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Cardinal Sins of King Fishing

Posted on July 09 2016

Fly fishing for king salmon at Alaska West.
To catch these, don’t do the following. Photo: Jason Whiting.

We’re in the midst of a pretty epic King run this year, and that means we’ve seen a heck of a lot of nice fish landed, but even more lost.

King fishing is by no means a numbers game.. They’re big, strong, fast, hard mouthed fish that don’t come easily to hand (for both experienced and novice anglers alike). We’re lucky to get plenty of opportunities, but if you get one out of five to hand, we think you’re doing pretty darn good. However, there’s always room for improvement and by avoiding the following common mistakes you’ll increase your landing ratio in no time.

Cardinal Sins of King Fishing

  1. Setting the Hook Too Quickly. As we’ve mentioned many times before, a ‘textbook’ king take goes something like this; Tap, tap tap, deep pull. Waiting for the deep pull before burying the hook is extremely important. Setting the hook on the first hint of a grab will pull the hook right out of his mouth every time. ‘Wait for the weight,’ and then drive it home.
  2. Setting the Hook Upstream. One of the most common mistakes we see from spey anglers new to king fishing is setting the hook either straight up or to the upstream side. Instead, always set the hook in the direction your fly is swinging.. So, if your fly is swinging from left to right, when it’s time to set the hook, set low and hard to the right side (or in other words, to the downstream side). Setting ‘with the swing’ in this fashion ensures the hook is under tension all the way into the fish’s mouth creating the best hold possible.
  3. Pulling Softly. After setting the hook, two things lose more king salmon than anything else; time (length of fight) and not putting enough pressure on the fish. It’s not uncommon for a big fish to take over 100 plus yards of backing (ahem, we’ve already had one ‘spooling’ this season) and in order to put enough pressure on the hook hold at that distance, you need to pull hard, really hard. Plus, any time you’re not making the fish work, he’s resting.. Don’t let him! Keep your rod low and towards the bank, and bend the rod all the way to handle for as much of the fight as you can.
  4. Changing the Rod Angle. Constantly changing the rod from downstream to upstream and back again during the fight is no bueno. Set the hook ‘with the swing,’ pull hard to the downstream side, and fight from that position for as long as possible. Make the fish force you to change your rod angle, but until then, keep the heat low and towards the bank for as long as you can.
  5. Running the Bar. When a big fish takes off down river, your first instinct might be to take off running to gain what you lost.. Don’t! You can’t out run a king salmon at top speed and running the gravel bar with him only allows him time to rest. Stand your ground and show that fish who’s boss.
  6. Fiddling with Your Drag. Fighting big fish requires concentration. It’s really important for your reel hand to be ready at the helm to gain back any inch of line you can the moment he gives you a chance. Therefore, the last thing you want to worry about while fighting a fish is whether or not you set the drag right. Set the drag appropriately ahead of time and try not to mess with it while fighting your fish. How much drag is appropriate? Here’s a tip, when it comes to kings, if it’s easy for your to pull off with your finger tips alone, it’s probably not heavy enough.
  7. Fishing the Deep Water Only. Most first-time king anglers are aware that king salmon love hanging out in the deepest, darkest, pocket in the run. However, experienced anglers know that while that is often the highest concentration of fish, kings are found of all different types of water, not just the ‘bucket.’ Fish the entire run, fish it thoroughly, and never underestimate the short cast.
  8. Not Listening to Your Net Man. Putting the mesh on a big fish requires much more than simply ‘scooping’ the fish up with the net. The current acting on the surface area of such a fish can put tremendous strain on your leader during the moments leading up to the net shot. Often times there’s a very small window of opportunity to make a stab, and therefore being on the same page as your net man is crucial. Communicate during the fight and allow the net man to dictate the steps needed to get the fish’s head in position for the shot. Pulling one way while the net man is anticipating another generally results in a heartache.

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