Alright, we all know Sockeye salmon fishing on the Fraser is not so much enticing the fish to bite, as it is “flossing” them in the mouth. But, that does not mean there is not any skill involved. I am not claiming to be the best fisherman on the river by any stretch, but here are some tips to ensure you have the best chance of flossing that Sockeye salmon and landing it.
1) Have the proper gear. This means from the rod & reel, right to the hook.
Shimano rod and reel
You will need a proper salmon rod and reel. The most popular combo on the Fraser river is the approximately 11’ long Shimano Convergance Rod with an Abu Garcia level wind reel. Some guys have the better Shimano Calcutta reel. Grandpa’s trout rod with a coffee grinder reel works, but it is not ideal, and you won’t land Chinooks with that.
Next up is line. I definitely recommend 50-60 pound braided or synthetic line. It does not stretch like monofilament line and it is much tougher. Synthetic line also lasts longer as it doesn’t break down in UV light as mono does. You will really notice a difference in the feel of bouncing betty down river. You will have a direct connection with less lag than when using mono. As soon as the betty stops you will be able to yank on it and free it from the bottom, or set the hook immediately in the fish’s mouth. If you are using mono, the line will stretch first causing lag time from any action to your rod. So you will snag less, therefore lose less gear, set the hook better, and end up catching more fish with synthetic line. Make sure you know how to tie proper fishing knots as that is a bad way to lose fish.
Now you need to get leader savers. This will help the hook drift in a more optimum position down stream, as well as reduce the friction of the bouncing betty from hitting your line. This $1.50 piece of gear will save you a lot of time, line, and heartache. It is worth it. It will keep you from tangling as much, keep you fishing in the river more, and reduce the amount of gear lost. This is where you attach the main line, leader line, and bouncing betty.
The leader line can be 20 pound mono line. I usually get Maxima Ultra green. This will be the inherently weakest link in your setup, but it is ok because it is also cheap. After a while the rocks will chew away and nick this leader line. If you feel multiple burrs you might want to change this up so it does not break when you hook up. If fishing for Chinook, you definitely need to keep this fresh. Sockeye fisherman will want to keep their leaders around the 8-12’ mark. Learn how to snell a hook as it will be a much stronger fishing knot.
Hooks have to be sharp. Your hook is the head of the arrow as they say. Keep it sharp by replacing it or sharpen it on a stone when it gets dull after catching a few fish. Your hook should also be “snelled” onto your line so it is stronger than a conventional knot. Size 2 or 3 should work fine but remember to get barbless for the Fraser river.
Wool and corky can be experimented with at your discretion. I catch fish with or without a corky so I won’t say one way is right or wrong. Basically the idea is that it keeps your hook a float off the bottom slightly. Some guys tie the corky behind the hook so it does not have a chance to interfere with the fish’s mouth. As for the wool, it does not really matter for sockeye but I keep red or orange on just in case a Chinook sees it.
2) Cast correctly.
Okay, so now you have your gear setup right, you cast into the right spot, now what? Well right after you cast, quickly check your reel to see if there is any loops that you can quickly pull out so you don’t get future problems in your reel. Then start reeling in until your line gets to 12 o’clock right in front of you. What this does is prevent any slack from building up as that will make you snag the bottom and get stuck. It also pulls your line straight so the apparatus will drift down the river correctly after passing 12 o’clock. If you do not reel in to straighten your line you will either: a) snag the bottom, or b) your line will not be straight as it drifts into the sweet spot. The sweet spot is after 12 o’clock to about 10 o’clock. Reel back in when your weight stops bouncing or your line is parallel with the river bank.
3) Adjust to the conditions.
If you are not getting any results try adjusting: leader length, bouncing betty weight, corky, wool, or try a different spot. Sometimes you will catch a sockeye on your first cast, I have done it twice this year. Sometimes you will be out there for an hour with no “luck” and a guy will come right beside you and hook into a sockeye. Why does this happen? My theory is different casting habits and different casting distances get into areas that have not been repeatedly casted through, therefore leaving some pockets of un-harassed fish. You step in and cast a bit further than everybody else has been casting, you may hook into a fish. So in saying that, do be afraid to try changing spots, just be courteous of other fisherman out there. If you are casting way further, you may end up drifting too far down river and others will cast onto your line. Also, do not cast too far up stream as you will hook into other fishermen’s lines. Just cast to about 2 o’clock and reel until your line is even with you.
If you notice your bouncing betty weight keeps getting hung up on the bottom of the river and you have to keep yanking on your rod to keep it moving, try lightening your bouncing betty. If you are not contacting the bottom much, you may need a bigger weight. I prefer to have a constant tapping on the river bottom as the apparatus drifts downstream.
4) Land that fish.
Make sure you are ready for the opportunity. Every time your weight stops bouncing it is either a) a fish, or b) a snag. Immediately yank the rod tip up with your thumb on the spool of your reel (so more line does not come out). What this does is either a) free you up from the snag or b) set the hook into the fish. If it is a fish, you will know as your rod tip will be jerking faster and you won’t feel the weight bouncing on the bottom as much. After you yank the rod tip up, be sure to reel in the slack you just created. If it is a fish, they can get off your hook with slack. Slack is the enemy. Keep your rod tip up facing the fish.
Now landing a sockeye is not as difficult as a Chinook, but you need to do some things properly to make it happen. Always keep your rod tip up so you keep the tension on the salmon as well as direct the Sockeye’s head up. With a Sockeye, you can just start reeling and it will come in. Once you reach the shallows you really need to be sure it does not tangle around other boats or other fishermen’s legs. A simple “fish on” will alert those close by to move as you bring it in. Reel as much line as you can in while keeping the rod tip up. If you allow your rod tip to go down the fish will have direct link to your reel allowing it to bounce off the hook by a) creating slack or b) break line because the rod is not doing the work of absorbing force. SO KEEP YOUR TIP UP as you walk back onto shore fast! You want to pull that legal sockeye up onto the rocks good and fast. Most people lose their sockeye on the rocks because they lose the tension in their line and the Sockeye frees itself from the hook, and back into the river it goes. Once you start walking backwards, keep the tip up and head to shore fast until the sockeye is up on dry land.
5) Be Prepared before you go out.
You catch fish by fishing, not by undoing tangles and changing gear on the shore. This means you need to be well practiced in your casting, and again, having the proper gear on in the first place, before going out fishing. If you are new to the level wind style reels, go out to a soccer field and practice casting into a shopping cart with your bouncing betty. Here you can adjust the settings on your reel as well, so you are good to go before going out on the river. Make sure you have enough leader line, corky’s, wool, hooks, leader savers, bouncing betty’s, licence, knife, and bags for transporting your limit of Sockeye home! Sockeye season is for fishing! Make sure all your behind the scenes stuff is taken care of before so you can enjoy catching fish during the season. Then after the season smoke some salmon.