By the time this column is published, salmon fishing should be picking up for Mat-Su anglers casting for silvers, chums and pinks.
Both Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Deshka River and Little Susitna River weir will also be displaying daily counts for salmon species other than king salmon at adfg.alaska.gov/sf/FishCounts/, and the department’s Fish Creek weir should also be counting increasing sockeye salmon numbers as well.
For many Mat-Su anglers, casting spinners (like Mepps, Vibrax and my own Flashtrap) is a preferred method for catching the annual salmon bounty returning from the ocean. Spinner fishing usually requires much more action and participation than bait fishing, which is one of the reasons some people prefer to fish artificial lures like spinners. In addition, when fishing with spinners anglers do not have to care for, cure, purchase or continually rebait with messy baits like salmon roe. Finally, for those who learn how to fish them, at times spinners can be just as effective — or even more effective — than bait fishing for catching all Alaska’s salmon species.
For Mat-Su anglers who prefer fishing the Little Susitna River, artificial lures are more than an angler’s preference this time of year. They are a regulatory requirement, until the bait fishery opens Aug. 6. In this case, coho salmon catch rates are lower in the Little Susitna River when just artificial lures are allowed, and this regulation is in place to ensure adequate numbers of coho salmon have a chance to escape to upriver spawning areas.
Choosing the right gear
Because of the active nature of continually casting and retrieving spinners in an effort to entice salmon to bite, picking a well-balanced rod, reel and line for the lures one intends to fish with can greatly reduce angler fatigue and increase sensitivity in regards to how the lure is working during the retrieve. Rod specifications are listed on the butt section of most rods just above the handle. Rod specifications I would suggest when casting spinners for all salmon (other than kings) would be for a 7-foot rod designed to cast ¼- to ¾-once lures while using monofilament lines in the 8- to 17-pound range. Specifications don’t need to be exact in each of these areas. Most sensitive and quality built rods in this day and age are made of graphite. Expect to pay $100 to $150 for a quality rod, with some upper end rods costing considerably more.
At one time I almost always used 12- to 15-pound monofilament line for this type fishing, but for several years now I’ve switched to the superbraid lines that cast and handle even better than monofilament lines, but have breaking strengths in the 30- or 40-pound range. There are several brands on the market, but I prefer Sufix Performance Braid. Another quality braid readily available is Power Pro. A key point when using stronger braided lines is to set the reel’s drag at the same level used with the lighter strength monofilament lines to avoid over stressing (breaking) a quality rod.
I’ve used both larger and smaller spinning reels with success when casting spinners for salmon; however, what I prefer for casting ability at a reasonable weight is a reel that will hold about 160 to 200 yards of 12-pound monofilament line and weighs in at 12 ounces or less. For most manufactures, this translates into a 40 or 4000 sized reel. If opting for an all-around reel that will also work well for king salmon, line capacity, weight and maximum drag pressure will likely be somewhat heavier than that required for smaller salmon.
Quality spinning reels produced by Quantum, Shimano, Pflueger and Daiwa are readily available in the Mat-Su Valley at Sportsman’s Warehouse, 3 Rivers Fly & Tackle, Fred Meyer’s, Wal-Mart and other locations.
Vibrax and Mepps are likely the most widely used weighted salmon spinners in the Mat-Su Valley, but many other brands are available as well.
While spinner sizes can vary somewhat from one manufacturer to the next, size 3, 4, and 5 spinners are most commonly used for salmon in Valley streams. When fishing small clear water systems, an even smaller or darker-colored spinner, such as a size 2 black blade lure, may produce more strikes. The larger-sized and brighter spinners often produce better on streams with more water, or off-colored water or during low light situations.
While there is an unending rainbow of color options, I usually stick with a silver blade, pink blade or black blade trifecta of spinner options, one of which will usually work well under most conditions.
The low and slow
I often tell guests on my salmon charters to fish spinners low and slow. On most trips I ask anglers if they reel their spinner slower, will it still spin. If the answer is yes, then I instruct them to slow down their presentation. It has been my experience that fast and jerky retrieves tend to spook salmon in the confines of even medium-sized Mat-Su rivers.
The slower retrieve tends to produce more bites and also stays in the strike zone near the salmon for a longer period of time. In shallow water situations, often a slightly downstream casting angle will allow an angler to present the spinner at a slower rate as the current helps turn the spinner blade and keep the lure up off the bottom. With a downstream presentation, at times the lure can be presented without reeling at all as spinner swings across the river from the deep side toward the shallow side.
Attempting to hold the rod tip at a stationary height during the presentation will help an angler more readily feel the action of the lure as it is working and may also make bite detection easier. Strikes generally come as a result of making good presentations. If an angler concentrates on good spinner presentations, bites sometimes seem to come out of nowhere. Most bites are solid jolts or stop the lure completely as if a solid snag has been hooked. Another fairly common strike is when the sensation of the lure spinning at the end of the line suddenly goes slack. This occurs when a salmon runs down the spinner, grabs it and continues to swim in the same direction the lure was traveling. Set the hook at this sensation of slack line and keep the pressure on.
Andy Couch owns and operates Fishtale River Guides (fish4salmon.com) is a Mat-Su Anglers Club member (matsuanglers.org) and member of the Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission.