How to Hot-Wire a King Salmon by Matt Straw

salmon salmon fishing

In recent years we learned king salmon range deeper in the water column than ever before believed. 

king salmon chinook fishing fish great lakes

Spooky kings commonly descend right to the bottom in depths of 700 feet or more in the clearing waters of the Great Lakes, according to a tracking study conducted by US Geological Survey biologists.

Such extreme depths are difficult to access without specialized equipment. In the more commonly targeted depths of 60 to 160 feet, wire line helps you catch more kings than ever before—even with no downriggers on board. But technological advances in wire line and gear allow anglers to get down 400 feet or more without downriggers.

Why use wire with such dangerously hot fish as kings? 

Unlike mono or braids, wire sinks.  It cuts water quicker, gets deeper with less weight attached, and transmits vibration so well that you always know when a flasher rig is thumping just right—just by glancing at the rod tip.  Even when the rig is 200 feet down.  And wire has other advantages, too.

Hot Wiring Tackle

Matthew Sawrie owns Torpedo Fishing Products. We’ve discussed his highly efficient Torpedo Weights in the past. Shaped like an actual torpedo in sizes ranging from 2- to 16-ounces, the Torpedo Weight tracks perfectly straight without wobble or swing and can be attached to a wire-line rig on a dropper off a 3-way swivel. Tie the swivel to the wire line with a haywire twist or by using simple crimps from SPRO or other companies, use 8 inches to a foot of 20-pound mono as a dropper line, and tie the weight directly.

torpedo weight fishing fish

Torpedo Weights have a Shark Fin on the dorsal side that can be adjusted right or left to take lures off to the side into that vast zone between long lines, downriggers, and down-and-out rigs.

I use that kind of rig a lot to drop lines straight behind the boat for lake trout, kings, and browns, but Torpedo Weights have a directional fin that will take the rig off to the side, too. Bend it out to the left, the rig goes off to the right, or vice-versa. That allows the small boat angler, with the use of diving planers taking lines even farther off to the side, to put at least six wire-line rigs out without using downriggers.

torpedo weighted steel fishing fish

But Sawrie also sells wire line. His newest creation is called Weighted Steel. “It’s evolutionary,” Sawrie said. “Weighted Steel reaches the same depths as copper with the same amount of line out. It’s taking off like wild fire. We already have orders for all the wire we can construct this year because it’s not just for kings. Walleye, musky, lake trout, and other anglers have discovered it.”

Captain Mark Chmura also uses Torpedo 19-Strand Trolling Wire on Lake Michigan. “It’s lighter, far more supple, kinks less than 7-strand, and penetrates just as well as lead-core lines,” Chmura said. “You were on the boat when we took those Torpedo Weights attached to Deep Sea Divers down 400 feet with 30-pound test 19-Strand. I love this stuff. It’s thinner and divers take it deeper. I run at least 4 wire diver-planer setups every day whenever I’m targeting depths of 30 feet or more. Those have been my most productive rods, overall, for a decade.” So, even if you have downriggers, you’re better off with wire? “Most days, I’d have to say yes.”

torpedo trolling wire fishing fish

Captain John Oravec has been fishing wire for decades.

“Lake Ontario, if you want more than one big king per day, you’ve got to hunt for them,” Oravec said. “Wire with a Slide Diver, running the lure 80 feet or more behind the diver, is hot. The wire-rigged Slide Diver works when a regular Dipsy Diver isn’t working—and it generally isn’t working because the diver is too close to the lure. Slide divers get the lure way back there. You can rig a Dipsy to slide, too, but a Slide Diver has the instructions. Just run the lure out 50, 80, maybe 100 feet with the Diver in hand, snap the arm down and send it out. A snap of the rod releases it and it slides back to a large swivel protected by beads 6 feet ahead of the lure.”

Oravec also uses 30-pound wire, but prefers Williams or Mason 7-Strand Camo Wire.

“I tie it to a small, 35-pound test SPRO swivel that can travel through the guides,” he said. “Then I tie a hundred feet or more of 30-pound fluorocarbon to the swivel to be as stealthy as possible.

Back in the day, people worked slide divers on mono, but it all came together with the wire and the long fluorocarbon leader. Gets down faster. When kings and big browns are working along the ledges—where the ‘continental shelf' of the Great Lakes breaks from about 30 to about 100 feet—wire slide divers rule. A lot of people give up on the ledges too quick. If you stay on those fish, you’ll score. All you need is a stable summer stratification and those fish will stay on structure.”

king salmon chinook fishing fish

A line-counter reel seated on a slow-action rod in the 8- to 10-foot range is the ticket.  Rods with ample power to land kings that bend into the butt section are a plus.  Wire has no give so rods have to. This balance of forgiveness and power can be accomplished with glass. 

Trolling deep with precision demands line-counter reels. 

Gear-driven metering and audible clickers allow for smooth-running lines, both into and out of the boat, with no kinks or overruns.  Line counters zone in on salmon levels quick, and a smooth drag balanced on a forgiving rod allows you to survive the first power run while keeping hooks in the fish.

For leaders, be as stealthy as possible—since wire (being opaque and relatively thick) is anything but.  Use heavy fluorocarbon in the 15- to 30-pound range.  Modern wire lines are easy to work with, but it’s still important to make a strong, slip-free connection.  Small SPRO Power Swivels create strong mono or fluoro-to-wire connections that can be retrieved right onto the reel for the stealthiest possible rigging.

