Alaska is an amazing place, and when most people think about Alaska, they usually think of wilderness, glaciers and wildlife. They think of fishing too, but the funny thing is, they rarely think of kayak fishing —-I always thought that was interesting because Alaska is the place where kayak fishing was born. The Eskimos and Aleuts and first peoples before them built small, narrow boats, essentially a kayak by design, called bidarkas.

Christopher Mautino, Salmonid
Christopher Mautino, Salmonid

Today, by comparison we pedal in roto-molded, CAD designed polyethylene kayaks tricked out with GPS and down imaging sonar, bait-tanks and the MirageDrive. The native Alaskans ventured out to sea for reasons of survival, now, we tend to go out for sport but the concept is the same.

One of my favorite fish to target is the salmon, and specifically targeting Kings and Cohos. I mostly chase Salmon in saltwater when they are bright as dimes just before they make their return to the freshwater streams from where they were born. When they are caught in ocean they are extra tasty and super spunky. Once a salmon enters fresh water for spawning, the delicate meat starts to break down and some food quality is lost. Besides, I live on the coast and the ocean is in my front yard.

Let’s talk about just one method I use: Trolling and/or Mooching a fresh dead herring.

Trolling is self-explanatory, and mooching is really just another word for “drift fishing” but the gear is similar for both techniques. I like an 8-9 foot medium power rod with a soft tip but lots of backbone. Salmon tend to be “up feeders” and usually take a bait while swimming up toward the surface. Many varieties of bottom fish come off the seafloor, grab a lure and head straight down. When these fish strike, they generally hook themselves. Salmon are far more subtle, and you will have an advantage with a rod that has an ultra-sensitive tip section. I match this rod to a compact, single speed reel with a smooth drag and just as important, a line counter.

Why is a line counter important? Well, more often than not, salmon are suspended in the water column when they are feeding on herring and with the counter I’m able to control the depth of my presentation. In addition, when I locate baitfish or fish with my sonar, I’m able to accurately drop a rig to the exact depth that corresponds to what I see on the fish finder.

I spool up with superline backing and a monofilament or fluorocarbon top-shot. You can use all monofilament but I prefer the spectra w/ top-shot route simply because instead of changing out all my line every few trips I’m only swapping out the top 20-30 yards of fresh mono or fluorocarbon each time.

The hardware for mooching consists of a 2-4 oz. banana weight (color isn’t necessarily important but I use yellow), and then a two to three foot leader with two octopus hooks, size 3/0 and 4/0 snelled about 3 inches apart.

On the hook’s pointy ends I attached a cut plug herring that I have previously brined the day before. The brine preserves the brightness of the scales and firms up the meat so it doesn’t tear. Before brining, I remove the head so the inside cavity toughens up and with the head sliced off at a compound angle, it improves the action. I’m sure there are hundreds of ways to rig herring but for me, the simpler —- the better. I believe the quicker my herring is back in the water, the more fish I catch. Wounded herring roll in a tight spiral, almost like a drill bit. To get a great roll from my offering, I bend the bait along its axis, creating a slight crescent shape and then insert a toothpick along the backbone to hold that shape. I then take the trailing hook from the leader and run it through the belly on the short side of the herring and out on the lateral line. Pull it through and leave that rear hook trailing at the back of the bait. Next, take the top hook from the leader and run it through the top of the spine and out the top of the herring next to the backbone. You now have a completed cut plug herring ready to mooch or slow troll.

If trolling, drop this rig back 80-100 feet behind the kayak and set it in the rod holder with the clicker on and the reel out of gear. This is where Hobie products really shines. Prior to using kayaks outfitted with the MirageDrive, it was a tricky maneuver to scope out line with a paddle in my hand. Especially salmon hardware which tends to pendulum, twist and tangle on the drop. Now, I simply pedal forward in total control of my line with my thumb on the spool and the rod in my hands instead of in the rod holder or on my lap. In addition, I’m able to use the rudder system to correct for the drag of all that hardware. The Mirage drive is a critical ingredient to the success of this technique.

I typically troll to a favorite spot or until I see bait and/or fish on the meter, then stop and mooch vertically in that same area until I hook up. The key to mooching, just like trolling, is getting that bait to spin. Even the wave action moving the kayak up and down in the swell is enough to cause baits to gently move in the water. Baits that don’t spin don’t catch fish!

When mooching, my eyes are on the rod tip which will be bent some due to the weight and drag of the hardware. Since salmon feed up, they tend to take the herring and swim towards the surface, taking the weight with them. I watch for the rod tip to move up ever so slightly, indicating a fish has taken the bait. At that point, it becomes a race of sorts to catch up with the fish by quickly reeling line until it tightens. This has to be a quick reaction, because the salmon will spit the bait once the drag of the weight and terminal tackle is apparent. At this point I’m hooked up and already reaching for the net. Salmon are very acrobatic so enjoy the show but be patient and let the fish play out.

Next time you are out on water where the salmonids swim, considering giving this method a try. A spinning herring and the Hobie MirageDrive system are a deadly combination. Enjoy!

Super-Sized Salmonids
Capt. Christopher Mautino
Boat: 2013 Hobie Revolution 13
Location: Alaska