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Salmon Trout & Salmon

How To Hot-Wire A Salmon

by Matt Straw   |  August 6th, 2012 3

In recent years, we’ve watched king salmon range deeper and deeper in the water column. Spooky fish commonly descend 80, 120, even 160 feet in the clearing waters of the Great Lakes. Plan A is to probe the depths with downriggers. But Plan B, the subject of this piece, will help you catch more kings than ever before, even if you don’t own downriggers.

Plan B is all about wire. Wire-line rigging has a long history on the Great Lakes. With heavy lead balls weighing 2 to 10 pounds, wire offered the first opportunities for anglers to probe the depths for lake trout, long before the advent of downriggers.

As salmon fishing increased in popularity over the past 30 years, many experiments were staged with wire-line rigging. After hundreds of emptied reels, thousands of straightened hooks, and dozens of rods sawed cleanly in half, the tactics have been refined to the point of practicality.

Why use wire with such dangerously hot fish as kings? Wire, unlike mono or braids, sinks. It cuts the water quicker, gets deeper with less weight attached, and transmits vibration so well that you always know when a flasher rig is thumping just right, just by glancing at the rod tip. Even when the rig is 200 feet down. Wire offers other advantages, too.

Hot-Wiring Your tackle
Everything you need to start wiring kings is readily available these days. Start by mounting a line-counter reel (like the Daiwa 47 LC or Shakespeare Tidewater) to a slow-action rod in the 9- to 10-foot range. To land kings, rods with ample power that bend well into the butt section are a plus. This balance of forgiveness and power is best accomplished with glass. Rods like the St. Croix Pro-Glass GT100H2, the Shakespeare BWS 1100 Ugly Stik, or the Fenwick DR 90C walk that fine line.

Next, mount a Twili-Tip to the rod tip. This gizmo keeps screaming wire line from heating up, which first hardens then eventually weakens the wire. The Twili-Tip provides extra mileage for both your wire line and rods. It comes with a variety of adapters for working with any diameter rod tip.
Trolling deep with precision demands line-counter reels. Gear-­driven metering and audible clickers allow for smooth-running lines, both into and out of the boat, with no kinks or overruns. Line counters help you zone in on salmon levels quickly, and a smooth drag balanced on a forgiving glass rod allows you to survive the savage strike and first power run while keeping hooks in the fish.

Wire Connections
(1) Standard Crimp Connections—Use the right sized sleeves for the recommended 30-pound wire. Crimp the sleeve, then follow with a couple half hitches. If the wire slips, the half hitches will pull tight on the sleeve, without slipping.

(2) Wire to Mono or Fluorocarbon Splice—This is one way to connect the main wire line to monofilament or fluorocarbon. First, put about 100 yards of 20-pound monofilament or 200 yards of 40-pound braided backing on your reel and attach it to the wire line, using a 2-foot segment of leadcore line to make the connection. This is the same basic connection that you will use at the terminal end to connect your monofilament or fluorocarbon to the main wire line.

Remove the leadcore from the braided “sleeve.” Run the wire in 6 inches on one end of the hollow sleeve and tie an overhand knot in it. Run the backing into the other end of the hollow sleeve and do the same. (Trim the wire and mono with a razor blade or sharp scissors at an angle, or it’s difficult to slide into the sleeve.) Tie the overhand knot in the backing by taking the reel itself through the loop in the knot. Super glue the two knots at the ends of the braid to prevent fraying. (Apply 3 coats of glue to the knot, allowing each to dry between applications.) When dry, reel it up and you have a wire-to-­backing connection, or a wire-to-terminal-tackle ­connection that can be reeled up and will stand the power of truly unruly kings.

The best wire lines for kings are stranded, like Mason or Berkley Steelstrand in the 30-pound-test range. For leaders, be as stealthy as possible, since wire (being opaque) is anything but. Use heavy fluorocarbon, like Berkley Vanish or Seaguar Carbon Pro in 15- to 20-pound test. Modern wire lines are easy to work with, but it’s still important to make a strong slip-free connection. Use crimps or hollow braided line to connect wire to backing or leaders. We especially like using mono-to-wire connections that can be retrieved right onto the reel for the stealthiest possible rigging.

Many captains today believe that wire-line rigs are stealthier than cannonballs because wire disturbs less water. Truth is, both can be stealthy, but wire gets out-and-down rigs (like Dipsy Divers) off to the side of the boat path while getting deeper quicker than mono.

Tricks of The Trade
The depth-cutting characteristics of fine wire creates reliable and consistent line-length to depth ratios, regardless of how deep you go. If you stick to the equipment listed here, count on having a 2:1 ratio—2 feet out to 1 foot down in most scenarios. At extreme depths in strong current, it might jump to 3:1.

With wire, you get more out of each Dipsy Diver setting, so you have to recalculate slightly (add 10 percent to the depth to start out, because the wire itself sinks). Tripping the diver with wire is easy, too—much easier than with stretchy mono. You get more depth out of every ounce of lead, too, compared to mono or even to superbraids.

It requires a little creativity to set drags correctly with wire. Start with light drag settings. Wire has little give. The shock provided by a fish like a king salmon taking off is extreme and can rip rod holders right off the boat or snap a graphite rod in two. Always use the clicker function on the reel when playing with wire for the first time, because changes in boat speed can result in wire clicking out—changing the depth of the rigs. But tightening the drag can result in bad things happening.

One solution is to take a #12 to #14 rubber band and cinch it tightly around the wire line just ahead of the level wind, then loop it over the reel handle. With the lighter drag setting, the rubber band holds the wire in place while trolling, absorbs the surge of a strike, then pops, freeing the line to give to the lighter drag setting.

Talking to old timers about the tricks of the game, Oravec would ask the pioneers of these tactics, “Do I need downriggers, or leadcore, and wire rigs, too? Do I need outriggers, or a big main mast with boards, or Dipsy Divers?” To a man, the answer was, “John, you need it all.” Wire tactics are essential tools, but just a few among many. Be versatile. But the next time you get on the radio and hear a captain yell, “Wire, wire, wire,” be ready to follow suit, because wire tactics are hot right now.

About Matt Straw

Matt Straw writes about fishing concepts and techniques for catching smallmouth bass, steelhead and salmon, panfish, and more. He continues to write features for In-Fisherman & annual guides.

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  • Mary

    how much inches was the samon on the first picture?

  • Capt. Chip Porter

    That fish was actually the biggest King Salmon I ever put on my boat at over 37 lbs. I was very lucky to have caught it with one of the best fish photographers in the biz on board, Bill Lindner.

    Capt. Chip Porter

  • Jim

    Great information, hard to read the details for the rigs. I haven't tried placing cutbait using wire. I will now. Any recommendation for speed? It is very difficult to purchase good smelly herring. If you have a vendor to suggest and/or a way to make my own, it would be appreciated. thanks

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