When it comes to salmon fishing, back-bouncing is one of my favorite approaches. So, when good friend and noted Columbia River guide Dan Ponciano (www.columbiariverfishing.com) invited me on a back-bouncing trip for Columbia River sturgeon, I couldn’t resist.
No matter the species being targeted, when back-bouncing, the principles are the same. What changes is the gear and where the fish are found.
The common approach to sturgeon fishing is to get the bait on the bottom, letting the scent carry downstream and waiting for a sturgeon to sniff it out. However, in recent years, anglers on the Columbia River who’ve been targeting chinook by back-trolling wrapped plugs have discovered sturgeon like this presentation, too. Back-bouncing is another salmon technique that’s proving very effective on sturgeon and when thought of from the perspective of a scent-based presentation, the approach makes sense.
Back-bouncing is a technique where an angler lets the terminal gear drop to the river bottom, pumping the rod up and down as the boat and/or lines move downstream in unison. The goal is to hit the bottom with each drop of the rod. With each lift of the rod, the current moves the bait slightly downstream, whereby it hits the bottom on the downward rod motion. In most sturgeon back-bouncing situations, the boat is moved downstream at a controlled rate, since the river is big, with so much moving water.
On rare occasions a boat may be anchored and the lines back-bounced downstream from a fixed position. This is more typical in slower moving water where keeper-slot sturgeon are targeted. In big river situations with heavy current flow, pumping the rod to match the speed of the boat as it moves downstream is critical.
“It’s almost like side-drifting for winter steelhead, in that you want the bait and the boat to move at the speed of the water,” shares Ponciano. “A natural presentation is important, and for this you want to have the lightest sinker possible, and still hold that bait in the strike zone.”
The purpose of back-bouncing for sturgeon is the same as the common approach of anchoring bait on the bottom, in that a scent trail is established. The difference lies in the fact that back-bouncing moves the bait downstream, expediting the release of scent and how quickly it moves downstream.
“There’s no doubt you can catch a lot of fish while on anchor, but on those days when the action is slow, back-bouncing allows you to cover more water,” points out Ponciano. “It allows you to work through fish you otherwise couldn’t access by anchoring in one place.”
When Ponciano first introduced me to back-bouncing for oversized sturgeon, I was surprised at the water we fished. It would have been impossible to anchor in such fast-moving currents, let alone keep a bait on the bottom. Back-bouncing is an efficient method in that using it doesn’t tie up holes, allowing more anglers to fish through a stretch of what might otherwise be unfishable water. This style is also highly effective when searching for sturgeon.
“How effective back-bouncing for these fish can be is a bit dependent upon the person working the rod,” Ponciano points out. “If running heavy gear next to the boat, make sure you’re always feeling the bottom with the sinker at each drop of the rod. When fishing power water for oversized sturgeon, try and dribble the weight across the bottom like a basketball. It’s tough fishing, and being able to distinguish between the feel of the bait, sinker, bottom and a fish is key.”