There is a lot of mystery and closely held secrets around getting pre spawn and spawning kings to bite on a consistent basis. While around for years, a relatively unused tactic in many locales now being adopted by savvy anglers is float fishing for salmon.
In a nutshell, you are rigging up cured, fresh or spawn (chinook skein chunks) to float downstream under a float similar to how you might target steelhead.
We have spent a lot of time working with a number of our guides who are aficionado's when it comes to float fishing in general, and got a great look and helpful insight into taking big kings under a float.
For the most part, if you have good access to fresh skein, that is without a doubt the bait of choice. Soft beads in larger sizes like 12mm do also work, but fresh skein either river cured or brine cured in bright red coloring takes the cake.
The setup is pretty simple, but you are going to need a float rod with enough backbone to handle 20lb+ kings such as the HD Skein Cane Centerpin Float Rod. Reel selection can range from spinning outfits, baitcasters, or the ultimate float fishing reel..the centerpin. If you go with a centerpin (which we highly recommend) look for a 5.5" diameter reel that allows you to put line back on the reel the quickest due to the larger arbor. There are advantages to each of those choices, most comes down to personal preference, but by far the centerpin reel is the ultimate float fishing reel to maximize your effectiveness and experience of fighting a king under a float fishing setup.
You can also go a couple of different ways on mainlines. Some do prefer up to a 65lb braid mainline, while others like to go with the stretch and shock absorption of mono with the nod going straight at the 23lb float fishing mainline or even 28lb float fishing mainline.
We do prefer something in the 15-30 gram range for a sliding egg sinker weight which can get your skein chunk down quickly if you decide to go that route instead of bulk shotting SSG float just above your micro swivel.
The number one preferred hook options for float fishing for chinook salmon by far and away is the Skeena Hook from Blood Run Fishing. It has a slight reverse eye perfect for snell or egg loop knots to hold your skein chunk, and a slight reverse bend for better hook sets on hard mouthed kings. 90% of the time you will be using either a 3/0, 2/0 or 1/0 size Skeena Hook. Size of skein chunk is VERY important...some days kings have a preference for larger or smaller size chunks.
Match your hook size to the skein chunk size..very important! Have a selection of sizes, even from size 1 Skeena, all the way up to size 3/0 in your pack.
Float options can vary on conditions. A fixed float in the 15-30 gram range, or slip float in the same size range is ideal. Fixed floats are nice as you can swap out styles and sizes as you move to different holes. Slip floats are ideal in those 12-20 foot holes where kings love to lay sometimes..
When rigging up your bait, there are two primary options. First, chunk cured skein wrapped into your egg loop knot is going to be an obvious choice. It is quick, easy (and messy!) but always a great place to start. Another option is to take a skein chunk and wrap it into a spawn sac (using red or pink netting material) to create a golfball size hunk of skein.
For some reason, as noted by our guides, the round compact shape sometimes seems to hold scent better and longer, and gives the option of wrapping in different colored netting to add some flair. Chartreuse and Pink sac material get the nod here.
It is important to note that when fishing cured skein or roe, you have to keep it fresh and "juiced up" with scent to keep it appealing to wary kings. Either replace your skein chunk frequently, or bring some additional scent juice with you to keep your chunks heavily scented.
The thought behind taking these pre-spawn fish, though not actively feeding, is that kings trigger on protein based scents that their bodies crave in order to keep them nutritioned enough to last throughout the run up to the spawning grounds.
Though not triggered by hunger, a forced intake of protein in the form of skein proves to be the ticket to getting these fish to hit. Many believe that all salmon are hard wired to "destroy" the offspring of other fish, and readily inhale any loose eggs during the spawn as well....which is why larger beads can work here too.
This is not a "lining" or "flossing" event where you feel your mainline run through the mouth of a fish and heave your way into a snagged fish. These kings are actually inhaling these chunks to quickly digest to get that protein their bodies need. Krill based scents in both cures and artificial egg clusters seem to entice more than other scents.
Working deep holes not covered up with rolling fish is the place to be when targeting these fish. You can pound on them all you want up where they are spawning on gravel, but you will rarely get them to go. Where you don't see them, in shady deep holes and runs, is where you will have the best action. Look for deeper dark water, preferably with overhanging branches or trees.
And even if you do see them, and they aren't biting, they will. Just keep at it, all of a sudden there will be a bite window for maybe 30 mins or so and it will be every drift. Sometimes it takes something to trigger them. You also have to remember, its just not the same pod of fish sitting in that hole (generally) the entire time you are fishing. These fish are moving up, and especially in or just after a rain, they will move into a spot and sit for maybe a few hours, then move up as more fish move in from downstream.
Another nice strategy to try when the skein bite is off, is to try a 14mm or 16mm bead, again usually in a bright red/pink coloration...kings do bite beads from time to time. Not as often or aggressively as skein, but they will bite.
We often bring our Ironhead spinning rod along always with our skein float rods, again, to put a different presentation in there when the skein bite is off. Sometimes a spinner bite, or even a thunderstick bite will happen at certain times. Whatever your choice of presentation (there are plenty), not resorting to flossing the fish involuntarily is the way to go. Once fish start being flossed or snagged, you can guarantee they will not bite ANY presentation. You are then stuck with non-biting fish in your hole until a new batch of fish move in.
We love float fishing for steelhead without a doubt, but by far the most exhilarating species to target are pre spawn and spawning chinook salmon by floating skein or eggs under a float. They call them kings for a reason, and pound for pound under a float they are the hardest fighting fish around.
There are alot of great videos available on youtube showing how to rig up, and cure skein. Check out Fish Fray youtube channel for great footage and instruction using all of these methods with our gear.