Trolling for Sockeye - Sockeye Salmon Saltwater Fishing 101
Sockeye salmon have long been revered for their bright red flesh and phenomenal flavour. They have quite a unique lifecycle compared to the other Pacific Salmon. They require a lake to grow in for the first 1 to 3 years of their lives.
When rearing in the lake, a Sockeyes’ diet consists primarily of zooplankton, amphipods and insects. The primary diet of zooplankton is what leads to their bright red flesh. They continue to feed on the zooplankton as they make their outward migration to the ocean, but they have also been known to feed on smaller bait fish and squid.
Sadly, these fish are no longer in abundance as they once were. Hopefully the stocks will rebound to their former glory. Every 4 years we see a large return. Fingers crossed that the fish continue to show up and DFO provides an opportunity to fish for them.
Sockeye Fishing Equipment Checklist
For many years it was thought that Sockeye do not bite in saltwater and that they were uncatchable. We now know this is not the case and that Sockeye bite very well in saltwater.
There are some little tricks that can make the difference between a successful day on the water versus a successful day watching other people catching them.
A Downrigger is a mandatory piece of equipment when trolling for Sockeye in saltwater. A downrigger helps to get our gear down to the fish. Electric downriggers are recommended over manual (hand crank) ones. There can be a lot of up and down of the gear in this fishery and electric models require much less work to operate.
Scotty Fishing Products owns the downrigger market here in British Columbia. The two most popular downriggers are the 1106 Electric and the 2106 High Performance. Both riggers come with a swivel base and all the mounting hardware as well as the line and release clips. They’re ready to go right out of the box. We are almost always fishing 4 rods in this fishery so the one addition we would recommend to either downrigger is a Scotty 247 Dual Rod Holder.
These rod holders don’t require drilling into your boat. They simply mount on top of your swivel base and, just like that, you have a holder for two rods off of one downrigger. These holders are easily adjustable so you can get the perfect setup for you and your boat.
Fish Finders are another very important piece of equipment. These electronics show you the depth of water you are fishing in as well as the depth of the fish. Sockeye are a schooling fish so finding one usually means finding a bunch. Knowing at what depth that school is, is a very important key to success. Humminbird makes some great options for finders with GPS. We recommend the Humminbird Helix 5 or Humminbird Helix 7.
Rods are typically 10’6” and have a medium to medium-heavy action rating. A mooching/downrigger rod can be identified by its shorter back grip, longer foregrip and the position of the reel seat. Popular rods are Okuma Salish, Trophy Titan 3106, Trophy QR, Fenwick HMX and the Okuma Celilo.
The standard reel for saltwater salmon trolling is a mooching/trolling reel. This reel holds an ample amount of line and provides the most fun when playing a fish. Popular choices for these reels are the Daiwa M-One UTD 400, Shimano 4000 GT, Trophy Tyee QR, R3EF Mooching Reel, Islander MR3 and the Islander TR3.
Your reels should be loaded with 25-30lbs monofilament or 50-65lbs braided line, with 50’ of 25lb/30lb monofilament on top.
When setting up your rod and reel, it’s recommended that you have a ball bearing or bead chain swivel off your mainline and then a McMahon (scissor) snap. You can use a barrel swivel with a snap on it if you’d like to. Our preference is the McMahon (scissor) snap because they are more secure.
Setting up your rod this way has a couple of benefits. Firstly, when the rod is not in use, the swivel can simply be reeled to the tip of the rod. This allows you to quickly breakdown the rod for storage while still making it easy to get set up for the next call of duty. Adding this extra swivel also greatly reduces the chance of any line twists. As far as downrigger weights go, the standard 15-20lbs cannonballs will be sufficient.
As previously mentioned, Sockeye are a schooling fish so creating a lot of flash below your boat will help in your success. Using “dummy flashers” (flashers attached to your downrigger line with no hook or lure attached) is quite common.
Scotty manufactures the 1161 Dummy Flasher Rig. It comes with two snaps, one for the downrigger line and one with a swivel on the end to attach your flasher to. Another great option is the KoneZone Daisy Chain Flashers. These flashers are an in-line series of 4 triangle-shaped flasher blades that clip onto your downrigger line. The design of the KoneZone Daisy Chain Flashers allows you to run your gear quite close to the flasher for increased efficiency.
Blue is a popular colour choice for flashers as it has the same chrome/blue colour characteristics of a fresh Sockeye. Good choices are the Oki Tackle Big Shooter Blue Footloose, Gibbs Highliner Watermark Blue, Hot Spot Blue Mirror and Hot Spot Blue Glow. Red has been a long-time faithful go-to colour. Good choices are the Gibbs Highliner T-10 and the Hot Spot Red Silver. There are also a few other “wild card” options that we have had good success with. These are the Gibbs Highliner Madi, Twisted Sista, Hot Spot Pink Haze, Clear Jelly UV, Oki Tackle Big Shooter Green Onion Glow and the Green Jellyfish Yellow Green Mist.
The Sockeye trolling lure selection is quite simple. We recommend a hoochie or a hoochie and if that’s not working try using a hoochie.
As simple as it sounds, there are a few little things that make a huge difference. Firstly, we are not using the standard sized salmon hoochies, but the smaller 2.5” hoochies. The Michael Bait Mini Hoochie in pink is our preferred choice.
Making your Sockeye hoochies sparse is the number one difference-maker. While you may catch a few on a hoochie right out of the package, you’ll really catch them by picking off most of the legs, leaving four or five only. This may seem a little out of left field, but it truly makes a huge difference in the productivity of the lure.
Another key in setting up your hoochie is to use an 18”-24” leader in 40-60lbs test Maxima. This will give your hoochie the best action.
We like using a decent sized black hook. Sockeye have very soft mouths so we recommend going with a 4/0 or 5/0. Try the Mustad Big Gun Open Siwash hook, Gamakatsu Big River Open Siwash hook or the VMC Techset Siwash Open Eye hook.
Scents are a highly recommended addition to your hoochie. These help to mask your human odour and scents have bite stimulants incorporated into them to help increase your catch rate. We recommend Pro-Cure Gels in the Krill, Shrimp/Krill or Anise/Krill. Read our blog post on the Benefits of Using Bait Scents and Attractants.
Trolling speed is an important part of Sockeye fishing success. Slow is the name of the game. 1-2mph is a good speed to aim for. For comparison’s sake, we usually troll at speeds 2.5-3.4 mph for Chinooks.
Keep in mind that current direction and whether you are going into it or going with it also play a factor in what your GPS speed reads.
Keep Your Gear Close to the Downrigger Cable
When setting the gear for Sockeye fishing, keep your gear close to the downrigger cable. 3’-6’ back seems to be a productive distance that the fish like.
We hope that some of these tips help to bring you Sockeye fishing success on the water!
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us by email firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 604-931-5044 or stop by Sea-Run Fly & Tackle at #110-1140 Austin Avenue in Coquitlam BC.
Good luck on the water.
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