Float Fishing for Salmon In Heavy Water – Go Big or Go Home !

Posted: March 26, 2014 by Hellcat in Fish Reports, Gear Fishing, Out of Area, Salmon, Trout & Steelhead, Salmon, Trout & Steelhead, Tips & Advice
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Author: Vince Froehlich / North Fork Angling LLC

Die-hard drift fishermen cringe at the mere mention of deploying a bobber, but pounding the water with a float & fishing baits for salmon has become a go-to method for many guides and serious anglers in the PNW and Alaska. For good reason, it’s very productive in the right set of conditions and can be mastered by the not-so-experienced angler in short order. There are many factors why float-fishing has gained the following it has, being easy is just the beginning. Float-fishing is simple by design, and doesn’t take a bunch of expensive terminal gear to set yourself up for success. The possibilities are endless, and there is enough variety in floats alone to keep oneself occupied in the tackle store for hours. If properly set-up you don’t typically lose a bunch of expensive gear either, something that any guide or budget minded fisherman can appreciate. For the sake of keeping this article on the rails, we are going to discuss using a float to fish your bait in deep fast seams and heavy water for Chinook salmon. By heavy water, I am referring to often swift runs or deep turbulent pools where salmon pile up or stage before carrying on with their journey to the gravel bottomed shallows upstream. Areas of the river that are not generally drift friendly, or bordering too dangerous to attempt pulling plugs through or back-bouncing effectively, let alone anchoring a boat in. This is where fishing a bobber can put fish that you may have otherwise passed over – in the box and on the cards.

For the past fifteen years I have experimented with nearly every type of float available, and while most are excellent for frog water or steelhead fishing small offerings, I found that bigger is better for aggressive salmon in big water. Massive slip bobbers in the 2oz. up to 6oz. sizes are superb when used in the right set of circumstances.

Why such a monstrous float ? Because if you use anything lighter you simply cannot distinguish a bite from the undertow currents that drag your entire rig & bait beneath the surface, rendering it useless. You need to be able to “see” what is going on. This isn’t a “feel” method, it’s entirely visual. A big float will stay on the surface throughout the seam or pool, allowing you do seal the deal when a willing participant decides to devour your bait. Large bobbers will also slow-down your entire presentation considerably in water that a 3/8-1oz float couldn’t dream of, and this my friends makes all the difference in the world when fishing for resting or staged fish.

You run a bait slower then the current through holding water and it’s game on !

Big kings will stack in the deeper pools between holes or ripping whitewater. These pools can be difficult to fish from a boat, with huge bottom structure that would mean a really bad day for some greedy boater trying to squeeze out every yard of real-estate. I passed these “honey-holes” up for years, not utilizing alternative tactics, and certainly not throwing a bobber through them. Makes me sick to know how many “biters” that we left in the rearview.

Fishing Turbulent Pools:

Massive swirling pools are awesome salmon habitat. The back currents and eddies created by tight corners or big structured points are excellent targets when float fishing for salmon. Salmon are not typically leader shy, so you can get away with big weights and shorter leaders beneath a large float. I typically run an 18-20″ 20-25lb. leader tied to a 3/0 or 4/0 hook, a banana lead with ball chain swivels, or round ball on a snap swivel, matched to the bobber weight. A big weight keeps you in their face and won’t lift or pull in the currents as compared to a 1/4-1/2oz bullet weight. You need to keep your bait deep in the hole, and you will adjust your stop often enough to find the perfect depth. I run a bead to double Dacron bobber-stops as the increased pressure put on the stop from the heavier lead can short live a single stop, causing your depth setting to slip. Mainline needs to be heavy enough to put some serious pressure on a fish immediately. If a strong fish get’s the upper hand on you in frothy water, he will flat leave the scene and make you look stupid, taking your float, weight, hook & line with him. This is where braid excels, with no stretch and it’s ability to stay high on the water, often not touching the surface above a tall float, yet floating when it does. I typically use 30-50lb hollow-core on a good solid spinning or bait-casting reel matched with a rod that has some backbone, yet is long enough to pick-up slack quickly and still cast the big package accurately. The faster you can respond to the “bobber-down” the better odds to get a good hook-set, and a better chance at landing the fish. Casting well upstream, then mending your line quickly, keeping up on the slack or belly of line, and ready to drive that hook home when the float buries.

Big Floats in long deep structure rich runs:

Fishing a 2-3oz. float in areas where one would be tempted to fish a conventional drift fishing set-up is another way to cover the entire hole effectively, and never lose any gear to a river bottom teaming with structure. Maximize your fishing time instead of constantly dealing with tying leaders and figuring out what slinky or how much pencil lead to use. More fishing time, computes to more fish on your line, and more fun !
Large floats make fishing the inside, outside, middle, head and tail-out so much easier. These are great areas to stop the boat, or bank fish. Spend some time picking the entire hole apart, fishing every square foot of it until you find a where the fish are located. Avoid making long-line attempts to fish the tail-outs, and instead move yourself or boat down the run accordingly, fishing tighter to your position. Hook a fish downstream 75-80 yards away from you, and you are in trouble, and will likely never see the fish that ruins your day. If you have ever been spooled then you know the embarrassment that follows !

Boon-Dogging / Bobber-Dogging:

Using the boat to dog your floats down stream is extremely effective, and is one of the best approaches to fishing baits in transition water and slower runs between deeper holes.
Throwing your baits behind a sideways boat and keeping the floats inline, and simply drag them downstream. You want to fish your bait as close to the bottom as possible when doing this. A consistent bottom depth is ideal, where one or two stop adjustments, will find the sweet spot. Your weight should just be off the bottom, and the leader with hook & bait actually in tow, riding just along the river bottom inline with your weight. Another big benefit to this method is that your line is tight all the time with little mending, so hook-sets are positive and immediate. We fish this method with 4-6oz. floats on the Columbia River, and in Alaska on the Nushagak, with great success and a phenomenal hook-up ratio.

Float fishing is an exciting visual experience, and is a lot of fun for everyone. Next time you find yourself salmon fishing in a situation where your small steelhead floats are just not up to the task of dealing with heavy flow or turbulent water, switch it up and go big. Dedicating some serious time or even a full season learning how to master float fishing for salmon is something to be considered. I guarantee you will put the odds back in your favor and put more salmon on your table.

Tight Lines and Good Fishing – From The North Fork

About the author: Vince Froehlich is a full-time professional fishing guide, hobby outdoor writer, and owner of North Fork Angling LLC, operating in SW WA State and seasonally in Alaska.

  1. Derek Reed says:

    This is awesome buddy. Always looking for tips to up my bobber game. Keep it Reel

  2. Jim Reed says:

    Great Article!! Thanks for sharing! Will really help us guys still trying to improve our float game!!

  3. Thanks guys, I appreciate the comments & kind words.
    Good Bait always helps as does having some fish in the river to fish for 😉
    But these tactics work well and consistently when the bites on.
    Good Luck

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