Trolling Tips For Summer Salmon

July produces some of the best inshore fishing of the season along the Pacific Northwest coast. Two seasoned fishing guides provide trolling tips on how to get into the action.

Photo by Mike Gnatkowski

Summer produces the gentle flat seas along the Pacific Coast that offshore anglers look forward to, not only for creature comforts but also the inshore salmon action. Sit back and let the boat and the equipment do the work while you can, because soon somebody will be shouting, "Fish on!" Locate the baitfish and you can just about be guaranteed some muscle-stretching, exciting action.

Trolling with either frozen or fresh herring or spoons is the generally accepted method of fishing. "What's most common in open seas is trolling with either a diver that will pull the bait down to the depth we would like to reach, or the use of round, cannon ball sinkers. We adjust the depths by line counter reels," says Oregon angler Jack Glass.

Randy Lato, a northwest Washington guide out of LaPush, prefers using downriggers for keeping baits at the right depth along the Washington coast. Lato, 42, says fishing for Chinook salmon in July consists of trolling using downriggers, a Deep Six, and a lead line. He and his parties, fishing from a 26-foot Olympic, target the Umatilla Reed, about 12 miles offshore.

"I run two downriggers, one off either side, and in between them I use two Deep Sixes," Lato said. "A fifth line is a 6-ounce banana sinker with a pretty good leader on it with a whole herring. When trolled it stays within the first couple feet of the water." His trolling speed is 2.2 mph.

A downrigger is basically a large electric reel with steel cable on it. A big lead ball that weighs 8 to 15 pounds is hooked to the line. The fishing line is clipped to a snap on the lead weight and both descend to a pre-selected depth chosen on the reel. When a fish hits, the fishing line pops loose and then it's just you and the fish.

The Deep Six performs the same basic function as a downrigger in that it carries your bait down in the water column by diving when trolled behind your boat. The line releases when a fish hits, allowing you to play the fish. Divers with a dished or concave face tend to track straighter than those with a flat planing surface. This allows trollers to position trolling rods close together without line tangles.

Finding salmon is related to finding baitfish, which Lato locates using electronics. "You see big schools of bait; they show up like a big cloud on the screen," he said. "I have my best luck fishing right below (the baitfish). If I see them from 50 to 100 feet, I drop my downriggers to 110 feet. The kings hang out right below and come swirling through and work on the weaker baitfish."

He positions the Deep Six 18 pulls off the reel, but since everyone's "pull" is a little bit different, Lato defines his as the distance from the reel to the first eye on the rod in its holder. "I keep that right in the prop wash," said Lato. "The bubble action that the prop generates simulates bait right below the top."

In artificial baits, Lato uses Hot Spot Flashers and Coyote Spoons, preferring the green spatter back whether deep or shallow, and maybe a green glow. "I have a half-hour rule: If a bait isn't catching something in a half-hour, it comes off and something else goes on," Lato said. "That way you are working your gear up and down, constantly drawing attention."

Sometimes the fish work the bait up close to the surface, boiling on top of the water, trying to get away from salmon. Then the birds come in and start picking up a meal. "You can see that a ways off and you jump right in on the action," said Lato.

If lots of bait is showing on his electronics, Lato might try mooching, using banana weights and herring for bait. "I will just ease it down, ride it with my thumb, go straight down, maybe a 100 to 150 feet. I reel up at about the same speed as when the bait descended, so the bait is spinning. The fish will hit that real good, especially if there is a feeding frenzy going on; they just absolutely go nuts. When you find the bait, you pound it. Just keep working that area. Sometimes they are looking for herring, sometimes candlefish, sometimes sardines."

Jack Glass, a fishing guide and media personality headquartered in the Troutdale, Ore., says downriggers are not as popular in his region as they are in Washington. Coho and king salmon are both the quest of Oregon anglers.

"Rarely do we use downriggers," said Glass. "More commonly we run just one rod with either a diver or, in the spring time, lead. In the fall, ironically, the divers are used more than lead."

Salmon action along the Oregon coast usually heats up about mid July. "It's a real popular time," said Glass. "The ocean is flat, it's nice all up and down the coastline. Coho salmon are one of the main (Oregon) targets in July, but there are a number of king salmon that are also caught."

Either fresh or frozen herring of six to eight inches is the most popular bait. He uses double Gamakatsu hooks, a 5/0 then 4/0, fixed, about 6 inches apart, on a 30-pound-test leader. "We use a little miter box. The miter box has a 45-degree angle cut. We lay the herring in the miter box and use it as a guide in cutting the herring," Glass said. "One hook, the lower hook, I stick through the side of the herring, and let it dangle. The 5/0 hook I stick in the top of the herring. The angled cut allows the herring to spin with a real sharp spin when we troll and, of course, you have fresh smell. Works good for both cohos and kings."

The second most popular baits are lightweight spoons, 1/2, 3/4 inches wide and about 6 inches long, with a slight bend to them so that they flip erratically as you troll. One side is painted and the other side is usually a polished nickel finish. Hook size is normally a 1/0 or 2/0 single hook.

"The coho bite the spoons really well," said Glass. "The kings tend to like the herring better. Oftentimes we will use the diver to take the bait down instead of lead weight. A 5- to 6-foot leader will be attached from the diver to the spoon."

"The coho salmon tend to be a little more attracted to an attractant," said Glass. "Oftentimes these divers are shaped like the space shuttle -- a V-wing type of arrangement." The popular Dipsey Diver pulls the rigging down because of the angle. When a fish bites, the line that is clipped to the diver releases. The diver usually adds about 4 ounces to a rig's weight.

Cohos tend to hang out near the ocean surface, anywhere from 8 to about 15 feet deep, while the bigger king salmon will be found much deeper, beginning somewhere around the 25-foot level.

Setting a bait's proper trolling distance comes mostly by trial and error. "If you are out with another individual, fishing two or three lines, set them at different depths," suggests Glass. "If you catch one off the rod set at 20 feet, then another one, you had better set them all at 20 feet." Glass uses Okuma line counting reels.

No matter whether you live or fish in Washington, Oregon, or anywhere else along the coast, July is a great month to go offshore a short distance and try your luck for salmon. There are many techniques that work for the big fish, but what's most common is trolling utilizing the help of downriggers or some type of deep-diving accessory to carry your bait to depths you otherwise wouldn't reach. Look for them at your favorite fishing tackle shop or catalogue.


More information about salmon fishing in July in Washington waters, contact Randy Lato at (360) 374-2052, or go online to

Jack Glass can be reached at (503) 666-5370, or online at

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