Follow The Bouncing Bait

By Scott Haugen

It’s no secret Chinook salmon are highly scent-driven. Imagine being born in a river or small stream, swimming out to the ocean then returning four or five years later to the exact location where you were born, all due to the ability to navigate through the sense of smell. If humans had noses even a fraction as sensitive as that of a salmon’s, life would not be enjoyable. Knowing salmon have such strong sniffers, anglers can maximize opportunities by targeting a salmon’s sense of smell. No matter what bait you use – baitfish, crawdad tails, cured eggs, etc. – the idea is to deliver a scent package to the fish, something they can smell, follow and eat. When it comes to salmon fishing in river systems, baits can be presented in various ways.

Drift-fishing is most common, where eggs are rolled along the bottom by anglers fishing from a stationary position. Bait can be suspended beneath a float. It can also be dragged behind a boat, backtrolled in front of the boat and even side-drifted. Bait can also be backbounced, arguably the best method when it comes to laying a scent line that fish can detect and follow.

Back-bouncing is a favorite technique of many people for one simple reason: the angler is in total control of the presentation. Not only is the angler in control of where the terminal gear is at all times, but also the speed at which it travels downstream. Since this technique is one that fishes on the bottom of the creek, river, bay or ocean, it also allows anglers to learn the anatomy of the bottom by way of actually feeling what’s down there. When the bite comes through back-bouncing, it usually happens in one of three ways. A common take is where the fish hits the bait hard and runs, leaving no question as to what’s taking place.

Another common strike is when the terminal gear simply stops moving. This is where the angler quits feeling the bottom and when the attempt is made to let out more line, it doesn’t happen. That’s because the fish has the bait in its mouth and is simply sitting in one place. The third most common strike when back-bouncing is a slack-line bite. This is where the fish grabs bait and continues swimming upstream. You can often visually observe a belly forming in the line on such a take, meaning you better quickly reel up the slack and set the hook.When back-bouncing, the goal is to deliver the terminal gear package downstream at a rate considerably slower than that of the natural current flow. As a rule of thumb, backing the terminal gear downstream at a rate of about one-third to one-half the current flow is optimal.

A spider sinker set-up – a homemade cage that suspends a sinker – keeps the weight from getting hung-up and is a great option when back-bouncing. (SCOTT HAUGEN)
A spider sinker set-up – a homemade cage that suspends a sinker – keeps the weight from getting hung-up
and is a great option when back-bouncing. (SCOTT HAUGEN)

This ensures the presentation stays on the bottom and goes where you want it, still traveling downstream towards holding or traveling fish. Bait casting reels are ideal for back-bouncing. Position yourself where line can be let out straight downstream. Free-spool the line until the sinker finds bottom, then apply pressure on the reel with your thumb to stop the line from feeding out. Take up any slack by lifting the rod tip.


When you want to advance the position of the terminal gear, thumb the spool and lift the rod until the gear is off the bottom. Reels are almost always on free-spool when back-bouncing. When dropping the rod tip back down, let out a foot or so of line. This will allow the terminal gear to be carried downstream as it falls back to the bottom. Again, take up any slack by lifting the rod tip. Continuing to pump the rod and feed out line, you’ll be able to back-bounce your way all the way down through the sweet spot until you run out of current or hook a fish.

Back-bouncing is a fairly simple, straight-forward technique where – with practice – the mechanics become second nature. The fact this style can be applied in such a wide range of settings shows how comprehensive an approach it really is. The back-bouncing set-up is simple. Tie your mainline to a three-way swivel. Tie your leader to another eye of the swivel, then your sinker dropper to the third eye. The sinker dropper can be short or long. For back-bouncing, I prefer a 5-foot dropper and 3-foot leader. On the dropper, I use a spider sinker, which will greatly reduce hang-ups. You can make your own spider sinker cage, but I buy mine from a disabled buddy, Russ Mathews, who makes them in Oregon and whom you can call to place orders at (541) 726-6916. Covering water under control and laying a scent trail is the objective when back-bouncing. Once you’re dialed-in to the art of this fishing style, you’ll be amazed at its range of applications and effectiveness.