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Complete Guide to Mooching for Salmon

HuntnFish has spent many years on the water fishing and has caught nearly every species of fish in Washington State.

Some hefty King (Chinook) Salmon

Some hefty King (Chinook) Salmon

Salmon Mooching: What a Silly Name

"Mooching for salmon" might just rank up there with "noodling for catfish." It definitely has a funny ring to it, and really doesn't have anything to do with what most people think of mooching as-- at least not anymore. Whether my Seattle Senior Citizen sources are right or not, I'm not sure, but I'll relay the story anyway.

Apparently a long time ago, in the Seattle area, plugs were the go-to lure of all salmon fishermen. Then along came some pioneering fishermen who started using dead herring as salmon bait. These fishermen continuously brought impressive catches back to the docks, instilling jealously in the plug fishermen. Not wanting to be outdone, these plug fishermen started asking, or "mooching," for the bait fishermen's leftover herring at the docks, so that they too could go out and slay salmon.

Seems like a viable story, but who knows. Regardless, the salmon fishing tactic that is now known as mooching is a proven strategy for catching salmon. It requires minimal tackle, can be done from nearly any type of craft, and best of all, catches fish.

Now let's get you set up go catch some salmon!

Salmon Mooching Rod and Reel

Mooching can be done with nearly any salmon-capable rod and reel, so if you are new to mooching but already have a salmon set up, just use what you already have.

Otherwise, here are some quick pointers to get you a solid salmon mooching setup.


  • Casting or trolling reel
  • Capacity for 150 yards of 25 lb test monofilament, or more
  • Reliable drag
  • Saltwater rated

There is a special type of reel called a mooching reel, which looks more like a giant fly reel, but the nice ones are quite expensive and serve a limited number of purposes, so for now, I would stay away. If for whatever reason you feel inspired, treat yourself to an Islander brand mooching reel, you won't be disappointed.


There really is not too much to worry about on this one. Traditionally a 9 to 10' medium action rod will do here. So choices abound, it's really up to you.


For now, do yourself a favor and use a monofilament main line. Given the nature of mooching, line twist is a constant issue, and monofilament is easier to manage in a tangle. If later you want to switch to a braided main line, that's up to you. So my suggestion:

  • 150+ yds of 25lb monofilament (I like P-Line CXX)
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The only time I would suggest a braided line is if fishing especially deep, or in a particularly strong current (the thinner diameter line will allow you to use less weight).


Mooching is a rather simple technique, but there are a few points that should not be overlooked. One of those is swivels. A good swivel will either make or break a day of salmon fishing. While you have hundreds of choices for swivels, only two will work here. Bead chains, or ball bearing swivels. Bead chains are a series of barrel swivels linked together. Each individual bead still tends to bind somewhat under load, however, there a usually 6 or 7 of them, so generally, line twist is eliminated. Your other option is ball bearing swivels. They have cheap ones, but don't be tempted- stick with Sampo ball bearing swivels. Most charter captains I've worked with who use mooching on their boats choose bead chains.

Great Salmon Mooching Reels- Shimano Tekota

A salmon mooching rig. The crescent sinker shown can be substituted with a sinker slide and cannonball sinker.

A salmon mooching rig. The crescent sinker shown can be substituted with a sinker slide and cannonball sinker.


There are two styles of sinkers available for mooching: crescent and cannonball. Crescent sinkers are nice in that they keep the entire rig in-line, and won't move up and down your mainline. However, a heavier crescent sinker is needed to sink your bait as they tend to plane and swim around in the water due to their shape. Cannonball sinkers, which will be attached to a sinker slide above your swivel, add a small degree of complexity but can be a smaller weight than the crescent sinker. Again the choice is yours, but I prefer cannonballs on sinker slides.

Weight-wise you're looking between 4 and 8 oz, which all depends on depth, current condition, size of herring, type of sinker, etc. Keep a few different sizes on board to account for any changes.

Mooching Leader

There are a few times when I will recommend using a pre-tied leader for fishing. This is one time when it's okay. Ideally, you would tie your own as this would allow you to select the line type, line weight, hook brand, hook size, hook style, knot style, hook spacing, and hook orientation, but you will need a lot of these, and until you become adept at tying mooching leaders, they do take some time. So long as you buy quality pre-tied leaders, it shouldn't be an issue (most guides will use pre-tied).

A mooching leader consists of a leader line, with two hooks tied at the end. The last hook is always hard tied, with the forward hook either hard tied or slip tied. Slip-tied hooks allow adjustment which can be convenient. The downfall here is that you are at a significant disadvantage when setting the hook with a sliding hook. For this reason alone, I strongly encourage you to use fixed-fixed leaders. All pre-tied leaders will specify if they are fixed (sometimes called solid) or slip rigs.

So whether you plan on buying them, or tying your own, here's what you want:

  • 3/0-4/0 hook size, maybe 4/0-5/0 for particularly large herring
  • 25 to 30 lb test monofilament (If you tie your own, feel free to splurge and use fluorocarbon leader material).
  • Fixed hooks (also called Solid Tie)
  • In some areas, barbless hooks are required, so check your local regulations. Either pinch the barbs down (and really pinch them well) or buy barbless hooks.
  • If buying, stick to reputable brands: Gamakatsu, Owner, etc. Remember, you're betting your fish on their knots.

Depending on how long you will be fishing, I would suggest at least 6 or 7 spare leaders per rod, as any time a salmon is hooked, the line snags bottom, a dogfish is hooked, the line becomes seriously twisted, or any other event that could compromise the leader's strength, you should tie on a new leader. Don't be tempted to fish with a chipped or knotted leader, you will likely lose your next fish. So, do that math, and you might realize why buying pre-tied leaders might make sense.

