Pass the wire and downrigger ball, please

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Pass the wire and downrigger ball, please
Tony Floor

By Tony Floor

            As an old dog, who’s getting older and has been around a salmon rod for decades, I have an issue in need of oxygen.

            A few years ago in mid-July, I participated with a dozen long- time angling friends in an annual pilgrimage to Neah Bay to fish for king salmon. These anglers are all salmon moochers who are staunch in their beliefs about the purity of the art of mooching. When I say staunch, they believe it is the truest way to pursue a salmon with a rod and reel in the saltwater.

            While my roots in the salmon fishing world are founded in mooching and motor-mooching techniques, I am using downriggers more and more. Over time, I have been convinced that downriggers are the technique of today and tomorrow in our saltwater fisheries, as trolling for chinook, and coho salmon is most effective using downriggers and all the terminal gear available (spoons, flies, hoochies or naked herring). Downriggers cover salmon territory much more effectively to find fish, or provide the opportunity for them to find me. It totally works, particularly for fishing deep and that’s why, applicable to Puget Sound, the San Juans and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Through the evolution in our sport, it is the technique of choice, by a huge majority.

            Yet, on the above-mentioned fishing trip, I took dump truck loads of hot manure for using downriggers. Why? My mooching colleagues attacked and attempted to shame me to not go to “the dark side” by using wire. Hogwash! And, when the smoke cleared, my flasher and Silver Horde Kitchen Sink spoon out-fished the other boats combined!

            I’ve thought for some time about this event, as to why moochers adamantly oppose salmon anglers using downriggers while at the same time, I can’t find downrigger anglers who attack, with the same foaming at the mouth approach, moochers who worship at the Church of Mooching. If mooching is the ticket to get through the Pearly Gates, then I am Elvis.

            Granted, at places like Point No Point near Kingston, the heart of mooching in Puget Sound, it’s not cool when a downrigger angler plows through the mooching fleet resulting in gear conflict. Downrigger anglers who I know, and fish with, are very careful to avoid moochers as a gear collision shuts down both boats.

            Then why, are moochers so adamantly opposed to downriggers? I reached out to a few veteran anglers who might have an opinion on this issue.

            In the Puget Sound region, most anglers have name recognition with KIRO Outdoor Line show co-host Tom Nelson. I quizzed Tom about the issue. “Look, it’s about getting your gear vertical to access salmon, especially hatchery chinook salmon cruising the bottom looking for a snack,” explained Nelson. “I recognize there are times when hatchery chinook salmon are stacked vertically in a small piece of real estate. I have no problem shifting to mooching gear to efficiently access the fish in this example. And, it’s important to not overlook jigging techniques too! To be a complete, successful saltwater angler, knowing when to apply all three of these techniques produces better overall success.”

            Tom went on to say how downriggers evolved from the Great Lakes chinook fishery back in the ’70s and ’80s before it caught fire in the Pacific Northwest. Today, he pointed out, downriggers are the gear of choice including the ocean fisheries. I agree, but I still do not understand why downrigger anglers continue to get bombarded by the wrath of Khan from moochers. So, I dialed up the guru of Puget Sound mooching, Capt. Keith Robbins from Spot Tail Guide Service in Seattle. Keith is a hardcore moocher and if that’s your choice of playing the game, I highly recommend booking a day with him.

            “Tradition is a big part of salmon mooching,” Robbins says. “It’s all about feeling the bite with the rod in your hand. So much of mooching tradition is gone and today’s angler is what I call ‘technology fishing’ with downriggers. And, some downrigger anglers will run their gear over a moocher’s line which is very bad form. I don’t believe it’s purposeful but when it happens once, it clearly establishes a bad taste in your mouth. And remember, the downrigger-mooching issue is not personal for me, it is about principle.”

            Robbins response to my question was dead on. Tradition, feeling the bite by holding the rod are major ingredients of why moochers are anti-downriggers. While I am respectful of this view, covered wagons, at one time, was the mode of transportation in the West. Today, technology in downriggers, the terminal gear, along with sophisticated depth sounders are the rule among most saltwater salmon anglers.

            Meanwhile, in the Pacific Northwest ocean fisheries, big charterboats continue to mooch for salmon with crescent lead sinkers trailed by a plug-cut or whole herring. Some charterboats, particularly around the mouth of the Columbia River troll divers working the top 30 feet of the water column.

            However, the private boat fleet, often referred to as kicker boats, use downriggers to access much greater depths as hatchery produced chinook salmon in particular, are being accessed in 300 feet of water or more.

            For this angler, when fishing for hatchery produced chinook salmon, I’m following the evolution of fishing deeper, working the bottom 10 feet in all of my favorite saltwater fishing areas.

            So, pass the lead downrigger ball dude, about a 15- to 18-pound ball works for me and I’ll see you on the deck!

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