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How to catch Salmon in estuaries
Estuary Chinook Salmon rigging

Time & Tides For the fall estuary salmon fishing, the best time to fish is on the incoming flood tide. The incoming ocean water will flush the fish up into the bays. The prime time will be from about 1/2 way in, to about 3 hrs after high tide. However as with many fisheries, the fish sometimes write their our timetables & they have caught them on any time of the tide. Also on a low tide the water area has shrunk considerably in the estuary and this then concentrates the fish in the channels or holes that are left.

It also makes a difference if the weather is dry for some time, or if it has been raining. If it has been dry, then the fish tend to stack up in the bay. If it starts to rain, they will move thru & upriver rather rapidly.

Gear You can use regular mooching gear to troll in these shallow waters, however the following gear has been perfected specifically for this type of fishing.

The water will usually be slightly murky, so a attractant like the Fish Flash that has little drag seems to work best. In the past, a red Fish Flash has proved excellent, however there are new ones out that are glo-in -the-dark, these should prove good when charged with a camera flash.

Add a Sappo ball bearing swivel at the end of your mainline when using a Fish Flash to help eliminate line twist. Also place a golf tee on the mainline above all the other gear. This is to help divert grass off. It has been observed that a knot on the terminal end of the mainline seems to not allow grass to pass off, whereas this golf tee seems to help in this respect.

Use a plastic sturgeon sinker slider on the mainline to attach the sinker onto. This helps to not allow the fish to use the weight of the sinker to throw the barbless hooks, since the slider will slide if the fish tries to shake & dislodge the hook. Attach a 12" to 18" lighter (12-15#) mono dropper to the sinker. The reason for this is that you want your bait NEAR the bottom, in these bays you may encounter snags, with the lighter dropper, if you hang up, the sinker is what usually get hung & the dropper will break off first. Make up some spare droppers ahead of time, as when the bite happens, you do not want to be tying gear. Tie on or snap a cannon ball sinker of from 4 to 10 oz depending on the current & depth.

The leader should be heavier than normal because of the possible larger fish encountered, and it can be shorter than a normal mooching leader because of the murky water. Since you are fishing in shallow water (15-30') when a fish is hooked, he has no place to go but run. Originally the preferred leader length started as 72" of a mooching leader, it got shortened to 36-48" and fish were still caught. But on some instances, (maybe the murkier water applies here) more fish were taken on shorter (18") leaders, so you may want to experiment.

Bait Use cut plug herring, & you might try the largest you can get (purple or black label). Or you can use a smaller bait & then a bonnet. These bonnets will help to keep the bait from being torn off, and keep it fishing. For cut plugging, soak the bait at least overnight & up to 4-5 days in 1 quart water, 2 cups rock salt & 1/2 cup of powdered milk in a refrigerator. The rock salt toughens while the powdered milk sets the scales. You can also add a few drops of blue or green food coloring to replace that live iridescent color. In addition you can even add some scent to this mixture. And inject the bait with scent after it is rigged. One method is that after you cut the head off, clean the entrals, & then make a slit in the rear belly cavity at the anis. This will allow water to flow thru the bait, putting off more scent, & allowing the bait to stay together longer.

For cut-plugging, some fishermen use a large toothpick or barbecue skewer just inside the skin, start outside & forward of the hook exit hole. Push this back just inside the skin the full length of the bait. Break it off slightly in front of the herring. This stiffens & protects the bait & allows it to be trolled longer.

Hooks Tie your hooks, 4/0-5/0 or 5/0-5/0 close, (3/4") between the bend & the eye. Hook only the front hook into the bait, with the rear trailing. Use 36" to 48" of 40# or 50# leader on the hooks as the water is murky and a large chinook, if hooked deep can cut lighter leader with its teeth.

Plugs like the Apex or spoons can also be experimented with.

Troll with the tide if possible and slow (1.5+-mph). Pull your line OFTEN & clean any weeds off, check your bait, & re-inject scent.

The above information was used with the permission LeeRoy Wisner of
LeeRoy Wisner had posted several EXTREMELY informative articles on the Puget Sound Anglers website and we strongly recommend visiting that website or
click here to email him directly. As an editor's note I must say that in my lifetime of searching every available resource I have never come across so many helpful and informative articles as those written by LeeRoy Wisner. Thanks again and hats to LeeRoy for giving us permission to post these articles so that you can learn more about fishing and hopefully you catch more fish!