Tips & Techniques
Trolling for Salmon on the California Delta
Chinook salmon make their way up the California Delta in large
numbers between August and November of each year. They
eventually spawn in the upper regions of the Sacramento, American,
Feather, Mokelumne and Cosumnes Rivers. A great way to target
these large game fish is by trolling.
The methods I'm going to cover here apply to the deep, slow
moving water in the lower end of the river systems. Different
methods are used in the shallow, rocky, fast moving sections found
On this page I'm going to share some of my
own personal methods. This isn't the only way to fish, so
keep in mind that using other methods will also catch fish. Following the techniques from this site will give you a head start
towards dialing in your own fishing methods.
Practice catch and release, and good luck!
You'll want to use limber salmon or steelhead medium
heavy rod rated for 10-30 lb test. They usually run eight to
ten feet in length. A fairly soft tip is needed
to detect the action of your lure. The long limber rods are
needed to help absorb the head shakes of salmon once you hook them.
|Any mid sized
casting reel will work just fine.
Spinning reels can be hard to use because it will be
difficult to feel the bottom when letting out your line.
I like to use Abu-Garcia Ambassedeur model 6500 reels.
If you use rod holder, you
will want to use a reel with a clicker for that you can hear
the line peel out when a fish is hooked.
|For my main
line, I like to use 20 pound test Maxima Ultragreen monofilament. The nice thing about monofilament line is that is stretches.
This will help to absorb the violent head shakes that salmon
produce. If you use
braided line, be sure to use a long limber rod that will help to
absorb the shaking action of a fighting salmon.
Use the biggest net you can find with at least
a three foot diameter and a long handle for reaching out for fish
going crazy at the boat.
Most people use a 'V' shaped metal wire called a
spreader to separate their lures and sinkers. The advantage to
using a spreader is that keeps the lure up in the strike zone while
the sinker remains at the bottom.
On the top end of the spreader I tie a 4 foot long 20 pound test
leader to my lure.
On the bottom end of the spreader I typically use about an
18" leader tied to a trolling sinker. I use a
light line like 10-12 pound test on this leader in case I get
snagged. That way, the bottom leader breaks and I still get my
spreader and spinner back.
Any boat that
you can troll with will work. You
will need to go slow, so you might have to put buckets behind your
boat to slow down.
At a minimum
you will want to use a depth finder.
A better option will be a sonar unit.
Although salmon are hard to detect in the ocean, they are
easy to see in the river. Keep
in mind that it is much easier to mark fish going downstream than it
is going against the current.
countless areas of the delta that are good for trolling. They
stretch from Suisun Bay all the way up past Sacramento.
The Rio Vista area of the Sacramento River
of Viera's Resort on the Sacramento River below Isleton
Grove area on the Sacramento River
stretch of the Sacramento River between Freeport and Discovery
Fork of the Mokelumne River
I like the double-bladed Silvertrons the best.
Spinners are easier to troll than plugs because getting the right
speed for a plug can be tricky. Troll spinners downstream at
about 3.5 to 3.7 GPS speed. Use four ounce sinkers - you want that sinker to be bouncing the bottom
every once in a while. If you see a
snag on your sonar speed up to raise the lures above the obstacle.
Use a small duo-lock snap to attach your spinner to the leader.
Try using chartreuse or red blades during low
light or overcast conditions. If you use scent, only put it on
the insides of the blades. The blades are made of real silver,
so just use some Twinkle silver polish (True
Value) to keep them up to shine when they get tarnished.
Silvertron spinners come in one or two-blade models. I
like to use chartreuse in the morning and then switch to
silver/chartreuse once the sun comes up. Try different
color combinations until you find what they are biting on any
given day. You can find Silvertron lures in most local bait or tackle stores, or order
them online from
The most popular plugs for trolling are
Kwikfish and Flatfish. Use the smaller sized plugs, equivalent
to the K-14 Kwikfish. Use a one inch long by 1/2 inch wide
sardine wrap centered to the bottom of the plug. Troll
downstream at about 2.2 to 2.5 GPS speed. You have to play
with the speed until you get the correct rhythm going. Use
three ounce sinkers to keep your weight bouncing the bottom.
