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How To Catch Alaska Salmon


The majority of questions I've gotten so far have to do with the type of tackle commonly used to catch salmon.  The "Spin-N-Glo" pictured above is a preferred setup, where salmon roe (eggs) are allowed.  The "Spin-N-Glo" is a colored styrofoam body with two wings.  This is slipped onto a hooked leader.  It should spin freely when placed in a moving stream or river.  A two-hook leader is normally used, tied with "egg loops" to hold salmon roe.

Common theory is that salmon don't feed after entering fresh water, but they do mouth salmon eggs, and then spit them out.  (It may be that they naturally want to spread out eggs they find floating in front of them.)  Also, being a predator fish, salmon will often bite at something in front of them. The normal "bite" is often just a little tap or tug, and not a big grab and run.  Get used to the feeling of your weight bouncing and dragging on the bottom, the feel of the current when your weight comes to rest, and you'll be able to recognize when a salmon mouths your hook.

The leaders can be bought in many department, grocery and sporting goods stores, if you'd prefer not to make your own.  Even if you buy the hooked leaders, you'll need Spin-N-Glo bodies, beads, swivels, weights and the salmon roe.  

Once I have the hooked leader, I slide on a large bead and a Spin-N-Glo body.  Then I tie a swivel onto the loose end of the leader.  The line from the reel/rod has a snap swivel on the end, so I can easily attach the Spin-N-Glo leader and a weight to the snap swivel.  I can change Spin-N-Glo's or weights without having to re-tie anything.  I'll bring 5-6 Spin-N-Glo setups with me to fish.  My preferred colors for the Spin-N-Glo body are red or orange (with or without spots or stripes), yellow with orange spots (or stripes), and a watermelon-looking arrangement, which works well.  Green is another often-used color.

Whatever type of sinkers you decide to use with a Spin-N-Glo, you'll need a variety of weights: 1, 1.5, 2, and 2.5 ounces.  The 1.5 and 2 ounce weights are what I end up using most often.  I use a trolling weight that's banana shaped with rings on either end -- sometimes they come with a swivel on one end.  I've seen people using ball or teardrop shaped weights too.  Still others use a 3-way swivel that has surgical tubing slipped over the bottom swivel -- a length of tube-shaped weight, sold in a roll, is cut to the proper length/weight and then slipped into the other end of the tubing.  Whatever type of weight you use, make sure it's enough to stay on the bottom in what can often be fast-moving water.  If you're not at the bottom, you're not where the fish are.

As far as fishing line, I'd recommend 20 pound test as a minimum for salmon unless you're experienced, and in an area where you can move freely downstream after a hooked fish.  I'd say that 25-30+ pound test is a better choice for King salmon, which can also be used for silvers, chum, reds, etc.  If you want to use a lighter rig, bring a heavier backup.  When fishing for silvers, for example, I'll normally use a 12 pound setup, either spinning or casting.  But at the same time my wife uses 25 pound line, and she doesn't have to play the fish as much, or worry about the fish taking off downstream in fast-moving water.  In some areas, you can't move around a lot, i.e., you can't chase a fish downstream as it takes all your line, and a lot of the streams and rivers have very fast water, which adds to need for a stronger rod and line.  Make sure you have a rod & reel combo that can handle the heaviest line you'll use.  

I prefer an 8 to 8.5 foot rod, with a sensitive tip, in either medium or med-heavy, for most salmon.  A heavy action rod is a good idea for river kings.  If you're fishing from a boat, either on a river or in salt water, you can often use a lighter rod and line.  A seven foot rod, like the two-piece Shakespeare medium action Big Water Ugly Stick, is acceptable for all salmon.  The 8 foot version of this two-piece Big Water Ugly Stick is a good all-purpose salmon rod too.  If you want one rod for all salmon, I'd recommend either of those.  My wife uses the medium-action seven foot Ugly Stick for all salmon.  The only time she's ever under-equipped is when a heavy king salmon heads off downstream in fast water, but then again, it would take a telephone pole and steel cable to bring back a fish in some cases.  If you want the heaviest, strongest King salmon rod, look at the one-piece 7-foot heavy action Big Water Ugly Stick.  (All the Shakespeare Big Water Ugly Stick rods mentioned above are available at Bass Pro Shops, in the Salt Water Fishing Rod section.)

