Salmon – Ocean

Salmon – Ocean

Salmon – Ocean


  • Ocean salmon are mainly caught by trolling (i.e. pulling a lure or bait through the water using boat movement). Overall there are 4 primary techniques for ocean salmon fishing in California:

Trolling with a diving plane (Weighted, air foil device that uses the motion of the water to dive and take the tackle down with it)

Trolling with a canonball sinker with sinker release (A heavy canonball weight takes the rig down to desired depth, then is released when the fish bites)

Trolling with a downrigger (A pulley and boom lowers a weight on a steel cable. A clip holds the fishing line and releases when the fish bites)

Mooching (Drift fishing with bait)

  • Trolling with a diving plane or canonball sinker: With your boat moving at 2-4 knots (2-5 miles per hour), lower the terminal tackle into the water, check for lure action, then let out about 50-100 feet of line (about 25-40 pulls of line). This puts the hook at about 15-20 feet deep. Turn on the reel clicker and set the drag just tight enough to hold the line. Place the rod in a holder. The singing drag will signal a bite and the pull of the salmon will drop the weight (canonball) or open the diving plane, allowing the fish to rise up and fight. Maintain the boat’s trolling speed to avoid line slack and unhooking your catch. Place your landing net from the front, forward and under your fish.
  • Trolling with a downrigger: Preferred for deep trolling (50-100 feet), but most expensive (about $150-400 for the downrigger). Attach the fishing line to the downrigger weight. Release enough fishing line to put the rig about 50-200 feet from the rear of the boat. Let the downrigger take your trolling rig down to the desired depth (they are equipped with depth counters). When the fish strikes, the line releases from the downrigger and allows you to play and then land the fish.
  • Mooching: Look for feeding birds or a “boil” of bait fish on the surface as a sign of likely salmon fishing spots. Electronic fish finders are also handy for determining what depth to fish. Mooching is often done in the summer just off the ocean bottom with a whole anchovy rigged on a 1/0 or 2/0 hook. Use just enough weight to keep your bait down at a 50-60° angle. Dangle the bait. Lift up the rod tip, come up a few cranks of your reel, and then wait. Lower it and repeat the routine. The salmon will often “bump” the bait a few times before actually striking for real. Don’t set the hook until you feel this substantial strike.
  •  State regulation states only one single, barbless hook is allowed per rod. Undersized fish (less than 24 inches in some ares) must be released without netting or handling.
  • To release a salmon, you will need a needle-nose plier. Grasp the leader about one foot up from the hook, grasp the hook shank with your pliers, and then raise and rotate the hook upside down to allow the salmon to drop back into the ocean.
  • Once a keeper salmon is caught and netted, it should be clubbed between the eyes with a fish club to subdue it. You should then remove the gills and gut the fish, and then store it in an iced fish box or cooler.

Tackle & Equipment

For trolling with a diving plane or canonball rig, use a 6 foot or so, medium to medium heavy boat rod with roller tip and a saltwater trolling or casting reel holding 300 yards of 25 lb test monofilament line.

Diving Plane Rig:

Canonball Rig:

Sliding Sinker Mooching Rig:

Other Equipment:
  • Large iced fish box or cooler
  • Fish club or hammer
  • Needle-nosed pliers
  • Large landing net

Bait & Lure

Common bait and lure includes:

  • Anchovies (rigged on a crowbar hook or preferably on a plastic bait holding rig such as Rotary Salmon Killer or Herring Aid)
  • Silver Spoons, Krocodile and Hopkins lures (1 and 2 oz), McMahon (#4) lures, and Apex (4.5-5.5 inches) lures.

Best Bets

For beginners, check out commercial fishing trip operators at Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, or Monterey. Trips range from $75-100 for 5:30am to 2:00pm excursions, including equipment and 1 day fishing licences.

Good salmon fishing spots include the Gulf of the Farallons, the area off Point San Pedro on Shelter Cove (just south of Pacifica),  and areas of Monterey Bay off Sunset State Beach and off the coast between Fort Ord and the mouth of the Salinas River. Try calling ocean-oriented bait and tackle shops the day before you intend to go fishing to check on salmon fishing conditions, locations, and so on.