By Bill Divens | 07/13/2011
A few months back I asked myself; is it possible that rigging what works for 30 lb. Rogue River king salmon will work for 3 lb. landlocked kings? At first, I was skeptical, but after a few months of research the answer is a resounding YES, as long as you’re spinning anchovies. Long a staple of Rogue estuary and Pacific Northwest ocean anglers, the spinning anchovy works equally well on landlocked kings.
Landlocked Kings and Brown Trout all caught on Pautzke’s Nectar cured anchovies
When I first targeted landlocked kings, I employed standard kokanee and trout size flashers, lures and small rolled shad, just like everyone else. And, like them, I caught lots of small 10″ – 14″ kings and rainbows. Occasionally, a 5 lb. king took a whack at my small offerings and gave me hope that there were bigger fish in the lake. My job now was to figure out how to target bigger fish.
After a frustrating day boating countless small kings and planter trout on California’s Lake Shasta, I stopped at the local tackle shop to replenish my shad supply. As I dug through bags of anchovies looking for frozen shad, the light bulb went on – maybe the same techniques that work for big ocean and estuary kings would work on landlocked kings. I bought a few bags of big anchovies and took them home for a 24 hr. soak in a simple salt brine. Looking at these big baits in the brine jar, I became convinced that they were way too big for landlocked kings. But, I was committed to trying something new, so I headed to Shasta for a test run, anyway.
Feeling more than a bit silly, I rigged my 5 – 7 in. anchovies brined in Pautzke Nectar just like I would for Rogue Estuary salmon, hooked them two feet behind Seps 2/0 watermelon dodgers and took my wife Julie for what I thought would be a nice boat ride. After an hour of watching bait balls and fish on the sonar with no bites, my suspicions were confirmed – these anchovies are way too big for landlocked kings. Or so I thought. Minutes later, a downrigger went off. Not that typical jiggle, jiggle you get from a small king, but a real solid takedown. The little kokanee rod released then buried. Julie brought a beautiful 4 lb. king to my waiting net. And… it happened again and again. The anchovies were not too big after all – they were just the right size! From that point on, Rogue River rigged anchovies have been my go to bait for landlocked kings.
Fishing anchovies is more involved and expensive than fishing lures, but from the point of view of a guy who has to put quality landlocked kings in the boat on every trip, I think it is well worth the effort. You need three components all working together to be successful – good bait, good brine and good rigging. Let’s start with the bait:
You can choose between trayed and bagged anchovies. Trayed anchovies are starved, frozen and vacuumed packed on a Styrofoam tray. These are the best anchovies you can buy and what we use on the Rogue Estuary. Since the great West Coast anchovy shortage of 2010, they have been really expensive, running $5 – $6 per pack of 8, and at times hard to find. The other alternative is bagged anchovies, which are usually sold by the pound for $2.50 – $3.50 for 20 or so baits. Good quality bagged anchovies catch just as many landlocked kings as trayed anchovies once they are brined. You may need to do a bit of sorting to weed out the beaten up anchovies with broken backs, but in general, almost all of the anchovies in the bag will work as long as they are of North American origin. During the shortage last year, the wholesalers started importing bagged anchovies from Peru. If this is your only choice, try somewhere else or resort to trayed anchovies, herring or small sardines in the 5 – 6 inch range. The Peruvian bagged anchovies are roughly handled with broken back. Salvaging 5 or 6 ugly baits from a bag is a miracle. Just don’t buy them!
Pautzke’s Blue Nectar cured anchovy properly rigged
I’ve tested lots of brines from prepackaged commercial brines with “secret bite stimulants” to weird old timer concoctions. While I’ve blanked on very few of these, the one that most consistently produces landlocked kings is the following:
1. 1 Bottle Blue Pautzke’s Nectar (Also comes in red and purple)
2. 1/4 Cup NON-IODIZED salt (can substitute sea salt)
3. 1 – 2 Tablespoon Pautzke’s Krill Powder
4. BOTTLED water (lake, well or spring water also work, just no city water that has been chlorinated)
• Mix ingredients 1 – 3 in 1 gallon ZipLock Bag, seal the bag and shake until all the salt is dissolved
• Add frozen anchovies or herring
• Push out air
• Use bottled water to cover all bait if needed
• Refrigerate 24 – 36 hr. and go fishing or drain the brine and freeze the brined anchovies
When your anchovy comes out of the brine it should be firmer than when it went in and a nice blue color. Since blue green light penetrates best on most lakes, I’ve found blue to be a great color choice for landlocked king salmon.
Classically, Rogue River rigged anchovies are rigged with a bait threader, sliding front hook and rear loop with a removable treble. It takes lots of practice to get this right and is really not something that we have enough space to teach properly. Fortunately, there are simple commercial alternatives that work just as well for landlocked kings. Two of the better choices are the Rhys Davis Bulletroll Special that you can see working here. Unfortunately, they can be a bit hard to find. Coldwatertackle.com usually has a reliable supply of both rigged and unrigged heads.
Another alternative is the mini Bechhold Rotary Bullet Bait Holder. This product does not have great retail distribution and is best purchased directly from the manufacturer.
Once rigged, attach your anchovy 20″ – 30″ behind a Sep’s 2/0 Watermelon or Fruit Salad Dodger , find the right depth (48 – 55 deg. water) and bait balls, troll 1.7 – 2.1 mph and get ready to put some fish in the box. This is what I’d do on Shasta in July. However, if you are fishing one of California’s other landlocked king lakes or a reservoir somewhere else in the West, the depths will vary.
The addition of Pautzke’s krill powder to the brine makes anchovies much more attractive to other salmonoid species especially big browns and rainbows. In lakes where all 3 species live, you have a good chance of hooking up any of them on well-seasoned anchovies.
Big Shasta Lake Brown Trout caught on a cured anchovy.
For more info on Divens and his guide services on the Rogue and Sacramento Rivers and Shasta Lake, please visit www.salmonkinglodge.com.