King salmon have a thing about wood. The more wood, the more they like it. So Mark Chmura likes wood, too. He often surrounds himself with it, as evidenced by this photo. Wood and float rigs don't mix, but Mark knows every knotty alleyway through the submerged tangle of logs and branches in the Big Manistee.
Which doesn't mean the float always gets through. "Drop it right there," he says. "That's the spot. It won't snag unless it does." Snagging proved insufficient to stop me, anyway. I think I used the same 1/0 Trokar Drop-Shot Hook all day. Tied to 15-pound Berkley Big Game Fluorocarbon, it must have been straightened it out 40 times. But I kept standing on kings with it, and they kept coming to the boat, so I kept using it.
Standing on them is standard procedure. Long runs out into the open river are cool, but when a king wants to stay in the forest, you find out who's boss in a hurry.
The late summer run is interesting. Salmon roll and leap, letting you know they're still around. Even when they won't bite. Sometimes they get lethargic at midday, and sometimes they just get lockjaw. During a slow stretch, I took a break from the usual chunks of skein we were using. Mark treats his eggs with Pautzke Bait Company Balls O' Fire Fire Cure (try saying that 10 times real fast). We secured the chunks in egg-loop knots. It worked great all morning.
When things slowed down, I slipped a Berkley Gulp Goby onto that Trokar hook and dropped it into the flow. The float went 10 feet down river. Then it went 4 feet to the left. Then 6 feet to the right. Quite suddenly, in fact. Then it went down. Quite violently.
"Never saw a float do that before."
"Did you put on that imitation goby?" Mark asked.
"Yep." The next couple hours was pretty amazing, but when we ran out of Gulp Gobies in the natural color (the green-pearl laminate), we were done. I've had luck with Independent Tackle Poor Boys and other goby imitations before, but kings were being choosy that day.
What drove the fish crazy was a bit of manipulation. When the slip float is stopped and held in place, the goby rises up in the water column. The flat belly on most of these creations resists the current, making the bait slide back-and-forth. The bait literally swims, slowly and naturally, toward the surface. Kings can only take so much of that before they come unglued, apparently.
Most of the time, plastics catch kings on a dead drift. Nose-hooked plastic minnows and soft jerks from various manufacturers work really well, but when you want to swim something upward through the water column with a float rig, few things work better than a flat-bellied hand pour or goby imitation.
On these lazy, late-summer afternoons, kings need to be triggered. They may not be eating anymore, but when they see something small making a move — king smash. Arrgh.