Techniques used to catch red (sockeye) salmon in freshwater rivers

Copper River Red Salmon are the most prized salmon stock for both flavor and texture. Red (sockeye)salmon are known to be the hardest salmon to catch. The red salmon spend most of their life migrating off shore in the saltwater and return to their home rivers to spawn upon reaching maturity. Red salmon feed on really small stuff like plankton and tiny shrimp. The feeding habilts of red salmon make them the least aggressive of the salmon. In fact red salmon do not usually "bite" at all.  In some instances the red salmon will bite but about 75% of the time they are not biting when you hook them. In most cases the red salmon we catch are caught using a technique called "flossing" when the fishing line drifts into the fishes mouth and gets pulled tight incidently setting the hook.


The most common technique used to catch red salmon in fast rivers is flossing. The technique is executed when the angler pulls out just enough line, casts the line slightly upstream allowing it sink, drift down river with the current, while steadily moving the rod tip sweeping the lure towards the bank. The idea is that when the red salmon are swimming up stream you will place the line in the fishes mouth and pull it tight setting the hook into the jaw allowing you to hook a fish that was never going to "bite". Even though the technique may sound tricky it can be mastered. Using yarn can increase hook up's as the red salmon teeth get tuck in the fibers. When choosing a fly, yarn or lure to floss for red salmon always choose a sparse pattern or even a bare hook with the color red. Flossing is usually done very close to the shore along gravel bars. 


Jigging is a very common widely used fishing technique that is executed when the angler ties a weighted lure to the end of the fishing line and lowers it to the bottom, lifts the weight up off the bottom and lowers the tip of the rod back down until the weight touches bottom, over and over again, until a fish strikes. A variation of the jigging technique can be used to catch red salmon on calm rivers more specillically deep pools and slow moving eddies where it is not possible to effectively floss. The key to jigging for red salmon is tackle and rod selection. Always choose tackle that is small with hooks never larger than 1/0 and a rod that has good sensitivity. Jigging for red salmon can be done with any type of rod and the reel doesn't come into play until you have a fish on!


Where to fish for red salmon

When the river you are fishing has good enough visability to see the fish and you know the correct place to stand, in relation to the visible fish catching becomes a matter of eye and hand coordination. There are some places on the upper Klutina River where it is possible to sight fish for red salmon. The Gulkana River can offer great sight fishing in August and September. If you can't see the fish you will need to read the river and determine the best place to spend your time fishing. The red salmon run each river a little differently depending on volume and speed of the current. The stronger the current the closer to the shore the red salmon run. The reds will do their best to avoid the main current on whitewater rivers like the Klutina River and Tonsina River. The Gulkana River is slow and can be very clear so the red salmon are susceptible to predation. On these slow and clear rivers the red salmon will choose the deepest channels and often run the main current. Look at the stretch of water you want to fish and pick a place to stand. Every river has  characteristics and water qualities that can be fished differently. Below are some tips to help you find the red salmon

Gravel Bars

Gravel bars can be a good place to fish for red salmon. Choose a gravel bar that has fast water or holding water below. Fishing a gravel bar with a big slack water or eddy right downstream is a good idea because the reds will concentrate in the holding water and steadily run the edge of the gravel bar above it as they swim upstream. Fishng a gravel bar with a whitewater rapid or very fast current just below is a good bet because the fish are likely to be exhasusted from the run and will swim straight to the closest bank and hugging the shore for a rest. Your time is best spent fishing a gravel bar that will have a steady run of fish passing by in groups rather than a gravel bar that may have a single fish passing occasionally. Pay attention to the exact spot that you hook up because the red salmon will run the same path and even if you can't see them you can find the exact spot where they will be. 

Calm Water

The red salmon have a strong lake instinct and will stop to school up and hold in deep calm water while making their way up river. Look for large eddies, pools, back channels and slack water for schooling fish. When fishing for red salmon in slack water the flossing technique will result in foul hook ups so your best bet is jigging with a small hooks no lager than size 6.

Fishing a submerged gravel bar for red salmon at a chokepoint on the Klutina River

Fishing a submerged gravel bar for red salmon at a chokepoint on the Klutina River

Check out this informational Copper River red salmon fishing video ADF&G published about fishing the Klutina River by foot. 

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