Downriggers or Mooching for Salmon in Rivers Inlet?
Back in the 80’s when the Kelly Family started the Rivers Inlet Sportsman’s Club (RISC), there were no downriggers used in Rivers Inlet. They are still not allowed in our “Chinook Special Management Zone” at the Head of Rivers Inlet where only mooching with herring is permitted & anglers can only harvest 1 Chinook/day & 2 per season. For most of RISC’s 39-year history, we only fished for salmon using the skilled, but easily learned technique known as “motor-mooching” with a cut-plug herring. We have such an abundant fishery in Rivers Inlet to this day, that we still use this original, old-style, top-water, light-tackle technique to specifically & effectively target the really BIG Chinook/King salmon. To start, you tie a 4 ft. leader with 2 – 4 O/T octopus hooks, a mid-swivel & a 4 ft. mid leader for a total of 8 ft. (or longer if you can handle the netting) & then a 6 OZ. banana weight. You then a take a whole previously frozen, brined herring & cut the head off & delicately place the hooks in just the right spot without removing any scales or damaging the herring, to create your perfect “cut-plug roll”. You enhance the luring action on the bait by constantly putting your engine in & out of gear while fishing, trying to keep a range of angle on your line from perpendicular to 45-degree & then back. The whole idea is to imitate a wounded baitfish as it drifts in the current. You make sharp turns & sometimes back up & let your lines go slack & sink deeper. All of this gets your herring to spin, flash, flutter, shimmy & make erratic moves enticing any salmon nearby, or perhaps even following your bait, to strike.
In Rivers Inlet, the really BIG Chinook/King salmon congregate in the top water column right up to the surface on very specific points, reefs, drop-offs, shelves & kelp-lined shores & bays nearby the lodge. They lurk in the shallows hiding from the current & wait for their “free lunch” to drift by. The legendary 50+ lb. Rivers Inlet “hogs” didn’t get that way by wasting their day chasing around bait in the 4 knot currents. They work on the “conservation of energy theory” where they do as little as possible to procure maximum fuel. This is where the real advantage of mooching over downriggers comes into play to get to the bigger lazy Chinook salmon, as you can fish much more precisely for the big ones.
In Rivers Inlet, you are fishing along the shoreline at the mouth of a deep fiord where the nearby waters are over 1,000+ ft. deep so the tidal movement & currents can be brisk. The tide change is twice a day, 2 highs, 2 lows & the water exchange can be 14 ft. at its peak! Instead of fighting the swift water, we mostly prefer doing drifts down with the current over your chosen shoreline structure, typically trying to stay on the 100 ft edge. When the drift is over, you pick-up your gear & run back up-current & repeat again over the same structure. Once you get to know the fishing grounds, as well as learn to read the currents & the tides in each spot, it can be easier to get your bait into, & effectively fish these known Chinook salmon “honey holes”. The kelp beds & shallows are where the biggest laziest lunkers lurk & it takes some skill & practise to get in there without getting caught on the bottom or worse, on yourself!
One of my favourite “mooching memories” from when I was guiding back in the day, was one particular morning when I was fishing my favourite spot, “the Dome” just a few hundred metres up the shoreline from “the Wall”. I recall leaving the morning crowd of boats after an uneventful morning for big fish. It was just on 7:00 AM when we made our first super tight & shallow pass at 12 pulls with the rod tip almost scraping the kelp beds. We were on a good drift with the perfect angle on our line & a nice slow roll to our herring. We knew we were on the money & there was even a kind of misty haze thrown in for effect. Then it hit, it was just the tiniest of little taps on the rod tip in the stillness. These light bites when you are mooching always make your heart race. You never know at that moment if it is a 5 pounder, a 55 pounder, a rock cod or even the bottom? It takes quite a bit of discipline & practise to just stay calm & feed out slack line before you even take the rod out of the holder. I did this just perfectly on this particular morning, fed it a few pulls of line & then the fish tapped on the rod tip again & I patiently fed it out a few more strips. I knew it had taken the bait when the rod tip stopped bouncing & the tip went limp & the line slack. It was coming up towards the surface, so I quickly cranked a few turns on the reel & then I saw the rod bend slightly & I felt the fish. I clapped my hand down hard to stop the rotation of the single action reel for just long enough to set the hook & feel the real weight of the fish. It felt heavy so I knew it was BIG! It was screaming straight down & it started to try & get back into the kelp bed where it had been hiding out before we hooked it. The only solution was to get the boat deeper into the kelp bed first so that the fish would be encouraged to run the opposite way out towards the open channel. We quickly got the other line onboard & with some aggressive boat manoeuvring, jockeying, positioning as well as some cutting of kelp over the bow to free the line, we managed to get what now appeared to be a very large Chinook salmon away from the shore & into open safer waters. From there it was a 2 ½ hour battle full of deep sounds, long surface runs & lively acrobatics. This crazy fish jumped over a dozen times completely out of the water before circling the boat a few last times & laying cooperatively alongside to net. It tipped the scales at a whopping 62.5 lbs. & is still the biggest salmon I have guided to this day. Many experienced anglers say big Chinook salmon don’t jump like this, but they indeed do in Rivers Inlet when they are caught at shallow depth on light tackle. After almost 40 years of fishing Rivers Inlet, I have seen my share of big aggressive, acrobatic Chinook salmon. And yes, they still fight hard when caught on a downrigger at depth, but I know they don’t jump like this when they are dragging a flasher around! That is why you need to balance your fishing effort in Rivers Inlet by targeting the big Chinook salmon with mooching & even do some training before you go.
So back to the question, when is a good time to use a downrigger in Rivers Inlet? Most of our guests would say all of the time as downriggers have made fishing so easy & our anglers so successful. They are most effective when that top-water bite is off & the salmon have moved to greater depths. They are also most useful when you are trying to find the fish as you can go faster, deeper & further afield to find the school. Downriggers were only made available to our guests a few years back & soon became standard equipment in all our boats due to their incredible effectiveness. On rare occasion, we have a long-time customer who is a die-hard moocher & we remove them completely from the boat. Downriggers have almost completely taken over our salmon fishing program at RISC as most guests & guides alike can’t be bothered with all the fuss, mess & skill you need to learn to mooch effectively with herring. That doesn’t mean YOU can’t learn mooching & use it in your own personal fishing repertoire. At the very least during your stay with us you can learn to troll, or drift mooch with cut-plug herring on top water for coho/silvers. This is world-class, light-tackle sportfishing at its finest & you can even get them on a fly.
The dream is still alive in Rivers Inlet! Come join us this summer for a fishing/boating adventure of a lifetime at the Rivers Inlet Sportsman’s Club (RISC). Contact us today to book your trip for Summer 2022! Call: 1-800-663-2644 Text: 604-938-3677 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org