Bungee Jumping For Salmon
September 24, 2010
The odd-looking Salmon Bungee jumped on the salmon scene almost overnight. Now it's a must-have piece of salmon gear, having developed a cult-like following of Pacific Northwest
anglers who swear by its fish-catching properties.
Luhr Jensen's Buzz Ramsey shows the result of fishing with a Salmon Bungee, a tule Chinook taken at the mouth of the Columbia River.
Photo by Dusty Routh
"I think the more stuff you put in the water for salmon, the better," shouted Buzz Ramsey, the Northwest's resident legendary salmon and steelhead angler. He was shouting over the noise of the motor on his jet sled boat as he expertly dodged us around other boats, barges, ships, monstrous wakes, and bell buoys on our way out of Astoria toward the mouth of the Columbia River.
Within minutes all four of our rods were out, each pulling a Double Deep Six Diver, a Salmon Bungee, a leader, a bead-chain swivel, and then a mooching leader. Yep, it was a lot of stuff. On two rods, big red/white spinners spun, while on the other two rods plug-cut herring rolled. It was August, the height of the summer Chinook fishery at the mouth of the Columbia. Ramsey adjusted the speed of the kicker motor and settled into his seat to tell me about this new thing called a Salmon Bungee.
We've all seen snubbers, those smallish rubber tubes used mostly for soft-mouthed kokanee and some trout fishing. But the Luhr-Jensen Salmon Bungee is a different animal. Unlike a conventional snubber, the Bungee flexes a lot more. A whole lot more. It's like a big rubber band "It's a bungee action rather than a snubber," says Ramsey, Luhr-Jensen and Son's northwest sales manager. "It's made from the same material, but the internal cord rather than being twice the relaxed length of the surgical tubing, is three times its length. So it flexes a whole lot more."
The idea behind that stretchy flexibility is to allow the fish to mouth the bait without the bait being pulled away, which is the natural propensity when you're trolling. "Think about it," offers Ramsey. "The fish comes up behind the bait, flares his gills and pulls the bait in on a cushion of water. Everything we troll prevents him from doing that, because we're pulling the bait away from the fish. Drop a piece of night crawler into an aquarium, and watch your fish flare his gills and pull it in. But if you're moving that piece of night crawler forward on a string, he'd have a tough time."
The idea for this fascinating new tool originally came from Tillamook, Oregon-based guide Tim Juarez (503-801-0220). "He was out, like everybody, trolling the ocean for coho during the selective fishery south of Cape Falcon," Ramsey recalls. "He was going out there with two to three dozen herring, and running out of bait before he got his limit. That's pretty typical for fishing with herring: lots of bites, but few hookups. So Tim was tearing his hair out, because you can troll a dozen herring out there and only get one fish."
Ramsey says that Juarez figured out that as he was trolling, the fish were trying to get the bait but he was constantly (and unintentionally) pulling it away from them with forward movement. "So he decided he needed something like a snubber, but with a whole lot more flexibility," Ramsey explains. "So he used a piece of surgical tubing with two swivels at each end behind the diver and before the mooching leader, and he really upped his hooking average."
THE PROTOTYPE WORKS
Juarez contacted Luhr-Jensen with his discovery, and the company built some prototypes. Based on the results, both Ramsey and Juarez knew they had a winner. Anglers can now find Salmon Bungees at retail outlets selling for about $4 each.
The Salmon Bungee comes in two different sizes: a light style, with more flexibility that's perfect for coho, and a medium style, which is a little hardier and more appropriate for kings. They come in red, chartreuse and black.
"I sent Tim the red and chartreuse colors at the prototype stage," Ramsey recalls, "and he said, 'Wow! That red one catches coho, but nothing on the chartreuse.' At Buoy 10 (mouth of the Columbia), I hardly caught a Chinook on a red one, but the chartreuse was hot for kings there."
The black Bungee is designed for river fishing with Kwikfish. "You have to let salmon take a Kwikfish like herring," Ramsey says. "Guys using the heavier-weight black one in the rivers are getting more hookups per strike."
Ramsey points out that it's been well known for years that divers have different attraction value based on their color. "Just like flashers and dodgers," he explains, "the talk on the radios out in the ocean where people are trolling a lot of herring is not only about where you're fishing, but the color of the diver. And hot colors change. Having the Bungee in different colors is part of that."
Ramsey recommends experimenting with color, but he usually matches the diver and Bungee (red diver/red Bungee, chartreuse diver/chartreuse Bungee).
The Bungee has a swivel at the leader end, and a snap swivel at the other, so you can snap it quickly to a diver, flasher or dodger. Regardless of which one you're using, the best place for the Bungee is right after the diver/flasher/dodger and before the leader.
What Ramsey does is snap the Bungee on with a pre-tied 16- to 18-inch leader behind the Bungee that goes to a bead-chain swivel. The mooching leader, 18 to 24 inches, is tied behind that. "Having the bead-chain swivel in the middle performs better than it does at either end," he explains.
You can use this rig for trolling herring, Kwikfish, and even spoons.
The Bungee is made out of vinyl material wrapped around 80-pound doubled Dacron. "Once it stretches out to three times its length, it won't fail or break," Ramsey says. "They don't wear out too quickly. Of course, they won't last too well sitting on the dash of your boat all summer, with too much exposure to sun and the elements, or snuggled up against non-compatible plastic." But these handy little devices do hold up pretty well to the rigors of salmon fishing, and at $4 a pop, they're inexpensive to replace if they do become worn.
The hit and ensuing fight on a Bungee is a little different than what you might be accustomed to. "Wait on the bait," Ramsey counsels. "Let the rod go down. The fight will be a little different, because the Bungee cushions the fight."
Of course, the Bungee not only helps the fish mouth the bait longer, but it keeps the hooks from tearing out, too. "But what's real important," Ramsey adds, "the key to this to hook more fish, to make that Bungee really perform, is to use it in combination with super-sharp hooks
. When that fish mouths the bait, you want those super-sharp hooks to get him. Use the Bungee with dull hooks, and you won't be any better off."
AND IN REAL LIFE USE...
While we were talking and fishing, the catching at Buoy 10 at the very low end of the river was a little slow that morning. And crowded. So we pulled everything up and headed east, settling in just on the eastern side of the Astoria Bridge. Bang! A super nice king that gobbled up that red/white spinner hit us quickly. A half-hour later, bang! Another one. Twenty minutes later -- bang! -- a big ol' silver. Ten minutes later -- bang! -- a tule king.
We didn't miss fish, and the fights were definitely cushioned which helped to keep our hooks from tearing out. A mad-for-the-hills king can really shake his head, and that Salmon Bungee can really help soften the blows.
By the end of the day, I, too, had joined the cult of Salmon Bungee jumpers.
FOR YOUR INFORMATION
Luhr Jensen has published a Salmon Bungee Tech Bulletin, available at most retail tackle shops or by contacting Luhr-Jensen: 800-535-1711 or