Which Side of the River do Salmon Favor?
I plan to do float fishing trips in several rivers, including the Kenai. With a raft and small 1-man cataraft I'm able to fish the entire river from bank to bank. I want to maximize my chances of success for catching kings, reds silvers, and native fish species by wetting my hook in the routes and highest probability places where the fish prefer to travel and rest.
I'm aware that fish lie in eddies and pools down-current from structure. But what routes do they follow when travelling between resting points?
For those in the know, are there differences in favored travel routes between the various fish species? And which parts of the river do the fish prefer to swim in - in both straight sections and river bends?
It seems logical to me that all fish would try to conserve energy when swimming against the current by favoring shallower water and the insides of river bends, where the current is minimal, rather than the deepest, swiftest main-current water and the outside of bends.
I see drift boat guides standing on the inside bend gravel bars fishing with their clients. Is this where the fish really are? Or is this just an easy place to stop, buy some more river time, and change pace - fly-fishing while stretching the legs?
Do fish follow a logical and predictable route in moving water where probabilities for connecting with a fish are greatest?
What do your own fishing experiences reveal?
My own fishing experiences reveal the fact that the fish always travel and much prefer the OTHER SIDE of the river. Just couldn't resist. Interested in what the pros have to say on this issue though. From what I have seen, in most stretches of the Kenai River, they like the south side. I have consistently been more successful fishing the south bank in just about every place I have tried there.
Originally Posted by Dieseldan
Fish Fish Fish
Salmon are guided by the "smell" of their home waters. It follows that when they are scooting up-river, they are in the bulk of the current, with no apparent regard to ease of travel. On the other hand, when they need to rest, they school up in eddies, as you said, behind structure. When they can, they prefer darker, deeper(8ft), holes for safety and to get out of the heat of the sun. When they are in the more powerful eddies (like in Chitina or Kenai) they actually are pointed into the prevailing current, or DOWN river.
Here's the rub... When scooting, salmon are quite fast, and have approximately zero interest in anything you do. When at rest, they are "hiding," deep and dark. The best chance for success with your inflatable is to find fish transitioning between these places, in something like a "run" of steady, deeper(3-4ft), slower current where the fish are neither moving nor holding, but stuck between rapids and eddies.
Anyway, that's my observation from my 40 years of watching them in clear rivers like the Chena, Salcha, Gulkana, Little Su, etc.
As to which side... that's simple. They use BOTH sides.
My observations in the intertidal zone of my favorite glacial stream.
When the current is flowing strongly downriver, smaller salmon will seek out the soft edges of the main flow close to the banks and islands. They also travel very close to the bottom where current is softer than it is higher in the water column. A rising tide (which softens the main current) will tend to disperse the fish across the full width of the river in the tidal zone. It also tends to lift fish off the bottom. The fish assume more of a bottom/shore oriented migration pattern as the tide recedes.
Sockeye in particular are extremely shore-oriented in their migration, and left undisturbed by the boot brigade, will travel within a rod length or two of the bank. There is NO need to wade out for sockeye... they prefer to swim where most of the masses wade. In the tidal zone, this shore-affinity will be violated on a major push of fish where there is not enough physical space to allow all of the fish to travel near shore... they simply spill over into the main channel, often polluting the mid-channel chinook sonar counter.
Pinks and silvers use the same travel lanes as sockeye, but will also migrate a bit further out from the bank.
Kings travel any darn place they please. They are big, powerful, full-bodied fish that can overcome even midchannel flows at maximum ebb. But they also use the soft edges to conserve energy, especially when the river is colored, flows are high, and boat traffic is especially heavy. I have caught some of the biggest kings fishing the inside edges in water no more than 4-5 ft deep.
All salmon will use backwater areas to hold and rest when they need a break... Beaver Creek, Honeymoon, Fall In, Big Eddy. Incidentally, those are all on the NORTH side.
"Let every angler who loves to fish think what it would mean to him to find the fish were gone."
The KeenEye MD
My experience is that all fish are energy-conserving. When traveling upstream, they generally run along the seam between the main current and the slow water closer to the bank ...avoiding the shallows on the insides of bends. I used to plunk a lot and we always wanted our gear just barely inside the edge of the current. Too shallow, no fish. To far into the main current, no fish. Right on the seam or barely into the edge of the current, then you catch fish. Steelies, Kings, the same. Never fished for silvers this way (usually only trolling ocean or rivers for those.)