Mooching: Fishing in Alaska for King Salmon

People often ask, "What are the types of fish in Alaska; which are most common; when is the best time to fish in Alaska and how do you fish for them?" As the video below shows, salmon fishing is popular and exciting.  Even a novice angler can be successful with the right help and technique, the preferred one for ocean sport fishing being mooching.


Alaska is well-known for its salmon and particularly king salmon, also known as Chinook.  It's the largest of Pacific salmon and most sought after of all salmon species.  Its meat is high in anti-inflammatory Omega-3s, rich in taste with a buttery-smooth texture.  Wild-caught king salmon is not only healthy to eat but fun to catch. Due to their migration patterns, summer is the best time to catch them.

Fishing in Alaska is enjoyed by all even young people.To successfully catch salmon, Alaskan anglers prefer mooching as a fishing technique. It facilitates greater contact with the feel of the rod and the subtlety of the bite, plus it's is fun to learn and thrilling to master.

Some expert fresh-water anglers may expect to use their skill to be successful with king salmon.  However, beginners may have an advantage over experienced fresh-water anglers due to not having to "unlearn" that automatic reaction jerk up in order to set the hook.

Instead, mooching is a controlled, careful, yet fast cranking of the reel.  Some say it's an art form instead of an exact science.  It relies on numerous factors including:

  • Weather and water temperature making the depth and location important
  • Whether the kings are feeling lazy that day or excitable
  • What they feel like eating

Fish On!! Lady AnglerProper mooching cannot guarantee success, but it most certainly improves the odds. 

Mooching uses the most natural presentation of the salmon's preferred food.  It's about depth, the quality of bait, its speed of moving through the king's sight and overall presentation.  Your guide's knowledge and experience makes a difference:

  • With the help of the sonar fish finder, the guide knows where the salmon are and the ideal depth to drop the line.
  • Salmon love fast-spinning bait. Your guide knows how to tie the bait, sinker and leader to achieve the winning tempo.
  • At Waterfall Resort Alaska, we use premium- cut, plug-herring, a salmon's favorite treat.
king salmon under waterFirst, the guide sets up your fishing line with a leader, a 7-foot line that is tougher than your main line on the reel.  On the leader, he attaches your bait and a sinker above the leader.  The guide can tell you the depth of the fish from the sonar.  On your reel, you can see the length of line being dropped.  This allows you to carefully follow the 6 important steps for success:
The Six Rules for Success:
  1. Drop the rig slowly through the water watching that the leader is straight with your bait trailing behind the sinker and avoiding tangling.
  2. Keep your thumb on the line on the reel facilitating a soft "stop and go" motion for the first 10 or 15 feet of the drop.
  3. Keeping your thumb on the reel's spool to prevent backlash, drop it smoothly through the depth of the fish so you can then reel up through them.
  4. Move the spinning bait up and down from about 10 feet below to 10 feet above.  In the case of kings resting on the bottom, drop the line to the bottom and then reel up 15 feet or 20 feet and drop back down.
  5. After 5 to 10 times of dropping up and down, bring the bait to the surface, but, if the bait is still good and in place, DON'T take it out of the water.  Salmon may follow it to the top, and if you take it out, they'll swim away. 
  6. The real finesse comes in by finding the right speed at which to reel the bait up and down: fast, slow or in-between.  It depends on the weather and the salmon's mood that day.  Mix it up a bit to determine the speed at which they will bite that day at that spot.

The GOLDEN RULE:  When you feel a bite, CRANK, do NOT YANK!

Raphaele Pelaez smiles with her first king salmon catchSalmon can nibble or jab at the bait rather than suddenly taking it.  It's subtle and feel like a little "tap,tap" or like you just hit bottom.  When you feel you might have a bite, DO NOT JERK THE ROD UP to set the hook. 

Wait a moment to confirm the bite, then reel in fast.  Remember, you have a long leader, about 7 feet, so you must reel 14 feet before the line gets tight.  Reel, reel, reel until the line gets tight, then lift the tip of the rod straight up.  Do NOT swing it side to side.

Keep reeling fast as long as you can feel the fish on there.  Salmon fight by swimming hard and rapid, often around and under the boat.  Your guide will help you navigate around the boat and may ask the other guests to pull in their lines.  It's nice to only have 4 guests to a boat.

If you suddenly don't feel the fish, drop the line 5 or 10 feet back down and reel again until your line gets tight.  If the fish are making swipes at your bait, you may have to drop it several times before getting the final bite.

Catching your first king salmon, whether the first in the season or first in your life, is a memorable occasion.  Our guides never tire of watching the thrill and seeing the smiles when guests hold that fish in their hands.  It's a triumph worth the patience and the work.

Let's Go Fishing!

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