Many captains today believe that wire-line rigs are stealthier than cannonballs because the overall disturbance of the water is less.  Truth is, both can be stealthy, but wire gets out-and-down rigs (like Dispey Divers) off to the side of the boat path while getting deeper quicker than mono.

mark chmura salmon chinook great lakes fish fishing

Tricks of The Trade

Put about 100 yards of 20-pound monofilament or 200 yards of 40-pound braided backing on the reel, then attach it to the wire line with an Albright knot.  Just make a loop in the end of the wire, run the end of the backing through the loop, wrap it around the base of the loop 7or 8 times, run the tag end of the backing back through the loop, lubricate, and slowly cinch it down by pulling on one end at a time while pushing the wraps toward the end of the loop until it’s tight. Trim the end of the wire with a side cutter. (Knipex makes great wire-cutting tools.)

Or try using a 2-foot segment of leadcore between the lines. Remove the lead from the braided “sleeve.”  Run the wire in 6 inches on one end of the hollow sleeve and tie an overhand knot in it.  Run the backing into the other end of the hollow sleeve and do the same.  Super glue the two knots and the ends of the braid to keep it from fraying.  When dry, reel up the wire from a spool held in place in a cardboard box.

The depth-cutting characteristics of fine wires create reliable and consistent line-length to depth ratios, regardless of how deep you go.  If you stick to the equipment listed here, count on having a 2:1 ratio—2 feet out to 1 foot down in most scenarios.  At extreme depths in strong currents, it jumps to 3:1 or higher.  But the easiest way to monitor depth and down-temps accurately is with the Smart Troll system, which utilizes a probe ahead of the diver to send remote signals to your smart phone via an Android app.

first lite bite fishing troll

With wire, you get more out of each Dipsy, Slide, or Deep Sea Diver setting, so you have to recalculate slightly (add 10 percent to the depth to start out, because the wire itself sinks).  Tripping the diver with wire is easy, too—much easier than with stretchy mono.  You get more depth out of every ounce of lead, too, compared to mono or even to super-braids.

It requires a little creativity to set drags correctly with wire. 

Start with light drag settings. 

Remember, wire has very little give. 

The shock provided by a fish like a king salmon taking off at 26 feet per second can be extreme.  It can rip rod holders right off the boat. Tightening the drag can result in bad things happening.

“I set the drag really light with wire,” Chmura said. “The best reels for wire are big, because the bigger the drag the smoother it is, as a general rule. The drag has to be loose. I don’t like using rubber snubbers because we lose too many fish. I would rather lightly tighten the drag after hooking up.”

Chmura has now patented and begun to market his own Pier Pressure Rod Holders. “The adjustable gimble and gears inside allow you to place this rod holder at any angle,” Chmura said. “Grab the lever and rod holder in one hand, move it wherever you want it, let go, and it’s locked in place. The inability of any other rod holder to do that is the reason so many anglers experience frayed wire. When the reel is pointing down toward the water the wire runs across the frame of a roller guide. With this rod holder, you can place the rod in such a way that the wire remains seated on the rollers.

chinook salmon fishing kings great lakes

Oravec always “limp checks” the last six feet of wire before rigging up. “Take tension off the wire,” he said. “If it coils, cut it back to straight, limp new wire and recrimp the end onto a SPRO or Sampo 50- to 75-pound swivel snap. I use two Mason crimps, doubling the tag end through the second sleeve for a never-slip connection.

Wire-line divers offer the best way to enhance the lure spread outside the rigger path. Bright, flat days on clear water, angling for wary old pigs, this is the way to go.

For the fisherman who wants to fish deep without downriggers, this is most effective way to target suspending trout, walleye—even muskies and lunker pike."

"For salmon, wire slides will trigger more monster hits because you thin down, get out of the boat path, and away from the downriggers. Less weight, more wire, more shark.”

Every day, all summer on the Great Lakes these days, the cry, “Wire is on fire” comes in on the marine band.

Amazingly, Oravec is in his 39th year of guiding for kings, steelhead, muskies, and browns on Lake Ontario. Chmura has been at it almost as long. Almost 80 combined years of playing with steel made them masters of the wire-line renaissance going on today.

- written by Matt Straw



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  • Capt Pete Rosko on

    This article gets excited about trolling the ledges, I also really get excited about ledge fishing. But, it’s for fishing with a different technique that I consider more enjoyable and more effective. The enjoyment comes with a direct connection between the fish and me with a hand-held rod vs a rod holder when the strike is experienced. Also, “staying on the fish” was mentioned. There is no more effective way to stay on top of the fish than by vertical jigging. This is what made the Crippled Herring so deadly while stationary or slow-drift jigging. That’s why Rapala now markets it after purchasing Luhr Jensen in 2005. Another deadly partner to the Crippled Herring is the Kandlefish (part of the smelt family), designed for the late Ron Weber, founder of Normark. Basically, trolling is able to get over a precise location of target fish about 25% of the time because the boat is constantly moving off them because that is an inherent negative with trolling. Conversely, vertical jigging is the closest technique to constantly never leaving that concentration of fish…whether jigging at anchor or on the drift. Incidentally, I find that the natural drift of the boat is superior to a motor-driven boat because it is in rhythm with the current. In 41 years of jigging for Pacific chinook salmon, I personally witness this almost on a daily basis. Now, I’m 84 and want to see our younger generations be able to enjoy the experiences that I have been blessed with. Those 41 years were fished out of a very basic 14 foot tiller-operated fiberglass boat off Port Angeles, WA…see photo posted on my Facebook site. No need to spend big money on equipment to be successful!…especially if it puts a strain on your marriage, budget and overall quality of life. In closing, I have nothing against trolling, Growing up near Lake Erie in my younger years, I loved trolling for walleyes. I still immensely enjoy walleye fishing but it now is done while drift-jigging.

  • keith carman on

    Is there a video explaining and showing how to set this up?


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