the fish pulling drag or your bobber comes to the surface. Removing slack out of the line quickly can be a challenge, but if you hold the rod back and keep reeling, you will catch more fish. By the way, bobber and bait is a fun technique to introduce new anglers into the sport. Good luck!

Editor’s Note: Andy Couch owns and operates Fishtale River Guides http://www.fish4salmon.com/ and is a  member of the Matanuska – Susitna Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission.