Diver & Bait for River Salmon

By Fish with JD - Headed for a river that has salmon in it this summer and fall? Take some diver & bait rigs with you — it’s a super easy and extremely deadly technique that you can pick up in no time!

While there are several good ways to get a big, juicy glob of hot red sulfite eggs (or sand shrimp) down in the faces of river salmon, the ol’ diver and bait is often the first one to which I turn.

Salmon Candy

Divers give me piece of mind that the bait is always in the strike zone –- when properly rigged up, your hooks will always be anywhere from 6 inches to a few feet off the bottom, so snags aren’t a huge problem, which is another attractive attribute. I also like the smooth and steady presentation of eggs tracking along behind a diver. Sometimes, I think the bait bounces up and down too much when it’s back-bounced, which can turn fish off. Another cool thing about fishing this way is the bite. It’s just so frigging sweet to see that first thump on the tip, followed by several good pumps and then the rod tip gets ripped down. Fish on…yahoo!

Now, let’s take a look at rigging up:


Well, first I guess we better take a look at the major component of this whole deal: the diver. There are a couple ways you can go, here: either run hookless plugs like Hot-N-Tots or Mud Bugs painted black or metallic green or clear Brad’s Bait Divers (looks almost identical to the old STORM Hot-N-Tots) or go with Luhr Jensen’s Jet Divers.

Jet Diver (top) and a Brad's

I run Jet Divers almost all of the time. They’re much more stable than most plugs, so they get down deep and stay there. On my home waters, the size No. 20 (dives to 20 feet) is the staple, though there are certain spots that require me to bump up to the No. 30. On rivers like the Kenai and Columbia, the size No. 40 and even the 50-foot Jumbo Jet models are popular.

Though Luhr Jensen manufacturers Jet Divers in a wide array of exciting colors, I prefer the boring, plain-jane clear ones most of the time (pink crystal is Plan B if I can find the transparent ones). I just think that the less junk the fish see, the better off you are. I do have friends, however, who swear that they get more bites when using metallic blue divers.

Jet Divers don’t need tuning and generally run great right out of the box. There are a couple things you can do however, to make them even run better. As soon as I get a new one, I’ll flip it belly up and twist off the plastic tab and crane swivel with a set of needle nose pliers. I always run divers off a dropper, so there’s simply no need for that extra stuff hanging off the bottom. There are also times when I’ll carefully take a file to the top edge of the diver’s wings to give it a little steeper diving angle – for those tight spots when I need to get my gear as straight down as possible.

Since Jet Divers don’t snag all that often, I wear more of them out than I lose. The biggest problem that I encounter is a crack in one of the wings. Unless you’re looking specifically for a crack, you may not notice it – until your driver starts doing corkscrews in the water and tangles up all your other lines. When you find you have a cracked wing, toss the entire unit it in the garbage.

Occasionally, you’ll also find water seeping into your diver’s body, which is often caused by a hairline crack (from the diver smacking the side of the boat or a fish flopping on it in the net). It’s hard to get he water back out of such a thin fracture, but you can take a tiny drill bit and make a hole towards the back of the diver to drain it. After everything dries out, hit the drill hole with epoxy and cover the crack with crazy glue.

Rigging the Diver

As I noted earlier, it’s best to run divers off dropper lines. I’ll make my drop line 12 inches to 3 feet in length, depending on the conditions. As a basic rule of thumb, go with a shorter length in fast water; longer when you’re fishing slower, deeper water.

The next step is to decide how to tie your dropper leader to your main line and you have two choices: hard-tied or on a slider. In most cases, I run my divers on sliders – in other words, I’ll tie the opposite end of my dropper line to a crane swivel and then run the main line through it. Next, I’ll slide 2-4 plastic beads up the mainline and then tie another crane swivel to the tag end. To the opposite end of that swivel, goes the bait leader. The swivel and beads between the main line and leader keep the diver from sliding down to the bait but it is free to move up the line (towards the rod).

When a fish grabs your bait, he’ll feel less resistance when the diver’s free-sliding. A sliding rig is also a good thing if you happen to get your diver caught in the net while attempting to scoop the fish. Though your diver’s tangled up in the mesh, the fish can still run without the hooks getting ripped out of its mouth.

And if you happen to break off on a fish or snag, there’s a chance your diver will float to the surface, where you can recover it – no small victory considering these things go for about $7 a pop these days!

A case can be made for fixed rigs as well, however, especially when you have inexperienced anglers on board. One of the downsides of a diver on a sliding rig occurs when the hooks get snagged. As the boat continues to back downstream, the diver keeps going, working on the bow between the rod tip and the snag. A trained eye can tell something’s amiss, but a rookie may not know anything’s wrong until his line’s upstream of the boat….arrrgh! You can fix this problem by tying your mainline, leader and dropper all to a three-way swivel.

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