From one minute to the next, silver salmon can alternately delight and madden you.
When they’re cooperative, it is some of the most memorable fishing of the year.
But when they refuse to hit, or worse yet suddenly stop hitting, they befuddle the most seasoned anglers.
When “the bite is on,” almost anyone can catch them.
But when they’re unwilling to open their mouths, even the most experienced anglers may go home empty-handed.
I can’t claim to have all the answers, but decades of experimenting have resulted in a large collection of strategies and gear for turning the tide back in my favor. I’m still stumped by uncooperative silvers at times, but I’ve developed a rather large bag of tricks to turn the tide back in my favor.
The simplest solution to uncooperative silvers is to find other silvers. If they aren’t hitting or suddenly stop hitting in one spot, move on to find other fish.
Next in line may be simple, but it’s perhaps the most frustrating.
Wait them out!
Over the course of a day, the silvers go on what hooks almost like feeding binges, even if they aren’t actually feeding.
Uncooperative fish suddenly start hitting for no apparent reason.
You aren’t doing a thing differently, but suddenly they start hitting with abandon.
Enjoy the action while it lasts, but as sure as the sun rises and sets, they’ll quit hitting again in fairly short order.
Folks who know me are familiar with my strategy for lakes at such times. It’s always ready and waiting in the back of our truck.
My wife and I carry comfortable folding chairs wherever we go. Neither of us is inclined to keep mindlessly casting while waiting for the silvers to turn on.
We migrate back to our truck and pull out the chairs, often to the accompaniment of a tasty shore lunch and even a book or crossword puzzle.
The bigger question may be how we know it’s time to relinquish the creature comforts and return to the water.
This may be the biggest clue of all, no matter where you are fishing.
We watch the activity of the silvers.
Silvers seem to get restless when they’re relaxed, whether in rivers or lakes, and they often come to the surface. You can certainly catch silvers that aren’t showing, but their sudden appearance at the surface after a long, uncooperative period is the best clue that they are likely to start hitting again.
How they come to the surface provides additional clues and may help you zero in on the best way to catch them.
In rivers you’ll see them drifting from the deepest parts of the holes into shallower water, especially at the tail-outs. You’ll also see them swirl at the surface. They don’t seem to jump so often in rivers, but shallow fish and especially the surface action are signs you should be fishing rather than watching.
In the confined spaces of rivers you also need to back off when the fish quit hitting. Don’t stand close and loom over them. Move back from the water’s edge, and especially sit down and quit moving around. Often in as little as half an hour they’ll relax and the bite will return.
In lakes, the signs of action are even more important.
Jumping silvers will help you zero in on their general location, but how they jump tells you even more.
Especially on bright windy days, the silvers are likely to be jumping high in the air, then falling back to the surface in a big splash.
Think about it a moment.
In order to jump so high, they need lots of momentum, mostly straight up.
When you see silvers jumping high, that’s a pretty sure sign that they’re holding close to the bottom in deeper water, then making an almost vertical dash to the surface.
If the bite has been “off,” perhaps you simply weren’t putting your hooks in front of the fish. Try fishing deeper, as close to the bottom as possible without hanging up.
If the silver jumps are lower and they cover considerable distance across the surface of the water before crashing back, it’s a pretty good bet that they’re holding closer to the surface.
At times like that, a retrieve near the surface is a good idea, but be ready to modify it.
In our long experience, silvers are especially prone to something falling, whether flies or spinners. Most of our strikes come not on steady retrieves, but on long pauses that allow the fly or spinner to sink. Strikes can be subtle due to slack line, but silvers showing no interest in a steady retrieve will slam the same offering as it sinks.
The best clue of all for hot action is silvers making slow, lazy rises to the surface, almost like a trout lazily sucking down a dry fly. The fish are relaxed and lazing, and I suspect even a little bored. Get a hook in front of them without spooking them, and they’re very likely to grab.
That’s fairly easy with flies since they don’t weigh much and enter the water with hardly a splash. With spinners you may have to resort to casting beyond the fish and retrieving back to them in order to avoid spooking them with a noise splash closer to them.
Similar clues are useful offshore, too, especially as the light level changes and bait layers rise and fall in the water column.
Both silvers and the bait they feed on are light sensitive.
On bright, sunny days they tend to move deeper.
If there’s chop on the water to help break the surface glare, the silvers are more likely to be closer to the surface.
Especially on overcast days without wind, the flat surface may even reveal silvers right on the surface where their backs and fins are occasionally visible, or at least their wakes as they swim just below.
High-jumping silvers are a pretty sure sign that the silvers are running deeper with occasional dashes to the surface.
Of course, you can use your fish finder to spot bait layers and help guess the correct depth for trolling. But especially if there are no defined bait layers yet and the silvers are showing at the surface, you may never see a silver on your depth finder.
That’s because they’re swimming close to the surface and merely avoiding your passing boat. We’ll certainly set our downriggers at the depth of the bait layers when we see them, but if we’re seeing fish at the surface, we stow the downriggers and switch to trolling weights.
Our favorite way of catching silvers has nothing to do with trolling, however.
We mooch or free-line, depending on the speed of our drift and the depth of the fish.
Mooching should be familiar to most salmon anglers, and it’s wickedly effective for silvers. It also works well as an alternative while halibut fishing.
While most lines are on bottom for halibut, we always have one salmon rod rigged for mooching and exploring the depths for passing silvers.
As each person limits on halibut, it’s great to switch them to a salmon rod to keep fishing while waiting for others on the boat to catch their own halibut.
What I call “free-lining” is a fun variation on mooching. In fact, it’s mooching with no weight on the line at all.
If silvers are staying close to the surface, just rig plug-cut herring with no weights and allow the line to stream out behind the drifting boat. Raise and lower the rod now and then to give the bait action and cause it to rise back toward the surface.
Action can be so hot and strikes so hard, you may have trouble deciding to fish for halibut at all.