Use a large duo-lock snap to attach your plug to the leader.
If you see a snag on your sonar slow down and
raise the rods to get the lures past the obstacle. Silver with a chartreuse head or tail is the
most popular plug colors.
You will almost always want to troll downstream
(or with the current in the delta where there are tides). You
will cover more ground, and the in-your-face presentation seems to
make the fish more aggressive. The only exception to this is
when fish are holding in deep holes. It is sometimes possible
to get these fish to strike by slowly trolling plugs upstream.
The best depth
for me over the years has been in the 16 to 19 foot range. I
believe that for some reason salmon like to travel in this depth
range. You will often mark salmon in deeper holes, but getting
them to strike is difficult. I believe that these are resting
fish which are less likely to be in the mood to chase a lure.
Let out about 60 feet of
line on the back rods and forty feet on the side rods. It is very
important that you get the lure into the correct depth so that you stay in the strike zone.
If you see other people catching fish and you aren't getting any
strikes, you are probably fishing too far off of the bottom. You want your lure 2-4 feet off the bottom at all times.
lure just stops like you hooked a log. At other times, the
salmon will slam the lure hard. In either case, be sure to
give it a really hard hook set. If you use a rod holder, the
fish will basically hook itself. I personally like to hold the
rod when possible.
take the rod out of the holder and give several strong hook sets to
each side in a sweeping motion. Don't set the hook straight
up. Salmon have tough narrow mouths, and your goal will be to
imbed the barb into the mouth on whichever side it is hooked.
Once you have
the fish on, move out towards the middle of the river.
This gets you away from snags along the river edges and also
moves you out of the way of other trollers.
Put the motor in neutral and fight the fish.
If you decide
to keep the fish, knock it out with a club.
Bleed the fish by cutting the gills.
This will remove unwanted blood from the meat and roe.
Now put it on ice for the remainder of the trip.
Following these simple steps will ensure that you will have
good quality meat and roe.
If you decide
to practice catch and release, don't fight the fish too long.
Salmon and steelhead build up lactic acid which can kill them in a
long battle. If I plan on practicing catch and release, I
purposely use heavier gear and hooks so that I can get the fish in
quickly. Try to keep the fish in the water at all times and
always revive the fish by moving it back and forth in the water
until it swims off.
Here is a good
link for catch and release guidelines:
Late morning and late afternoons seem to be
the best times to catch salmon. I've found that between 8:00
am and 10:00 am is a good time to find a bite window.
Another good time to fish is between 3:00 pm and 5:00 pm.
The tides also play a role in finding
aggressive salmon. In the lower section of the delta (below
Walnut Grove), folks seem to do better trolling with the incoming
tide. Above Walnut Grove, the outgoing tides seem to make
fish more active and prone to biting. The times around tide
changes also seem to be good times to catch fish. High tide
and the beginning of the outgoing tide is usually the best time to
fish during normal flows. If the water releases are high the
low tide and the beginning of the incoming tide is good since it
fights the fast current.
Times that salmon will bite are very
unpredictable. They tend to bite during stretches that last
about 20 minutes. Salmon will bite like crazy for about 20 minutes,
and then without warning will stop biting all together. You
need to take advantage of the times when they are biting! After the bite shuts off it can take several
hours before the fish start biting again.
- Try varying your speed if you don't get any strikes
- If you see a sea lion move to another location.
- Donít cut off other anglers
- Use the same weights and lures on every rod. You canít troll
Kwikfish and Silvertrons at the same time because they run at
- Use scents to mask your human odors.
The amino acid L-Lysine that is found on your hands is also
produced by salmon predators like sea lions. Salmon are
going to shy away from anything that reminds them of a predator.
This is why I always wash my hand with scent-free sportsman's
soap before handling my tackle. It's the little things
that can make the difference between a good outing and getting