Bait Action

Krippled Herring rigged for rolling bait action

Fishermen have used small fish for bait for as long as they have known big fish eat little fish. Even the Pacific coastal native indians rigged baitfish such as herring on bone-barbed hooks. With these they caught any amount of salmon, cod, and halibut. Early pioneers on coming to the coast copied and refined the Native’s techniques.

It was soon found that by trolling herring behind a dug-out canoe or row boat they caught fish. Just using a basic handline with a sinker they could easily catch one’s winter supply of salmon. By enhancing bait action results could be improved.

In the 1930’s, rod and reel anglers caught salmon by using baits rigged behind a herring dodger. They used an 8″ to 10″ flat shiny metal plate that swayed or wobbled when trolled through the water. Through the swaying motion of the herring dodger it caused the bait to sway or dart. By resembling a wounded baitfish, they had an action which enticed salmon to strike.

In the 1940’s, herring minnows were processed in salt brine and packed in small glass jars.These were made specifically for sport anglers. Beginning in the early 1950’s fresh frozen herring were available for bait. These baits were netted and packaged specifically to fit into the first plastic bait holder heads.These were designed to facilitate the rigging of baits for salmon anglers. Sports fishermen for the first time could now combine the simplicity of an artificial lure with the effectiveness of live bait.


Rigging the bait is simple but controlling its action is another skill that requires basic understanding. Possibly the most common misconception held by salmon anglers is that they feel one is successfully fishing if he has bait on the end of his line. What he doesn’t understand is the bait must have action. Usually the most productive bait action for salmon is a spiral roll. Whether it is herring minnow, herring, herring strip, anchovy, or sandlance.

Actively feeding Chinook salmon love coastal waters where the tidal current is strong (3-6 knots). This is when they usually prefer a bait with a roll which is classed as fairly fast (faster than one revolution per second). These same Chinook salmon, after moving into inside waters (bays and inlets) with little tidal current, prefer a bait with a slower spiral roll. Feeding Coho salmon usually prefer a smaller bait with a snappy, loopy roll. This spiral roll can be controlled somewhat by varying your troll speed. The faster the troll, the faster the bait revolutions, the slower the troll speed the slower the revolutions.

The curvature of a rigged bait will determine the speed of the revolution and the type of spiral roll. A ‘banana’ shaped curve in your bait will impart a corkscrew fast roll. A slight curve in only the tail portion of a straight bait will often result in a tight slow roll rate.


When fishing any bait, spend some time rigging and observing the bait’s action in the water before letting it out. Be prepared to make slight adjustments in your troll speed, hook position, placement and the actual curve in your bait. Time spent in making bait action changes is often very productive and worthwhile.

Most Salmon are not intelligent or smart, but can be very fussy feeders. This is particularly noticed if there are large amounts of natural baitfish in the area. Salmon do not feed constantly, they appear to have active or ‘bite’ periods.  Usually Salmon will gorge themselves in these short bite periods and may not feed again for several hours or even days. At such times your bait must be rigged and presented to appear as a wounded (Krippled) baitfish. They see an irresistible easy prey for some stuffed salmon, which just can’t resist that one last bite.

Learn to observe the slight differences in the bait’s action and be able to duplicate this when the bite is on. Fine tuning bait action is one of the main reasons 90% of the salmon are caught by 10% of the anglers.