The Alaska King or Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) is the largest and most prized of all the Pacific salmon. Ketchikan king salmon average about 20 pounds and can get up to over 70 pounds, however the larger kings over 50 pounds are becoming more and more rare. Chinook will spend one to two years in fresh water before heading out to the ocean where they will spend one to five years before coming back to the river to spawn.
Ocean bright Chinook have a golden to purple colored back with many black spots. Their tails also have spots and usually have bright rays of metallic silver in them. Chinook also have black pigment along their gum line hence the common name “black mouth” used in some areas. Live bright Chinook have a unique musky sent and I can usually smell them when they come on the boat.
Returning runs of local river bound Chinook pass through our Ketchikan waters May through July with the peak of the run happening in the last half of June. We also have Canadian bound Chinook and non spawning kings, which we call “feeders” that can be present all summer long into September.
Mooching a cut plug herring with a 4-8 oz sinker is a great way to catch king salmon. The trick to mooching is to first find the fish and then drop your herring through the school of bait or salmon and then reel back up through it. This gives you two opportunities to hook a fish – on the way down and again on the way up. Do not jerk or free fall your herring when mooching or you will lose your bait or tangle up your leader.
Trolling between 50 and 100 feet is also an effective method for catching king salmon. I like to use a whole herring rigged to make a slow roll. A dodger can be used in front of the herring and I recommend using a long leader. If the water is clear and it’s a bright day I prefer not to use a flasher at all. Always make sure your herring is rolling when mooching or trolling. Hoochies are also effective trolled behind a flasher and I put these on a shorter leader to give the hoochie more action. It is also helpful to use sent with hoochies.
Spoons are one of my favorite ways to catch kings. When the bight is on and you troll a few spoons through a school of kings multiple hook-ups can occur. The most effective spoon I’ve used in Ketchikan waters is a #5 Superior in chrome or brass.