Salmon Fishing 101
Salmon are one of the most popular targets on our boats and all of us at Half Moon Bay Sportfishing want to make sure you have a great day on the water and catch one of these magnificent fish. Here's all you need to know to increase your chances of landing a king.
You will need a 6-1/2 to 7 foot fishing rod with decent backbone but a light tip. Add to that a conventional saltwater reel filled with 20- to 25-pound-test mono line.
Terminal tackle consists of a sinker release, a leader just about 6 feet in length, but no longer, and a 2 1/2-pound sinker.
We have everything you need in our store, including rod and reel rentals. A California fishing license is a must and we sell one-day and annual licenses.
What to expect
The captain is going to take you out to where he hopes the salmon are. But salmon have tails and they swim. Where they were yesterday does not mean that’s where they are today. We may make several moves during the day or may sit and wait to see if the fish decide to bite. Every day is different. What happened yesterday has no bearing on what’s going to happen today, and what happens today has no bearing on what’ll happen tomorrow.
Salmon fishing is not automatic. You are going to do your part to catch one. Salmon fishing is like playing the lotto. You can’t win if you don’t play, and you can’t catch a salmon if you don’t try.
Where you’ll fish onboard
There are rod holders spaced at intervals on the rails from bow to stern. Each person onboard will fish at one of these rod holders. We do not reserve spots for anyone. The spot you get will be determined by what is available when you walk onboard after you purchase your ticket, and that spot is typically where you’ll be fishing all day unless there are empty spots available. There is no rotation that takes placeduring the course of the day's fishing.
There are no bad spots on the boat to fish, but there are definitely some spots that are more difficult and challenging. Regardless of where the fish are initially hooked, 99% of the salmon are landed on the back of the boat, so fish hooked on the front of the boat will need to be “walked back” to the stern, which oftentimes takes a little training, a little skill and/or a little luck.
Since the majority of all fish landed are on the back of the boat, lines in the back of the boat have to be moved so they do not tangle with those who are fighting a fish. Each spot has it’s own unique technique that must be learned.
The spot you fish at onboard will determine how deep you will be fishing. Even though you may not realize it, salmon fishing on our boats is not an individual sport. You CANNOT fish deeper or shallower than the depth you are told. We all have to work together. Why? Fishing deeper or shallower will result in a tangle with the folks fishing in front or in back of you.
If you are tangled YOU WILL NOT catch a fish. The person you are tangled with WILL NOT catch a fish. And, more often than not, NO ONE will catch a fish when there are tangled lines in the water. Salmon may not be real smart, but they’re not stupid. If the lines and baits we are trolling don’t look right, the fish are going to move on.
Keep in mind the depth you’re told to fish at is an approximation that may need a SLIGHT adjustment. The best indication you are fishing the correct depth is having the same angle to the lines in front and in back of your line. There’s a saying, “no angles, no tangles.” That means if the lines have the same angles, they’re more than likely not going to tangle other lines.
Putting your gear in the water
If you haven’t done this before, BE PATIENT. Don’t try to put your gear in the water the first time by yourself. Wait until the crew can come around and show you what you need to do. Even if a fish is hooked immediately, BE PATIENT. The crew will get to you as soon as they can and explain what you need to do.
Trying to do this on your own without having done it before very rarely works. It is not difficult, but it does take a little instruction. Once your gear is set, put your rod in the holder, ATTACH THE SAFETY CLIP, set the drag, watch and wait.
Setting the drag
The fishing reel you are using has a drag that adjusts how loose or how tight the line will come off of the reel. The crew will help to explain how to set your drag. If you’re not sure if you have your drag set correctly, ask for assistance. Once your line is in the water and your drag is set,DO NOT tighten your drag EVEN AFTER you hook a fish.
Tightening the drag once a fish is hooked will more often than not let the fish escape. The drag is designed to let the fish pull line off the reel so the hook is not ripped out of the fish’s mouth. A fish pulling line out is a good thing, NOT a bad thing. Don’t get worried. The fish will tire, it will stop and that's when you’ll get your chance to reel it back in.
Checking your bait
If you haven’t had a bite in 10 minutes or so, it’s time to check your bait. Reel your line in JUST UNTIL your sinker is at the top of the water. DO NOT reel your sinker all the way to the tip of your rod. The large sinkers used can cause major damage to you, others and/or our boat if not handled properly. Again, when you see you sinker at the surface of the water, STOP REELING!
Grab your fishing line, lean your rod against the rail and pull the line up by hand to put your sinker in the sinker holder. Then grab the leader and pull it up until you have your bait in your hand. Salmon can be extremely finicky fish. If your bait looks as “pretty” as when you put it in the water, go ahead and put it back down. But if it does not look EXACTLY like it looked when you first put it in the water, or you’ve used the same bait a couple of times with no success, then you need to get a new bait.
Even a new little nick in the bait is enough for a salmon to give you the snub and pass you by. Take your bait off, BRING THE HOOK BACK TO THE BAIT TRAY, and grab a new bait. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT: DO NOT throw away our hooks!
Hooking a fish
If you hook a fish, typically you will see the tip of the rod start to noticeably bounce. First thing to do: YELL!! Let the crew know you have a fish hooked. “FISH ON!” is the typical war cry.
YELL IT LOUD!! The crew will do what they can at that point to help give you assistance if you need it to get the fish from your rod holder to the back of the boat where you’ll fight and hopefully land your fish.
Here’s what needs to happen when a fish is hooked
FIRST, take the safety clip off the reel. Next, take the rod out of the holder. DO NOT yank on the rod. The fish is already hooked. Just simply point the tip of the rod up towards the sky, NOT towards the water or towards the fish. This will put a bend in the rod that keeps the pressure on the fish to keep it on the hook.
Unless you hook the fish off the back of the boat, the fish needs to be walked back to the stern so it can be landed.
Fighting the fish
Always keep the rod tip pointed up towards the sky. DO NOT try to stop the line from coming off your reel with your thumb or fingers. DO NOT tighten the drag. These are two of the easiest ways to lose a salmon REAL fast. DO NOT yank on the fishing rod. The fish is already hooked. Salmon have soft mouths and yanking on the rod will result in ripping the hook out of the salmon’s mouth.
Your job is simple. Keep the rod tip up and keep reeling until the deckhand nets the fish. The deckhand will be talking you through what you need to do. Just listen and follow directions. Anything they say is only said because they want to help you land that fish.
Don’t give up
It may take all day to finally get a bite. The best chance you can give yourself to hook a fish is to make sure you have no tangles, you do not have any jellyfish or kelp dangling off your bait, and you have a presentable bait at all times. Fishing doesn’t end until we take the lines out of the water and head for the dock. We’ll keep trying as long as we can if you keep trying!