There’s definitely something strangely satisfying about tuning up your gear, tying dozens of setups in advance, and being meticulous about every detail in anticipation of putting it all to use. But now that we’ve covered the setup in detail over the last few blogs it’s time to actually go fishing! There is more than one way to present your sockeye rig, but the techniques below are great for all levels and in nearly all scenarios. Tweak as needed, and always pay attention to your results so that you can improve over time. After all, if we’re gonna do this we might as well get good at it!
The first thing to realize when targeting sockeye is that they aren’t actually biting your lure or hook. So when we’re planning our presentation we’re not trying to mimic a natural bait or food source, instead we’re attempting to present our leader across the current so that the odds of it “flossing” a sockeye is very high. This is counterintuitive to many anglers, especially experienced ones that are accustomed to fishing for feeding fish. Fishing for sockeye in a big, glacial river in heavy current is unlike any other fishery in the world, so it’s helpful to throw everything you know about presentation out the window! Let’s start from scratch…
The first thing to decide is exactly where to stand. On every gravel bar there is usually a “prime” location where the slope of the bar is just right or the sockeye are funneled into a very narrow lane so that they’re predictable and easier to target. But more important than what length of the bank to stand is what depth to stand at. One of the most common mistakes in sockeye fishing is that anglers are tempted to wade out too far. It seems like every group of fishermen has at least 1 “creeper” as I call them. Sockeye prefer to stay very close to the shore, so wading out too far actually pushes the fish out further making them more difficult for you to catch, and consequently more difficult for all the anglers immediately upstream of you as well. Don’t ruin it by being a creeper; stay back as far as you can and still reach the sockeye lane with your flip. Your feet should be pointed downstream so that the current is pushing at your calves. This is the most comfortable and effective stance for the repetitive flipping motion that sockeye fishing demands.
Length of Line
The next step is the pull out the correct amount of line to put your leader in the sockeye lane. Remember that you won’t be casting, but instead repeatedly flipping your rig into the current in front of you. If you point your rod straight up in the air and pull out enough line that your weight is hanging about 1 foot below the butt of your rod, that seems to be the perfect amount of line to get started. In most situations this amount of line will get the job done and still be comfortable for most to complete the flip effectively, which is especially important for smaller, shorter, younger, and/or beginner anglers.
You want to use your tool (your rod) to flip the weight and leader out into the current in front of you, and the safest way to do that is over the downstream shoulder and in a circle over the top. Never attempt to whip the line out in front of you like you would in normal fly fishing. Your rod has a 3/8 to 1 oz. weight on it, so whipping it by your head is a real bad idea. If you use the rod to circle the weight and line over the top, all the dangerous terminal tackle will stay far away from you. You generally want to aim your flip to be exactly perpendicular to the current, or just slightly upstream of that, but only slightly. The angle of the flip is one of the major factors that will control your success, so pay close attention to the angle as minor adjustments can make a big difference. The more flips you get under your belt, the more accurate and efficient you’ll become. Accuracy is important, and your rate (flips/minute) is also important. Practice makes perfect.
Once the leader hits the water you want to keep your rod tip low, as close to the water as possible without being underwater. You’ll want to move your rod tip in the direction of the current and keep it pointed just ahead of the line itself. Doing this actually pulls the weight toward the shore ever so slightly, but doesn’t pull the weight off the bottom. If you don’t feel the weight bouncing across the bottom as you sweep the rod slowly towards the bank, then you either need to add more weight or slow down your sweeping motion. The sweeping motion does a couple very important things: 1. it decreases the amount of times your weight snags on the bottom by getting stuck between rocks, and 2. it causes your leader to stretch out rather than drag directly behind your weight. This effectively increases the area that your leader covers in the water, increasing the odds that your line will slip between the lips of a traveling sockeye as its mouth opens and closes on its way upstream.
The Pull Through
The way you finish your sweep can be somewhat controversial, and the regulations aren’t especially clear on the amount of pull you’re allowed to give. Some anglers choose to go without a pull at the end of the sweep at all, while others go with an exaggerated yank that mimics a snagging motion. The dilemma is that purposeful snagging is not permitted, but some amount of pull can be beneficial and increase your hook ups. Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle and generally choose to speed up my sweep at the end, as the weight reaches the end of the drift and my rod tip is pointed straight downstream. The pull through simultaneously sets the hook on an undetected sockeye that’s been flossed, and also allows you to use that momentum to propel the next flip. You’ll be surprised how many times you hook up at the end even though you never felt a strike at all.
Keep Your Rod Low
We’ll cover sockeye fighting strategies in the next blog, so be sure to check that out, but I’ll mention one very important point here. KEEP YOUR TIP DOWN. I know, this is exactly the opposite of what you’ve heard for your entire life when it comes to fighting fish, but there’s an important reason why we point the rod towards the bank rather than straight up… Safety.
As mentioned before, sockeye flipping/flossing is a repetitive exercise. When the fish are running through thick and you’ve got the technique down well, you probably won’t have to repeat too many times before you’re on to fighting a fish. Other times when the fish are more sparse, you’ll need to repeat the flip ad nauseum. A good day of sockeye fishing usually involves a sore shoulder, either from fighting so many fish, or from flipping until your shoulder hurts! But as you gain experience you’ll learn to use the rod to do most of the work, and a true sockeye veteran can flip for hours without a problem.
The last thing I’ll mention here is to be observant. This point isn’t unique to sockeye fishing, but often you have others around you all seemingly doing the exact same thing. But you’ll notice that one or two of the anglers will dominate the action, so watch them closely and pay attention to their setup, where they’re standing, the angle they’re flipping, the speed of their sweep, etc. The differences may be very subtle, but those small differences can make all the difference… It may not look like it to the untrained eye, but sockeye fishing is an art!