Push to Shove: Combat Fishing Tips
Written by James Athey - Team Experience Outdoors   
Tuesday, 31 July 2007 14:38

As much as we may gripe and grumble or far worse, the fact is that when fish congregate in “hot spots” so will fishermen and the ensuing traffic conditions will get pretty dicey at times. After a short while of being boxed in, boxed out, cut off, pushed off course, tangled on other boat’s gear, cussed at, mooned and being told by gesture that you are in fact “number one” you will understand the title of this piece. With the late summer/fall runs of Chinook soon approaching every Tom, Richard and Harry will dust off the trusty salmon rods and toss them in whatever passes for them as a fishing boat and they hit the water in search of big fish. I think that’s great!


Seriously, anybody that has ever had an angry mature Chinook on the line can fully understand the urge. What is hard to understand is why they troll west and east through a pack of boats going north and south. Why do they walk to the back of the boat, fiddle with a rod, walk to the front of the boat to mess with the stereo, look up at the sky and down at their feet, look everywhere but where they are going and what else happens to be there? Why do they run their boards out a country mile and fail to bring them in tighter when it is obviously necessary to avoid tangling another boat’s? I could go on but I can already feel my temperature rising. There are ways to avoid or minimize the aforementioned hassles although nothing is foolproof when other egos and mentalities are involved but hopefully something in the following hints can help keep you from having a melt down.

Trolling with multiple rod sets adds to the degree of difficulty considerably as your ability to make sharp turns will be limited to what your current spread of rod sets will tolerate without becoming a horrendous tangle. Experience or experimentation will let you know what combinations of rod sets will be prone to tangle on turns and which will work together. The fewer the rods you have set, the less the chances of having problems while driving in a pack of boats. If done properly you can still run enough to cover several depths, colors and presentations while maintaining the ability to turn sharply in traffic. The key is separation between presentations. If you have adequate separation between presentations in the water while running straight you should be safe to crank the wheel a little hard and come out on the other side tangle free. When I speak of separation I’m not just talking in depth but also in distance behind the boat. As long as the hooks aren’t involved the lines can cross on a turn and you will be fine. The problem arises when the hooks on one rod come in contact with the line or lures on another which is avoided by staggering the distances of lures behind the boat

Planer boards require special consideration when using them in a pack of boats. Keep any boards you set tight to the boat. The amount of room you have to maneuver will dictate how many boards you can run and in tight traffic you may be limited to one or two a side. Always be prepared to burn the boards in tighter when convergence course issues arise as they are the determining factor as to how close you can pass by another boat. Running long leadcores in tight traffic isn’t recommended however if you must because it has been hot for you then you should be careful with the placement of high set divers. The long cores will not track the boat as well as the divers and will thus cross the path of the diver and quite possible slide along the diver line until it comes to the diver or the lure itself and I don’t have to tell you what happens next. Add flashers into the mix and you might as well just start hacking with your knife when you get the mess into the boat. Another potential blunder is letting the high diver out until it is farther to the side of the boat than the core which is easy to do with the board on a short leash. Hopefully when a fish hits the diver it will swing around the back under the core and all is well. However… fish don’t always know what they’re supposed to do or else they are just plain belligerent because sooner before later one will come up on the outside of the core and then you have a real problem to deal with. Perhaps just a low diver would be wise on the side the long core is. Dropping down to one diver a side isn’t a bad idea anyways to avoid tangles although with proper separation multiple divers are very fishable in tight traffic with practice.

Patience is hard to come by at times when dealing with a pack of boats. Fuses are short and temperatures high especially if the fish aren’t cooperating. Don’t get caught up in the rat race and allow yourself to become agitated. Not only do you ruin your fun but you also become increasingly aggressive and thereby cause more traffic issues and become even more agitated and so on. When in doubt, slow down. With your boat not moving as fast it allows more time for openings to develop and also to survey your situation. Don’t just look at where the boats are, rather project where they will be in a few minutes when assessing the situation to determine your next move. Don’t worry about hurting your fishing by slowing down for a few to wait for an opening. I’ve had times that I was in and out of gear, waiting for a hole to open and started smacking fish. Be watchful for strikes when your opening arrives and you throttle up. Think about what your spread did when you slowed down, it settled deeper in the water column. When you bump the throttle up again the lures will go from a fluttering descent to an accelerating rush back up through the water column to it’s regular depth. This is a very powerful trigger for predatory fish and will often trigger multiple strikes.

On the flip side of speed control is throttling up from your current “normal” speed to get by or around someone.  Don’t be afraid to throttle up to get through a gap or ahead of and then across the path of another boat. Don’t worry about hurting your fishing either as high speeds can be another trigger to predator fish. At times 4-5 mph is a good salmon speed believe it or not. Once again be prepared for action on the throttle up. More than once my exasperation over a speed tripped diver (or so I thought) turned to exhilaration when I saw the rod start thrashing in the holder from the bruiser that was triggered to strike by the possible morsel he sees suddenly speed up and away. Be cautious not to over tighten the drags that start leaking from the surge in speed. A very slow leak is what I often strive for anyways, especially when in search mode for active depths. If you want to stop the leak and effectively peg the line where it is then a good alternative to cranking down the drag is to half hitch a rubber band around your line just in front of the reel and place the remaining loop of the rubber band around the reel handle. When a fish hits, the rubber band will break and line will play to the fish as normal.

Speed is a very effective tool to use for nosing your way across a packed harbor mouth or busy honey hole. Just think in terms if vectors and time. “I need to turn, where will those boats be when that fly bridge is out of the way? Would it help me if I slow down or speed up?” Give a little if giving is needed but don’t get pushed around either.  A little strategizing and speed adjusting will avoid nearly any confrontation until all the other boats apparently call each other and devise a battle plan to make your life tough.

Lastly and most importantly remember why you are out there in a pack of boats that are bent on making you pull your hair out, you love fishing. Everybody else is out there dealing with the same challenges for the same reason. There are some real bone heads out there for sure. There have been as long as I remember. Try not to let it ruin your fun though. Try laughing at the situation instead as it can actually be quite comical if you let it. If combat fishing in a pack is going to ruin your enjoyment then I’d suggest pointing your fishing machine towards the outside of the pack. Often there is phenomenal fishing not far outside the pack and you will have it to yourself.

That is until you are spotted lifting the net, then it is battle stations all over again *wink.

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