The Ugly Stick will take a lot of abuse. If you're buying an expensive graphite rod, make sure you're not over-tightening the drag on the reel, and that you're not lifting your rod handle past 12 o'clock -- straight up in the air.  I've seen more than a few people break their rods through mishandling, and then blame the rod.  A graphite rod will give you a better feel; but is more sensitive to abuse, and doesn't have the strength of the Ugly Stick.  I normally use a Medium action 8.5' graphite rod for all salmon other than Kings.

In the debate of spinning vs. casting rod/reel combos, I'd say use whatever's comfortable.  It's true that a casting reel will give less line twist, but if you're not comfortable with the drag or the balance of a casting rod & reel, use a spinning rod.  My favorite salmon combo, for everything other than Kings, is an 8.5' spinning rod and reel combo that feels just perfect to me; even though I have other spinning and casting rods available.  Twisted line will become weaker over time, but if you change your line at the start of each fishing season, you shouldn't have problems with it.  It's a good idea to strip off 10 yards or so after a heavy fishing session.  Cut it off and retie.  The end section of line takes a lot of abuse.  

Egg Loop

If you buy your leaders pre-tied, you don't need to know how to tie an egg loop.  I like to tie my own leaders, with a 25-30 pound leader, using Gamakatsu hooks.  But, I also bring along some backups that are store-bought in packs of three.  When I need a new Spin-N-Glo, I can just slide on a new bead and Spin-N-Glo body, and then tie on a swivel.  The bead helps the Spin-N-Glo to spin easily.  (Don't use tiny beads.)

A common mistake people make is the knot used to tie on their tackle.  Any knot, even the best, will be one of the weakest places in your line/tackle setup.  If you're not using a good knot, it will probably break when you're max-performing your fishing gear on a big salmon.  I like the Uni-Knot, which is shown below.



Equipment List

Polarized sunglasses

Ankle-fit hip boots or waders (insulated is better: that water's cold!)

Wool socks (optional, but again...that water's cold)

Rain gear with hood

Wool gloves (I recommend those with rubber on palms & fingers for better grip; can keep a cold rainy day enjoyable)

Hat (only listed because I sometimes forget mine)

Insect repellent

Sun screen lotion

Heavy or Medium-Heavy action spinning or casting rod (for king salmon a must; for other salmon a heavier action is good for high volume streams)

Medium action spinning or casting rod (for salmon other than kings, except in high volume streams)

Light or Ultra light spinning or casting rod (optional: for trout, etc.)

Halibut rod & reel (halibut fishing charters will provide this)

Halibut leaders with hooks (charters should provide these)

Fillet knife

Hemostat or needle nose pliers

Folding, hunting or camping knife

Sharpening stone and/or Hook sharpener (to sharpen hooks and knives; a tubular stone with groove down the length of it works for both...sold as hook sharpener)

Garbage bags (for fish storage, garbage, keeping things dry in the rain, etc.)

Plastic shopping bags (handy for many purposes)

Small lure box (to carry)

Tackle box (to store your goodies)

Extra reel spools (optional)

Extra fishing line


Lures, snaps, swivels, weights, hooks

Pre-tied salmon leaders: two single hooks with egg loops (if you're not going to tie your own)

Bait (salmon roe; herring: if trolling for salmon, or for halibut; trout bait: PowerBait, frozen shrimp, etc.)

Ice Chest (for food and drinks, also to store caught fish on ice, optional but important)


Popular lures in Alaska

Spin-N-Glo with salmon eggs



Tee Spoon

Russian River Fly (aka Coho Fly)

Mepps Spinner



Rooster Tails

Further Reading on Alaska Fishing

Fogdog Sports Fishing Store

For Species-Specific Information and Techniques
on how to catch salmon...
Go To: Fishing Techniques Page

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