Mooching For Salmon in Southeast Alaska, by Pete Flood

I love to fish. I’m not as obsessed as some friends of mine are but I find it’s a great way to spend time outdoors. One of the coolest things about the hobby is there are many different types of fish to catch, and most all require their own individual tackle and technique if you are going to be successful at catching them. This is why I love my K-Pak folding Kayak. I can pull my boat out of the trunk of my car and be fishing a local farm pond in just a few minutes. If I have travel plans, I’ll just check the K-Pak (with a four piece paddle, my PFD, and tackle inside the backpack) on most any airplane trip. I’ve used my boat to fish in remote places from all over Alaska to Norway and many places in between.




One of my favorite fishing techniques is called mooching. This always gets a laugh when I introduce the subject to my Alaskan friends. “I’ll come teach you how to mooch for salmon,” I say - and they run and put padlocks on their freezers. I’m not sure where the name came from, but it’s a fantastic and very simple way to catch bright salmon. Much more fun and productive than trolling in my opinion. 

The concept for this technique is very simple. Where I fish in Southeast Alaska you’ll find the bright salmon in anywhere from 20 to 130 feet deep water or deeper. By “bright” I mean they may be on their way to spawning grounds but they are still feeding and they are healthy with bright skin coloring. These fish will be following coastlines on their way to spawning grounds.




Using a rod that has a fairly flexible tip, carefully lower your bait to depth and then begin to reel back up. Your bait, which we’ll explain in more detail, is cut so that it spins as you retrieve it and resembles a wounded fish that a hungry salmon can’t resist. You’ll just feel a small bump on your rod and within a few seconds you’ll be fighting a fully engaged healthy salmon. Much more fun than just reeling in a salmon caught trolling behind a moving boat. 

You’ll want to start out with a double hook salmon slip mooching rig which you can buy at most online tackle shops. You are also going to need a kidney weight or crescent shaped weight with swivels on the leader end. Add fresh or frozen herring around 6” in length, a long (8’-10’) rod with a flexible tip, ideally equipped with a line counter reel, but not required. If you search on line for mooching rigs these options will be there at prices varying from slightly less than $100 to several hundred dollars. I just use what we call a “surf casting rod,” and a reel with 20# test line; it works great!


There is a trick to properly cutting the herring and inserting the mooching rig double hooks. The herring or anchovy is cut behind the head 45 degrees vertically and 45 degrees horizontally to make the bait spin as its being retrieved. I’d highly recommend you watch the video below to get this exactly right. After your bait is cut, soak it in salted water to it firm it up until you are ready to use it.

Tether your mooching rig to about a 6’ long leader of 20# test monofilament. Tie the leader’s free end to the swivel end of the kidney weight and then tie the other end of the kidney weight to your reel line. It’s good to have 200-300 yards or so of 20 pound test because a large bright salmon is very capable of unspooling your reel. 

If you have access to a fish finder or depth sounder you’ll be able to see what depth the salmon are moving through. Unless you are in a slack tide there will likely be some current which is important for lowering your kidney weight and bait to the desired depth. You have to lower it slowly so that the leader and herring stay clear of, and avoid wrapping around, the line above the kidney weight. The herring should drift down current from the kidney weight as you lower the bait. Once you’re at a depth just below where you think the salmon are you can start a moderate retrieve.

Because salmon will swim up to take this bait it requires paying attention to the subtle change in your rod tip. The kidney weight will keep the rod tip slightly bent during retrieval. When you sense that this weight has lessened, your rod tip has lost some of its flex, you need to reel a bit faster to catch up with the salmon that has risen to take your bait. If done correctly one of the two circle hooks will do its job and you’ll have your hands full for the next 10 to 30 minutes. You’ll definitely need a net to land your fish!



On past trips to SE Alaska we were allowed 6 salmon per person per day. On our week or longer trips out living on a boat we’d only catch fish to be eaten for dinner that evening, until maybe the last day. On our last day we would keep a few extras to get smoked and then take them home to savor with friends and family. Salmon is my very favorite fish to eat and mooching for salmon is surely my favorite way to catch them!