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When the going gets tough, the tough go deeper

George Clearwater of Medford caught this 20-pound Chinook while trolling an anchovy outside of the Port of Brookings Harbor on Tuesday.

Soft velvety fog blanketed the ocean outside the Port of Brookings Harbor on Tuesday morning. The sea was as flat as a sheet of liquid mercury, and the wind was quieter than a church mouse. Droplets of Oregon mist glanced upon the faces of three salmon warriors. Their eyes were filled with the hope of salmon dreams to come, but the outcome was yet uncertain.

Straddling a combination of glassy-flat travel lanes and furtive rip currents, colonies of murres could be heard flapping their wings, as their blackened beaks bobbed for baitfish near the California/Oregon border. 54-degree water was omnipresent. More idyllic ocean salmon conditions have never existed.

Had it been any other day in July, it would have been a safe bet that almost every angler would have been experiencing the thrill of a line-peeling, thumb-burning king salmon at the end of his rod.

But being an Oregon State Beaver fan, I know that there is nothing so uncertain as a sure thing.

In this case, however, it was the salmon field, a field that had been kicking out copious quantities of corpulent kings with regularity. But for those who chose to fish Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of last week, christening their hulls with tomato juice seemed to be the right call in order to get the skunk off their boats.

So when the three of us boated five beautiful Chinook, and lost what was probably the holy grail of Pacific halibut, all we could do was thank Mother Ocean for her generosity. And later that day, when we found out that the top boat had produced one Chinook and one coho, we all felt an overwhelming sense of humility, a feeling that only a salmon fisherman who had been humiliated before could know.

But on this day, one thing was certain. One particular rod had experienced four boated Chinook and one probable halibut battle. And another fact was yet undeniable. That particular rod was rigged exactly the same way for each fish, rigged quite differently than the rest of the herd.

Could it be possible that one solitary rigging could have made or broken this day, or was everything just a matter of dumb luck? After all, as the saying goes, no matter how bad the fishing is, there’s always a showoff. And boy do we ever hate showoffs.

But just in case I have to pull a rabbit out of a hat on another day, I’ll always have this particular rigging deeply embedded within my psyche. And so should you. It might just come in handy some day.

Now, this rig is not for the faint of heart. It’s not dainty, elegant, or avant-garde by today’s standards. But it does possess its own finessing qualities. The fact is — this rig just flat-out kicks some serious tail — salmon tails that is.

It may not work all the time or in all fishing situations, but it does come in handy under very specific circumstances. Whether fishermen like the esthetic appeal of this rig or not is not the issue. Every salmon angler should definitely have this setup in their fishing arsenal for those just-in-case days.

I had gotten wind that the few Chinook that were caught on Monday were caught while trolling anchovies between 100 and 120 feet from the surface, so I knew that if I was going to hook salmon, I had to go deep. And since the boat I was going to be fishing on did not have downriggers, I was going to have to add weight to my rigging in order to get it into the strike zone.

So here’s the precise rigging, to the fraction of an inch. It’s a great rig to use if you don’t have downriggers, and I believe it’s also a great rig to use even if you do have them.

I was using my 9-foot, 3-inch Lamiglas Kenai Kwik XCC 934 GH rod that is rated “Moderate Action Heavy”, but any other stick with the same qualities will suffice.

I attached a Shimano Bantam 50 to the rod and loaded the reel with 65-pound PowerPro moss-green braided line.

Run a 6mm bead through the end of your braid and then run your braid through a Glide-O sliding spreader. Run another 6mm bead through the end of the braid and then tie the braid to a hefty bead chain barrel swivel using a Palomar Knot.

From here, I like to attach my bead chain to the large end of a size 55 Duo-Lock Snap. Now tie a 16-inch piece (no more — no less) of 60-pound monofilament to the small end of the snap, and tie the other end of the monofilament to the small end of another size 55 Duo-Lock Snap.

Now you can attach the large end of the snap to a large ball-bearing swivel, attach the moving end of the ball-bearing swivel to the small end of another size 55 Duo-Lock Snap, and attach the large end of that swivel directly to an 8-inch Les Davis Herring Dodger. On each side of the dodger I will take off the old tape so that the chrome is showing, and replace the tape with a rectangular piece of Brad’s RT-04 green tape.

On the other end of the dodger I attach the large end of a size 55 Duo-Lock Snap, and I will attach a corkscrew barrel swivel to the small end of that snap.

At this point, I will tie up a 34-inch mooching leader (no more — no less) using 40-pound Berkley Big Game clear monofilament. I tie a 5/0 - 6/0 sliding hook mooching rig and after the hooks are snug, I’ll slide a chartreuse Bechhold Rotary Bullet Bait Holder down to the 5/0 sliding top hook. I finally tie the upper end of the leader to the moving end of a small barrel swivel. This configuration allows you to quick-change your leaders.

On the bottom of your sliding spreader, tie an 8-inch piece of 40-pound monofilament leading to a small Duo-Lock snap. This is your lead line.

Now here’s what the rig’s all about. Attach a sinker to the dropper snap, put an anchovy inside the bullet head and proceed to let out your line very slowly. I will feed my line 6 inches at a time in order to avoid tangles.

On this particular day, I let my line out using the pass method, letting my line out exactly 20 passes. One pass is the distance from the level wind from one side of the reel to the other. At full spool, one pass is approximately 10 feet of line, but as your spool starts to shallow up, your feet-per-pass starts diminishing exponentially. At a 2/3-full spool, one pass on a Bantam 50 might be in the neighborhood between 8 and 9 feet.

At any rate, at 20 passes, you will have let your line out between 175 and 190 feet. When you start trolling your anchovy between 1.7 and 1.9 knots, your bait will be trolling between 100 and 120 feet deep.

This rig is really cool when it gets bit — there’s no doubt! You have an even more direct connection to the salmon’s mouth this way than when using downriggers, so your bites will look very distinct.

Always keep your rod in a rod holder and make sure that your rod tip is nearly meeting the water with line coming off of your reel before sliding the rod out of its holder. I like to watch line coming off my reel for at least 5 seconds before picking the rod up.

So if salmon fishing is throwing you a curve, and you think you’re about to strike out, if you are marking salmon on your meter in the 100- to 120-foot range, try this rig out and see if you don’t hit one out of the park.

Tight lines! 

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