Trolling For Salmon Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow

Targeting salmon with trolling gear is no longer a sport of primitive means. Today's successful anglers use a variety of electronic devices to help them fill their daily bag limits.

The big hen Chinook and the hundred-odd salmon around her had beaten the odds. The kings had been on the move for four years and had effectively avoided the seals, sharks and killer whales that wished to make them their next meal. Now the hen, bloated with roe, was on the final leg of her journey, instinctively pushed along the coastline toward her natal river.

Spawning would come soon enough. For now the hen focused on eating as much as possible before reaching fresh water. Dark water and overcast skies gave the hen and her cohorts perfect concealment as they cruised 35 feet below the surface along a drop-off that plunged into 200 feet of water.

Periodically, masses of bait passed above the salmon. Even though she couldn't see them in the dark water, the big hen was aware of them. She could sense the rhythmic vibrations of their tails and knew they were healthy and agile.

Suddenly she sensed the erratic spasmodic vibrations that betrayed a baitfish in distress. Bolting upward in a race against the other salmon, she used her senses to home in on the vibrations. She closed the distance and finally caught sight of an anchovy pulsing and rotating through the water, unable to stay upright. With a final surge of power she snatched the anchovy by the tail and instantly felt the cold steel of an angler's hook as it passed through the corner of her mouth.

That angler's hook was no mistake. It was the product of much tinkering.

For many years, anglers targeted salmon using primitive gear. They trolled over fathom lines, blindly pulling flashers, dodgers and other rigs through somewhat productive areas, finding salmon through trial and error, while watching for color changes in the water and working birds. For bait they used anchovies and herring in combination with heavy weights.

During the '70s the availability of sonar units and downriggers began to rapidly change the face of salmon fishing. With sonar it became possible to pinpoint the depth at which the salmon and baitfish were holding. Then, using a downrigger, it was simply a matter of placing bait at that exact depth.

By the '80s the use of sonar and downriggers had become commonplace, and for a time the evolution of salmon fishing gear slowed. Today's pioneers in the sport, using modern technology and sound scientific observations concerning the physiology and behavior of salmon, have sparked yet another revolution in targeting Pacific Coast salmon.


Back in the early 1900s researchers noted that fish react strongly to weak positive and negative electrical charges. During the late '70s scientists researching how salmon are able to navigate the ocean and return to the river of their birth discovered that salmon are highly sensitive to both magnetic and electronic fields. In layman's terms, salmon have an internal compass and can "feel" which direction is north.

Salmon have special nerve cells in their snouts and along their lateral lines that pick up both magnetic fields and electrical impulses. As part of their same research, scientists discovered that salmon and other fish are repelled by low voltage negative charges and attracted by positive charges.

More recently tackle innovators such as Pro Troll's Dick Pool, in their zeal to unravel the mystery of why salmon bite and why they don't, have taken these discoveries and applied them to sportfishing. The knowledge that positive charges attract salmon and negative charges repel them led these innovators to test the currents given off by their boats and downriggers. They found that boats and downriggers often emit negative charges that actually drive salmon away from an angler's bait.

Naturally the next question was how to neutralize these negative charges and replace them with positive charges. These questions led to the invention of the Black Box. This is simply an adjustable device that transmits a minute positive charge to downrigger cables. Research has demonstrated that salmon are strongly attracted to a positive charge of .5 to .6 volts.

Using a Black Box, it is a simple matter to transfer that intensity of current to your cables and ensure that salmon will be attracted to your gear. Black Boxes have the capacity to greatly increase your productivity. They run about $100 and are one of the best investments any avid salmon angler can make.

Salmon don't utilize electrical currents only for navigation. They also use them to identify prey items. All living things emit electrical charges. Salmon can sense the impulses put out by baitfish and from these impulses, they can sense which baitfish are vulnerable. Think of lions in Africa. They are surrounded by healthy game all the time and they don't attack. However, let them spot an animal with a limp, and they pounce. It's the same with salmon: They attack when they sense impulses that are consistent with a wounded baitfish. Rigged baitfish and lures that move erratically through the water send off impulses that fool the salmon into thinking they are injured prey items.

A recent innovation by the Pro Troll Company has taken this concept to a new level. Pro Troll produces a device called the E-Chip. It is a simple stainless steel tube with a stainless steel ball inside it and a special ceramic crystal at one end. When the ball strikes against the crystal, it puts out a small electric impulse that mimics the nerve impulses of an injured baitfish.

E-Chips come in 1/2- and 3/4-inch sizes and are attached to rotating bait rigs, lures, flashers and dodgers to greatly enhance their effectiveness.