So as far as gear goes, that's all there is. Terminal tackle here is cheap. Pretty cool right?

Mooching is a great way to target deep water King Salmon if you don't have downriggers on your boat.

Mooching is a great way to target deep water King Salmon if you don't have downriggers on your boat.

Bait– Herring

The bait here is herring. There are two ways to go about procuring herring: the bait shop, and the ocean. Most salmon fishermen simply buy their herring. When purchasing herring, check for freshness. Things to look for are a clear eye and intact scales. Herring that were frozen immediately will hold together better on the hooks. Keep them frozen until you plan on using them. Many anglers will soak the herring in a chilled water and rock salt brine before using them, as this will toughen up the herring. Additionally, other scents and colors can be added to the brine to make the herring stand out. Personally, I prefer natural-looking herring, but I know plenty that swear by dyed blue or green herring (not to be confused with blue or green label herring). Finally, make sure to keep the herring cold when stored on the boat the day of.

So to recap:

  • Clear eye
  • Intact scales
  • Green label for most salmon, size up to blue label for larger salmon (the label color refers to the size, refer to table.)

The best way to guarantee freshness is to pick up a couple Sabiki rigs and catch your own.

Herring Bait Sizes

Label ColorSize Range


4 to 5"


5 to 6"


6 to 7"


7 to 8"


8 to 9"

Black (Horse)

9 to 10"

Rigging the Herring

The idea here is to get the herring to spin in the water. There are a few options here, but I'll just cover the two most common: plug-cutting, and bending the herring.

Plug-cutting: Here the head of the herring is cut off at a compound angle. You want to cut at roughly a 45-degree angle along both axes, so the spine of the cut fish is slightly longer than the belly, and also so that one side of the fish is longer than the other. It's complicated to explain, so watch the video if you like. The herring is then hooked with the forward hook through the spine, and the trailing hook often left to dangle.

Bent herring: Here a whole herring is used. The forward hook is set through the lower jaw of the herring and passed through the upper part of the mouth to keep the mouth shut. The trailing hook is hooked through the tail of the herring to hold the herring in a slight bow shape. The degree of bend will control the roll of the herring.

Both methods have been proven effective, and have advantages, so the choice is yours here.

How to Mooch for Salmon

Finally, mooching technique. Mooching relies heavily on covering the vertical water column. This can be accomplished in one of two ways: Motor mooching, and Drift mooching.

Motor Mooching: Here, the mooching rigs are lowered to the bottom depth you plan on fishing (I wouldn't suggest the bottom and other fish will harass your bait.) Once the rigs are in position, the rods are set in the rod holders, the boat is put in gear, and slowly motored forward just fast enough to get the rigs to rise in the water column back behind the boat. Once the rigs have been pulled close to the surface (due to the force from the water) the boat is put in idle, allowing the rigs to sink back down. This is repeated until you catch fish.

Drift Mooching: This is the more traditional method of mooching. Here, the rigs are put in the water, and the angler slowly lowers the rig down, either keeping track of depth with a line counter or by counting passes of the level-wind. Keep track of depth. Once the rig is as deep as you want (again, not the bottom) reel the line back up, usually to the surface. As the herring sinks and rises, it spins all the way. One mistake made by many beginner moochers is that they reel line up far too slowly. Don't hesitate to give it a little muscle. Once a fish is hooked on the boat, take note of the depth, and communicate it to the other anglers on the boat in order to key in on this depth. Depth control is a huge advantage to drift mooching

So again, the choice is up to you, but if the anglers on the boat are up for actively fishing, I strongly recommend drift mooching--- it will almost always catch more fish, and I think it's more fun.

So there you go, you're a Salmon Mooching Expert now! Now just get out there and rip some lip!

Get back to me with any questions, pictures, or advice!

Questions & Answers

Question: Currently the commercial fishermen are catching near the bottom in 40 to 50 fathoms. Can I mooch there?

Answer: You absolutely can, but it's not going to be easy, forty fathoms is pretty deep. The problem with mooching this deep is keeping you bait where you want it. Depending on current, you're going to need a lot of weight, I would guess no less than 8 or 10 oz, and a lot more if the current is pulling hard. I would also suggest going with a cannonball shaped weight instead of a crescent sinker, as cannonball weights get your bait deeper ounce for ounce. Also, concentrate your efforts on the tidal transitions as the moving tide falls away to a slack, and as slack starts moving. Not only are these times when Chinook bite most readily, but it will also be easier to keep your bait near the bottom.

If you aren't able to drop your rig all the way to the bottom, go with a heavier weight until you can. Some creative boat handling to match the current drift can also help keep your bait near the bottom.

A final note: Kings can pull had and make some serious runs, so if you're mooching in 300' of water, and assuming you are fishing with some amount of angle in your line, you're going to need a reel with a very high line capacity, I'd say 250 yds minimum.


Len Laframboise on May 25, 2017:

I am using these methods to catch Lake trout and it is working famously. I started by getting my local bait shop to give me his dead suckers (what a mooch) salted them and froze them until needed. I don't have a downrigger but do have heavy sinkers and a line counter reel so "watch out trout".

huntnfish (author) from Washington on July 08, 2012:

Thanks Lastheart! Wish him luck on the water for me!

Maria Magdalena Ruiz O'Farrill from Borikén the great land of the valiant and noble Lord on July 08, 2012:

Very good hub. My nephew will love this information.

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