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King Salmon and Indicators

Posted on February 09 2012

Indicators for Kings
Eats non-swung flies too. Photo: J.E.B. Hall


OK, OK!  We admit it!  Sometimes at Alaska West, we catch kings using something other than a swung fly and a two handed rod.

Now why would we do such a thing?  Well, because some of these ‘other’ techniques can be really effective, and more importantly, some of these ‘other’ techniques can be really, really fun.

J.E.B. Hall is one of our resident experts when it comes to fun, and today he tells us all about catching kings under indicators in sloughs.  Hot Tip: J.E.B. is a pretty funny guy, so even if you would never stoop so low as to catch a king under an indicator, you might want to read on regardless.

The Rig

  • Rod: 9′ 12 weight G. Loomis Crosscurrent
  • Reel: Lamson Litespeed #4
  • Line: Rio Coldwater Clouser WF12F
  • Backing: 300 yards of 50 pound Gel Spun with a 50 yard top shot of 30 pound Dacron
  • Leader: 7ft. of 25lb. Maxima Ultra Green
  • Fly: Marabou Intruder tied on a ⅛-¼ oz. jig head with a 3/0 Gamakatsu #604 hook
  • Indicator: Large size corky with the mylar wings removed


When the Spey Revolution came to Alaska West, it didn’t take long before single handers virtually disappeared from the rod racks of our little green boats during King Salmon season. Two handed rods made casting sinking lines enjoyable and allowed our anglers to cover more river with less effort. While adopting Spey casting from gravel bars as our primary technique for Kings was a no brainer, it did not take into account that sometimes Kings like to take a break and “Slough Up”.


When Kings enter the river, they are swimming hard against a relentless sheet of green water. This upstream progression takes a great deal of
effort, and after a mile or two, some of these fish pull into the mouths of old river channels to rest. We refer to these channels as sloughs.

The Kanektok River has almost as many sloughs as it does gravel bars, giving migrating Kings ample spots to pull over and chill. Some of these sloughs are fairly long and allow Kings to wander far from the main river before reaching a dead end and heading back out.

Sloughed up kings tend to be more grabby than fish on the move. The problem is that a two hander is often too long, and a Spey head is too limited, to offer the right presentation in a slough. Sloughs lack the current needed for a proper swing and the angler becomes responsible for imparting action into the fly. Stripping flies on a light sink tip is a time proven method for resting fish, but is painful to do with a two hander. Single hand rods work better for this situation, but then we come back to over hand casting sinking lines. This is where indicator fishing comes in.

Enter Indicator

Now is probably the point where many of you will stop reading this blog post due to the use of the word ‘indicator’. In certain areas of the country indicator fishing is considered taboo and strictly forbidden. Where I live, deep in the hollers of Southern Appalachia, indicator fishing is perfectly acceptable and even encouraged. If you are still reading, this is where you should tap into your inner redneck. Feel free to get yourself a coldbeer (that’s one word) out of the fridge, eat something deep fried, and put on some pre-1980 country music before continuing on. Now that you are in the right frame of mind, this is how it works.


Kings in sloughs mill around at various depths ranging from right on the bottom to as little as a few feet below the surface. Adjustable indicators fished on floating lines allow you to fish all those depths with ease. Thingamabobber style indicators will break your line on big Kings. Do not use this type of indicator.

Instead, take a large Mylar winged Spin and Glo or Corky, and tear the wings off. Thread a 6mm bead onto your leader, followed by the Corky (big side up), and then another 6mm bead. Tie on the “fly” using a no slip loop knot. Slide the beads and indicator up the leader from the fly to the first depth you want to fish.

Below the bottom bead, nail knot a piece of heavy monofilament to the leader, leaving the top tag end long enough to prevent the bead from sliding over. Do the same thing above the top bead. Make sure the nail knots are tight enough to prevent the indicator from sliding freely, but loose enough to adjust the depth without damaging the leader. Now you are ready to fish.


Just like nymphing for trout, cast the rig upstream of the Kings and let it drift back through the pod of fish. Often you will see the fish porpoise in the slough, revealing their location. If there is no activity on the surface, fish the deepest part of the slough near the main river.  During the drift, give the indicator sharp pops with the rod tip. This action will cause the fly to jig vertically under the indicator.

When the indicator does anything funky, set the hook very hard. Funky behavior includes stopping, wiggling, or going under. Do not wait to set the hook. The movement of the indicator is telling you what just happened, not what is happening. The fish is well on its way to spitting the hook when you see the Corky go out of sight. The tiniest wiggle can turn out to be a 35 pound bruiser after the hook is set, so make sure you treat every take down seriously. It is also not uncommon for anglers to double up in the same 20 feet of water, creating blissful chaos.

If you are planning on coming up to visit us for King Salmon season this summer, remember to pack a beefy single hander and try some indicator fishing. It’s different, fun, and a great way to get in touch with your redneck side. While you probably won’t leave the river wanting to court your cousin, indicator fishing for Kings will certainly cause you to let out a big Yeeeee-Haw!


  1. Fish an 11 or 12 weight rod. 10 weights can do the job, but heavier sticks make casting large indicators and bulky flies easier. Having a little extra beef when fish run back out into the main current isn’t a bad thing either.
  2. Keep your hooks extremely sharp. The indicator takes some of the force out of the hook set. Having sharp hooks counteracts this loss in power.
  3. Try fishing flies tied on jig heads with super sturdy hooks. The lead head and 90º hook eye angle make for a lively presentation. Standard King patterns will work fine as long as you put a large split shot on the line just above the knot.
  4. Try drifts with and without the popping action. Sometimes dead drifted flies get more eats than ones in motion.
  5. Fat Freddy?!?!?!
  6. Make sure to repeatedly tell all of your two handed purist buddies how many fish you landed at the end of the day.

More on King Salmon at Alaska West

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