"E-Chips are so effective I won't fish without them," asserts Barry Canevaro, a West Coast charter skipper with more than 30 years on the water. "Initially I experimented with them to see if they worked. I found that baits and lures teamed with the E-Chip consistently had a two-to-one advantage over other offerings in terms of salmon hooked."


Several of the innovations sweeping the salmon-fishing world were originally intended for trout fishing in fresh water but have been adapted to chasing salmon in the salt. Gary Miralles of the Shasta Tackle Company is a good example. His Sling Blade dodgers, spoons and Koke-A-Nuts are well known in trout and kokanee fishing circles, yet these lures are now being used by ocean salmon trollers with great results.

Over a year ago, Miralles began telling me about the success his customers were having hooking ocean-going kings while trolling large Koke-A-Nuts behind 8-inch Sling Blades. Koke-A-Nuts ar

e double-hook flies constructed out of rubber with a prismatic tail and come in a variety of colors. Sling Blades are slim-profile dodgers that work well at speeds up to 3.5 miles per hour, much faster than you could troll traditional dodgers.

Since I began using this combination for salmon back in the spring of 2005, it has quickly become my favorite trolling setup, replacing my standby hoochie and dodger combo. To make the rig even more effective, I like to epoxy an E-Chip to the back of the Sling Blade.

Most trollers pursue salmon at 1.5 to 2.5 miles per hour. Salmon don't necessarily like slow-moving baits, but these are the speeds at which most salmon lures work best. The Sling Blade allows me to increase speed without sacrificing action. This results in more strikes because it sets my rig apart from what the salmon are accustomed to seeing.

Lure size is another area of recent experimentation. The saying that big baits equal big fish is true to some extent, but there are also times when salmon respond better to smaller lures. My use of Koke-A-Nuts, which are about 2.5 inches long, got me thinking about experimenting with other trout lures while salmon fishing.

To date I've had great results teaming the Everglo series of No. 2 Needlefish with a small blue Kone Zone Flasher. These Needlefish are only about an inch and a half long and glow in the dark. The Kone Zone Flasher is constructed of plastic and utilizes fiber optic technology to bend light. This creates tremendous flash on a lure that slow-rolls seductively and attracts large salmon.

Salmon fishing is a sport that is evolving in front of our eyes as more manufacturers and hardcore salmon enthusiasts continue to experiment with new tools, tackle, scents and rigs. After all, none of the innovations discussed in this article would have come about if some angler hadn't asked, "What if?"

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

Recommended for You


No Kidding: Angler Smashes Record for Lake Trout

Scott Bernarde - May 21, 2019

The Pennsylvania man's trophy fish was more than two pounds heavier than the previous record.

Trout & Salmon

How to Catch the Biggest Trout in the Stream

David Paul Williams

Several factors need to be evaluated before reaching a conclusion about what fly, lure or...

Field Tested: Lightweight Raingear

David Draper - May 30, 2019

Our picks for stuffable protection against any weather.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

Electric Filet Knife from Bubba Blades

As OSG's Lynn Burkhead looks on, Josh Neville shows off the cordless and corded versions of a new electric filet knife from Bubba Blades.

Mustad's New Tungsten Weights

Long known as one of the world's premiere hook makers, Mustad's Reid McKinstry shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead that the company is now one of the leaders in making tungsten terminal tackle products for anglers.

Costa's Award Winning Waterwoman Sunglasses

Costa's Amanda Sabin tells OSG's Lynn Burkhead about all of the great features that made the new Waterwoman frame a big winner at the 2019 ICAST show as well as out on the water.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Wild Game

10 Memorial Day Recipes for Your Outdoor BBQ Staff

Celebrate the start of summer with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these...

Other Freshwater

6 Tips for Nighttime Crappie

Keith Sutton - June 19, 2017

Fishing for nighttime crappie gets you out of the summer heat and puts more fish in the...


10 Most Common Reel Performance Problems

Anietra Hamper

Here are the 10 most common reel performance problems and how to fix them.

See More Stories

More Other Freshwater

Other Freshwater

Now That's a Big Drum: Another Wyoming State Record Smashed

Game & Fish Online Staff - July 20, 2018

James Potter Jr.'s Wyoming-record freshwater drum weighed 22.58 pounds. (Photo courtesy of...

Other Freshwater

Trout Waders, Boots, Storm Gear for '18

David Paul Williams - July 23, 2018

New fishing waders, boots and storm gear are featured. (Shutterstock image) Game & Fish...

Other Freshwater

Troll to Cast for Muskies

Mark Sak - June 13, 2019

Increase your odds of hooking up by trolling, then casting in high-percentage areas.

See More Other Freshwater

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.