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How does 'Boondogging' work for salmon?

By Gary Heffley
Many coastal river anglers and guides use what is called “boondogging,” an effective and popular method of catching steelhead and salmon. Boondogging is a method of drifting boat and bait at the same speed as the current, through the entirety of a hole, top to bottom.

Putting this method to use requires practice, patience and good boat handling skills. Earlier this week I was able to watch as guide Kirk Portocarrero of Outdoor Adventures put the method to practice with success as our party boondogged its way through the Barge Hole at the mouth of Battle Creek.

Portocarrero positioned his 26-foot custom Willie jet boat the boat so he could use his kicker motor to drift us through the hole sideways. This took both skill and constant awareness on the part of Portocarrero as he had to avoid river hazards in the water as well as other boats working through the same hole.

How does 'boondogging' work for salmon?
Starting at the top of the hole or just above, lines are cast far upstream from the boat so the pencil-lead or slinky-like weighted baits can bounce along the rocks eventually dropping in the hole with the baits maintaining contact with the bottom.

Portocarrero’s set ups were not real complicated as the terminal tackle at the end of the 7-foot spinning outfits consisted of a barrel swivel to which a slinky weight was attached along with a 4-foot fluorocarbon leader. A size 1 or 2 red Gamakatsu hook was tied at the end with an egg loop knot. First a puff ball was pushed onto the hook, all the way to the line above the hook. The puff ball is used as an attracter as well as float to keep the roe elevated just off the bottom. A cured roe chunk was then attached via the egg loop which was then tighten to secure the roe. The puff ball was then pushed down to a position just above the roe.

The biggest question and is one that is learned by experience is to know how far to cast above the boat. This can be determined by how much weight it takes to keep contact with the bottom and how much is needed to limit the amount of snags and hang-ups during the drift.

Many anglers and guides have their own recipes for curing roe and some are guarded family secrets. The cure used and the condition of the cured roe and even the color can be important. Pre-cured and artificial roe can be purchased at retail. Some anglers also like to impart scents either during the curing process or just prior to casting the offering.

As noted before having the bait in contact with the bottom working at the same speed of the current is important. For anglers new to this technique having the slinky weight dragging along the bottom, tap–tapping its way along can cause the angler to flinch often taking his reflex anticipation to Def-Con 4.

Being an expert now, having hooked one salmon and missing another when the salmon takes the roe there is no doubt. The salmon do not tap–tap; instead there is an instant sensation of weight and power. It’s hard to explain in words but hooking into one just once will allow you to know what I mean.

How does 'Boondogging' for salmon work?

Some of the most fun about boondogging is that relatively light-tackle for the sized fish sought can be used. Our party used 7-foot spinning rods and reels loaded with 14 pound Maxima line. Bringing a 32-pound salmon to the net requires, depending on the angler, skill or luck and is a cooperative effort with the boat handler. My 32-pounder gave me a 30+ minute battle and aching arms before submitting to the net. Portocarrero positioned the boat to keep the fish from diving under the boat or having the fish at such an angle that the line rubbed against any part of the side of the boat or motors. A fray or nick in the line on a fish that size would cause light line to break instantly. Many anglers would think a bigger rod and heavier line or even braided line would be needed.

Boondogging can also be considered a technique for bobber and jigs as the key is to drift boats and baits at the same current speed. Try this technique as it can be a lot of fun and in some instances very easy with a competent boat captain.


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