Mooching and Drifting for salmon in the Columbia River's Buoy 10 fishery!

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Using lead weights to take your bait to the desired depth when fishing in the Buoy 10 area has really caught on with a huge number of salmon anglers in recent years. Lead’s effectiveness and simplicity make it the preferred choice for many seasoned anglers and guides.


This year’s huge salmon run has allowed me to do some experimenting and I have found great success utilizing two new techniques. Mooching/jigging and drifting. While these techniques have been employed for many years in other salmon fisheries on the west coast, they are almost never seen on the lower Columbia River.

The advantage of employing these techniques is that it allows you to keep your bait in the fish zone as long as possible rather than quickly trolling through the school of salmon and then needing to fire up the main motor and run back up stream and troll down through the school again. This technique also allows you to utilize lighter lead to deliver your bait to the salmon because the boat’s motor is not in gear moving you forward and away from them. Also, if all of the anglers on the boat look out for each other and work as a team, it allows you to keep fishing while someone is fighting their fish, similar to a bottom fishing trip.


Mooching for salmon is a simple process. Longer 10.5′ rods have an advantage but any rod can be used. All you need is an anchovy or herring, hooked to your two or three hook leader, a swivel with a lead sinker fixed to a drop line or just hooked to a slider. 6 – 16 ounces of lead seems sufficient for most conditions but you may find that you prefer to go lighter or heavier for certain river conditions.

To start the mooching process, hold your rod tip about a foot above the surface of the water and let your bait fall to the bottom (or any desired depth). Don’t free fall the bait, make sure to keep a little tension on the line while it is falling because it is very common for the salmon to grab the bait during the drop. When this happens you will often only feel a slight bump, instantly respond by setting the hook or reeling until the line comes tight and then setting the hook.


Assuming you are dropping all the way to the bottom (my preferred approach),once bottom is reached, close your bail and lift the rod skyward. Remember you started with the rod’s tip about a foot above the surface of the water, now lifting (moderately fast) will allow you to raise the bait 9-10 feet upward, then drop the rod tip back down reeling the slack line in at the same time, this is when you will often feel a slight bump, set the hook! That bump was the fish grabbing it. You can do this “lift up and reel down” technique until you retrieve your bait all the way back to the surface or you can just do it in the “fish zone” which I consider to be the bottom 10 feet of the water column.

We often just raise and lower the rod 9-10 feet with out reeling in on the drop and checking to make sure it hits bottom every 3-4 lifts. This is more of a jigging approach than what is traditionally considered true mooching. I’m always watching the fish finder to see where the salmon are located in the water column, calling out to my anglers where I’m seeing the fish so that the anglers can adjust their baits depth accordingly to get it in front of the salmon.


Occasionally some of my anglers tire of the up and down lifting motion of mooching/jigging and they just place the rod in the rod holder and the next thing you know, we have a fish on that rod! Kind of surprising when we have often thought in the past that the trolling motor needs to be running in order to drag the bait through water and make it spin. The reality is that with great bait, moving water, and a boat that is getting pushed by the wind and being jostled around by the waves, there is more than enough action and enticement being provided by your bait to make the salmon bite it.Remember to always start with your rod tip just above the water before lifting, and after dropping back down be sure to end with it just above the water, that way you allow yourself to get a full upward sweep as well as a good hook set. New anglers find that they make loose fish using this technique because after setting the hook they often just start to reel the fish in. Make sure that after you set the hook, you then reel all the way down the water’s surface and give the fish a strong upward lift to again firmly drive the hooks home and ensure the fish is on the line, then continue fighting it by lifting up and pulling the fish toward you and then lowering the rod and while reeling to take up the slack. This is the standard fish fighting routine for seasoned anglers but an all to uncommon approach for folks new to trying to land large fish.We will often troll until we hook a fish (or until we see fish on the fish finder) and then while we are fighting the fish the other anglers just pick their rods up out of the rod holders and start jigging them up and down making sure to lift the rod skyward faster rather than slower because it is the speed of the spinning bait and the abrupt stops and up and down direction changes that trigger the fish to strike.

I find the drifting technique to work well in deep water (over 50 feet deep). However it can also work very well when the tide is ripping really fast in shallower water. In deeper water I put the baits down suspended anywhere from 20-45 feet deep on the line counter and stick the rods in the rod holder without the motor on. Specifically speaking about the drifting technique, as long as your line has some angle to it (rather than hanging straight down) as you are drifting then it is definitely spinning. If it is just hanging straight up and down then you may want to consider mooching it up and down in the water column to impart more action to it.

Amazingly enough we have caught dozens of fish this season utilizing these techniques when there wasn’t a single fish being shown on the fish finder.
For Coho Salmon my bait of choice for mooching is whole anchovies rigged with a three hook leader and for Chinook Salmon I prefer Blue Label cut plug herring again with a three hook leader. For both types of bait, the bottom two hooks are 4/0 and the top hook is a 5/0.

I and my wife Lacey DeWeert who runs the other guide boat for our business use nothing but Maxima fluorocarbon leader material for all of our salmon leaders. We find that it’s abrasion resistance keeps large salmon from biting through it. We also find that since it is a little stiffer than standard nylon monofilament, this allows the bait’s spinning motion to be transferred up the leader to the swivel, thus keeping those notorious twists and kinks out of our leaders. Generally we use 40 pound fluorocarbon leader which has replaced the 50 pound nylon monofilament that we used in years past. It’s strong enough to handle any of our salmon, we never get bitten off by toothy Tules anymore and the thinner diameter allows the bait to spin even easier, providing an amazing presentation. This has been one of the huge keys to our consistent success during Buoy 10 salmon season.

Kevin Newell – Total Fisherman Guide Service