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Cut Plug Herring Setup - Salmon Mooching & Trolling

"To us, it was obvious why the small group of diehard moochers had their boats clustered so tightly together, they were hovering over a large mass of bait, and as soon as we hit tide change, the bite was on and every boat had a fish on."

This setup has been catching salmon for generations, use it for mooching or flat-line trolling off your stern

Mooching has been a mainstay salmon fishing technique for generations, and is still productive to this day. A big contingent of anglers in the Pacific Northwest consider mooching to be the only way to fish for salmon in saltwater. We created this quick guide to get you caught up to speed on the setup. Feel free to use this drift mooching or motor mooching for Chinooka and Coho, or send it off the stern as your third rod if you are already trolling with downriggers (it has been known to be a big-time Coho producer).

Salmon fishing cut plug herring mooching setup

Salmon Mooching Setup - Quick Rigging Guide and Gear

Sinker: 2 ounce to 5 ounce mooching sinker is common in most situations. We like the coated mooching sinkers in chartreuse, lime and red as they add a little extra attraction and make it so you don't have to handle lead while you fish.

Leader: We use P-Line Fluorocarbon CFX and Salmon/Steelhead leader material in 20 pound to 30 pound test. Use about a 4' to 5' leader between your sinker and your double snelled hooks. We also offer pre-tied herring mooching leaders if you don't want to tie your own.

Hooks: We use Gamakatsu Octopus or Gamakatsu Big RIver Bait hooks for our double-hook mooching leaders. For smaller herring that is packaged as red label, use 2/0 - 3/0 size hooks, for green label herring use 3/0 - 4/0 hooks, and for larger blue label herring use 4/0 - 5/0 hooks. 

Swivel: Use a quality swivel like a P-Line Ball Bearing Swivel with Crosslock or Sampo Ball Bearing Crosslock Swivel at the end of your mainline to snap in your mooching sinker.

Mainline: Mooching and surface trolling with the same setup is best when using monofilament line, this is one of the few techniques where we absolutely do not recommend braided lines because of the tangle factor. Monofilament tangles less and is easier to work with when you do get your leader twisted around your mainline. We recommend P-Line CXX Strong, P-Line CX Premium, Izorline, Berkley Big Game and Maxima Ultragreen in 15 pound to 25 pound test. 

Bait Knife: Victorinox Serrated Bait Knife or Gamakatsu 6" Fillet Knife

Bait Cutting Guide: Beau Mac Bait Cutting Guide.

Bait Brine: Pro-Cure Brine & Bite.

salmon mooching cut plug herring

Preparing, cutting and rigging your bait

Good Bait: You will more likely than not be fishing with herring that has been put up on trays and frozen, soley for the purpose of salmon fishing. Most moochers would tell you that the most important thing is to find yourself good bait. Good bait will have most of their scales intact and have no freezer-burn or blood visible under the plastic wrap.

Good Brine: Good bait will be firm out of the package, but even so it is common practice to allow your bait to soak in a brine overnight to give it an extra level of toughness. We use Pro Cure Brine n Bite. We usually brine the bait whole when we are mooching, and cut each bait as it is needed. If we are trolling with it, that's a different story. We want to barely thaw the bait the night before and pre-cut each bait before we let it soak in the brine. This really toughens up the bait and helps it stay intact as we troll it behind the boat at a couple miles per hour.

Proper Cut: The next most important thing is the proper cut. We cut the head of each herring off at a double-bevel (angled in from top to bottom, and also from left to right). If you give your bait the proper cut, run your upper hook through the gut cavity and upwards through the spin out the top properly, it will spin tightly and with ease. If you are just starting to use cut-plug herring, it may seem confusing but there is a really inexpensive Bait Cutting Guide that you can pick up that will help get the hang of it! Make sure you use a sharp knife to slice the head off, this will give you the cleanest cut, which is what you want.

Drift Mooching Salmon

Drift Mooching with a Cut Plug Herring

Drift mooching is an age-old salmon fishing technique, originated in Puget Sound, Washington and still used to this day by many anglers across the Pacific Coast region. It's a great technique, you run out to your preferred fishing area, turn your boat engine off, send out your baits, and drift with the currents. We like to send our baits down at a fairly slow pace, just fast enough to get the bait to spin. Once you reach your preferred depth, you reel in your line until that spinning bait makes it all the way back to the surface. When you see it, occasionally you will spot a salmon that follows it all the way to the surface. If the bait looks beat up, cut plug a freshie and fish that, if it looks good, send it back down! 

Motor Mooching with a Cut Plug Herring

Motor mooching is used along the Pacific Coast and especially in Southeast Alaska by many fishing charters and locals. This technique is a little complex to explain because there are so many variables and choices you can make, and this could be a blog post in its own right, but here is are the basics. Your trolling motor is kicked in and out of gear to cause your spinning cut-plug herring to lift in the water column (when the motor is in gear), and fall back down to the preferred depth (when the motor is in neutral). You can let line out and put the rods in the rod holders, or you can have your people slowly drop and retreive their baits just like with drift mooching. This is a great tactic when you want to cover more area while working the entire water column.

Flat-line Trolling with a Cut Plug Herring

While there are multiple rigging methods for cut-plug herring, some including dropper weights, we will cover those in other posts. This basic cut-plug herring rig is easy and can be setup in minutes. We typically will run our two downrigger rods and a third, maybe even fourth rod off the stern as a bonus. But if you don't have downriggers, you can exclusively run this setup and catch salmon.

In our home waters of Puget Sound, we usually pick up more Coho Salmon on these surface rods than anything else. Coho are notoriously curious creatures and for some reason, the turbulence from the kicker motor's propwash seems to draw them in. Position one stern rod so that your herring is just beyond the bubbles, this could mean less than 25' of line out past your rod tip. We will vary our distance though, and sometimes run them as far back as 80' (only when we are fishing by ourselves and not around a crowd of weaving boats). Turn on your reel's clicker, lighten the drag a bit, and when a salmon hits, let it chew, turn and run before grabbing the rod. 

 Salmon Mooching Cut Plug Herring