King salmon are the largest species of salmon and king salmon fishing is challenging. King salmon are known to "bite" and will be aggressive toward artificial lures, yarn, streamer flies and freshly cured king salmon roe. The average Copper River king salmon we catch in the Upper Copper River Basin is around 30 pounds with a small numbers of fish reaching over 80 pounds. The techniques listed below will explain how to fish for king salmon.
side drifting is the most common technique we use to fish for king salmon on the swift moving rivers throughout the Upper Copper River region of southcentral Alaska. Driftfishing is done from a stationary point and when the angler casts the slightly upstream, allows the lure to sink to bottom, removes any slacks, and then allows the line drift down through the hole. Once the current carries the line directly down stream the force of the water will pull the hook off the bottom and the angler needs to reel in and start the drift procedure over again. It is important to apply the correct amount of weight when drift fishing for king salmon (hollow core 1/4" lead 1/2-2 oz.) The correct amount of weight on your line allows the rig to bounce along the bottom, lightly tapping as it drifts down matching the speed of the rivers current. More weight will slow down your drifts and less weight will speed up the drift. The strategy is to systematically cover the entire area that you are fishing by starting at the top of the hole and working your way down. You can achieve this by making a few short casts followed by a few long casts working your way down the run. With a few good casts and some practice you can begin to feel each rock as the lead tumbles downstream. Anythig that feels different could be a fish and sometimes all you will notice is that the lead stops moving down river with the current. When you lead stops it can only be 1 of 2 things a snag or a fish! Best to set the hook either way because if it is a snag chances are you may be able to pull off before losing all you gear and if it is a fish you should get a good hook set. Always, set the hook!
Float fishing is a technique that can be used to catch king salmon when there is no current to drift fish. Float fishing works very well in large eddies, lakes, back channels and sloughs with little to no movement. Float fishing can be done along some eddy lines with current but requires the angler to mend the line periodically and strategically manage the line slack. To catch a king salmon on a float rig the angler needs to cast the line out and manage the slack by reeling in and maybe even letting some line out depending on the current and water that needs to be covered. The float should be at the surface of water and watched closely for a strike. Once a big king salmon takes the bait the float will get pulled under water and that's when it's time to set the hook! It is pretty exciting watching your bobber go down.
When the rivers are high and the water is dirty expert fishing guide Aaron discovered that plunking can work to catch king salmon when nothing else will. Plunking is similar to drift fishing but the bait is meant to remain anchored to the bottom in one spot. Plunking is not a way to cover a lot of water or work a run but it can work to hook fish in very dirty water when nothing else is working. When using the plunking technique the angler ties on a very heavy weigh with a lure of choice and casts into a deep slack water holding hole allowing the weight to sink to the bottom and rest in one spot. The fishing rod can now be put into a rod holder if the angler wishes as the idea is to leave the gear alone until a fish picks up the bait! Be sure to keep a close eye on your rod if you do put it into a rod holder because you still need to set the hook so your king salmon doesn't get away.
Once you have decided the technique you will use to catch these mighty copper river salmon and have selected your king salmon fishing rod the next step is to find where the king salmon are in the river. King samon prefer the deepest parts on the river and like to hold in the deepest slack water they can find. Sometimes this slack water is easy for us to see and sometimes it takes a trained eye. Slack water can be obvious when its defined by a adbrupt eddie line or calm spot behind an island. It can also be harder to recognize when the deep slack water is in the middle of the river and formed by a submegged object such as a rock or underwater gravel bar. With some practice you will be able to read the water and see where the salmon are in the river.
Once you have choosen a location that is holding water for king salmon the next step is to cast. Pick a spot that is comfortable with good footing and position your hips slightly downstream with a wide stance. Next look at the water and decide where you want to cast and how you want your line to drift. Pick a spot that is slightly on the maincurrent side of the hole you are fishing so your line starts to drift across the run. This gives you line time to sink to the bottom before it passes infront of you and now you can follow the line with the tip of your rod focsung on the drift.
Weather you are side drifting or float fishing now if s the time to keep a tight line by magaing any slack in the system. Focus on keeping the tip of your fishing rod right on top of the fishing line and move the rod downstram with the line to follow the drift . You will be able to feel the bottom (side drifting) as the weight tubles along the river bed. Pay attention to anything that feels different. Give the rod a short firm tug directly upward if you feel the weight stiop bouncing. If the weight stops moving yo have a snag or a fish! With some experencience you will be able to tell when you have hung up on the bottom and when you have a bite. When in doubt set the hook!
The Hook Set
When you get a bite be sure to set the hook! Keeping a tight line during the drift will help ensure you get a good hook set when the king salmon decides to bite . If you have too much slack in the system it is possible to miss bites due the inability to feel anything on the end of your line or the fish may take the bait to deep and end up getting a hook to gill. The thing to remember is a tight line with help you set the hook.
Fighting a king salmon
Now that you have a king salmon on your line its important to make the right adjustments to your fishing rod so you don't lose the fish. Double check your footing and get into the fighting stance. Wait a second before doing anything to see what the does so you can react accordingly. If your fish starts to run down steam you must it before getting spooled. To stop a fish on the go keep your rod under tension and put the guides directly upstream lowering the rod and positioning the tip under the water. This maneuver does 2 things; turns the fishes head upstream so you can get the king salmon back into the hole and keeps the fish close to the bottom. When you pull straight up it will cause the fish to panic run so keep your rod low when you hook a big fish in a fast moving current.
Landing your king salmon
Make sure to take your time and move slowly at the end of the fight. The best way to net a king salmon on a swift river is head first from down stream and on the first try. When you are fishing with salmon grove we will always be ready with the net!
Check out Cary catching her first Alaska king salmon fishing with Salmon Grove on the Klutina River in Copper Center, Alaska
A day on the river with one of our fishing guides can help ensure success. If you are looking to experience the best salmon fishing in Alaska choose one of our Alaska king salmon fishing trips that include half, full or multi-day options on the Gulkana River, Klutina River and Tonsina River. Our fishing guides are licensed, insured, certified in Wilderness First Response (WFR) and Swift water Rescue (SRT I &II)
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100 Old Richardson Highway, Copper Center, Alaska 99573, United States
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