How an angler catches a salmon depends a lot on the species he is trying to catch. King and silver salmon can be hooked on similar gear, but fishing for red salmon is a much different experience.
For kings and silvers, there are two basic techniques. The first, back-trolling, is a variation of trolling done in saltwater; it requires a boat and involves letting the current pull the lure as the boat eases downstream. The second technique is back-bouncing, in which the lure is attached by a leader to a heavy weight; the angler jigs his fishing rod up and down, bouncing the weight off the stream bottom.
Back-trolling requires some tried-and-true tackle, such as a jet planer, which uses the current to pull the line down toward the riverbed. A lure trailing 18 to 24 inches behind the planer can be a medium or large Spin-N-Glo with some cured salmon roe noosed to a hook, or a plug, such as a Kwikfish, Flatfish or Wigglewart. A Kwikfish is a silver or brightly painted spoon-type device that wiggles up and down in a stream's current, much like a small fish. When bait is allowed, anglers use a stretchy bait-wrapping thread such as Magic Thread or Spider Thread to wrap treated herring on the body of a Kwikfish.
King salmon, running in most Alaska streams, will range from 20 to 60 pounds, while the vaunted Kenai River run of kings has a few fish pushing the 100-pound mark. (Anyone fishing the Kenai for one of its massive kings should consider larger rods, heavier line and bigger terminal tackle.) Boat-borne anglers use baitcasting reels on stout, 9-foot king rods. While fishing for kings on the Kenai calls for 30- to 50-pound test line, a good line to use for kings elsewhere can be thinner. Guides fishing Alaska's Kasilof River use 15- to 30-pound test. Veteran king fishermen on this stream say they lean toward 25-pound test over a heavier weight because it allows more line in the spool. That way, when a big salmon makes a run, they have time to pursue it before they get spooled. Hooks are often in the 5/0 to 6/0 range, except on the Kenai River, where anglers use larger hooks.
Back-bouncing uses much of the same tackle. Anglers remove the jet planer and replace it with a round lead weight, heavy enough to drop through the current right to the bottom. Back-bouncing works well in eddies and holes where the current is slow and salmon are resting. It is the method of choice in crowded situations, where several boats are anchored over a hole, since there's less line out when the fish strike.
It is easier to fish for salmon, and chase them from a boat, but shore-based anglers use much the same lures - a Spin-N-Glo with bait - only they cast out just a few feet and let the current take the lure downstream.
Silver salmon can be caught with these same techniques, only using smaller tackle and lighter gear. "They're more willing to bite spinners and spoons, and more aggressive on the bite (than kings)," says Kasilof Riverand Kenai River fishing guide Doug Morris. On upper stretches of the Kenai River, he says, many anglers skip bait when casting for silvers. They'll just throw spinners early in the morning just as the early fall dawn is breaking. Size 3, 4 or 5 Vibrex or Mepps spinners work well, as do the old standard Pixie spoons.