I got my operation up and running and am happy to report that our king salmon fishing has generally been pretty good, but it's been a perfect example of the need to be versatile and able to change your way of fishing.
In mid-May we were trolling up the Breadline and I was telling my clients all the great benefits of fishing real slow with a big, juicy plug cut herring. I had had several successful trips earlier fishing plug cuts, however it did seem as though my boat's catch rate was slowing down. It's real common for most other boats to pass us up when we are fishing plug cuts. I was just getting to the point of saying that sometimes it may work better if one fishes faster so as to intercept more fish when a little skiff with a couple of guys in it came up behind trolling real fast. As they proceeded to troll around us one of the guys hooked up on a nice king. They landed the fish, got their gear back in the water and as they caught up with us again they hooked another king. At that point, I said "Well gang, it's time to change bait!"
I rebaited with whole herring and cranked up the speed on the kicker. Before the trip was over, everyone had boated a king salmon. The whole baits worked great until last Thursday when I was out fun fishing with a couple of friends. We caught a fat little jack king that was too short on whole bait right away and then there was no action at all. One of the guys baited up with a big plug cut and promptly caught an 18 pounder. Soon after, with plug cuts on all rods, a 30-pounder hit the deck. Darn, are they great on the grill!
Right when you think you've got the fish figured out they change their mind or a bunch of them show up that haven't read the book. Just trying to figure out what works best, or sometimes, what works at all, is the great challenge that makes sport fishing what it is.
Well, I was getting all ready to get into different ways of baiting with herring, but since we've found ourselves caught up in a worldwide bait herring shortage, it might be better to talk about catching herring rather than kings.
First of all, check your regulations as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has some restrictions and closures on personal use fishing for herring.
Nets are the most effective and you can catch lots of herring easily sometimes a lot more than you want to catch. Herring nets are typically 20 to 50 feet long and 6 to 12 feet deep. Auke Bay Harbor used to be the favorite place for gill netting herring, however it was closed because too many nets were left unattended or were abandoned and intercepted too many Dolly Varden.
When setting a herring net, place it close to shore. Here the net will be out of the way of boats and also in the path of herring schools following the shoreline. Put large floats and anchors on each end of the net, or tie one end off to the shore and put a large float and anchor on the offshore end. Check the net morning and night and more often if herring are nearby. Have several friends in mind who might want some bait because if you really hit 'em, you'll need all those friends to help you pack your catch home. Herring that have been gill netted are hard to keep in prime condition for salmon fishing as the scales generally get knocked off before you get them home and into the freezer. Gill netted herring make great halibut bait, but it's my opinion that salmon generally prefer bait with the scales in place.
A cast net works very well for catching herring if you are directly over, or close to, a dense school of fish. You need to know that extreme coordination and practice are prerequisites for successfully using this type of gear. One time a fellow from Florida really impressed me by catching a tub of prime bait in just a few minutes with his cast net. I shopped the catalogs and ordered up one for myself. After several trips and losing a pair of glasses, ripping all the buttons off the front of my halibut jacket and almost casting myself off the boat, I figured I best stay with hook and line gear.
Herring jigs are available in local tackle stores. I like the ones with smaller, rather than larger, flies. Keep the jig rigged on a rod with a one to three-ounce sinker - ready to cast whenever you find a school of bait (don't forget to take your salmon rod out of the water before you cast the herring jig or you'll find yourself fishing with too many fish rods). When you see a school of herring on the surface or on your depthfinder, cast over the school and jig the series of flies back through the school. If you cast directly into the school, you'll probably spook the fish. Be sure to have a bucket with water in it handy in which to put the freshly jigged herring. You can use the bait alive or let them die and use just like frozen bait.
I never thought I'd advocate snagging fish, but here it is. Sometimes herring, for some reason, will not bite jigs. At those times, take a piece of monofilament about three or four feet long. Tie two small treble hooks a foot or two apart and tie one end to your fish line and a sinker on the other end. Fish this just like you would a herring jig and you can catch the little devils even if they won't bite. Sometimes you'll find the herring are too small to use for bait and sometimes they will be just fine.
Well there you have it. By next column you'll have your seasons supply of bait and we can get back to catching salmon. Good fishing - I'll see you out there.