Fish Flossing-AllYou Need to Know

Unless you are an avid salmon or paddlefish angler, you probably haven’t heard the term flossing.  Right about now you are probably asking yourself, “What the heck is it, and how does it relate to fishing?”

Contrary to the name, it doesn’t involve using dental floss, but it does result in the angler pulling their line through a fish’s mouth, which is where it gets its name. 

This technique is reserved for specific fish species during certain times of the year when enticing them with bait isn’t an option.  

Let’s dive deeper into the details of flossing, including what you will need, how to do it, and where it is legal.

What Is Fish Flossing?

Flossing is a fishing technique similar to snagging and is primarily used to catch spawning salmon.  

The end of a salmon’s journey culminates when they return to freshwater, swimming upstream to reproduce.  

During this time most salmon species will quit eating, but they continue to swim upstream with their mouths wide open which is why anglers attempt to snag them using a special rig.

Flossing is generally considered more ethical than snagging because the aim is to hook the fish in the mouth, versus dragging a hook through the water to hook a fish by the body. 

Legality Of Flossing

The legality of snagging fish varies by state and target species, although flossing is technically legal in every state if it is done correctly

This is because flossing involves specifically hooking the fish in the mouth while snagging refers to hooking the fish in its body.

It is important to know about the fishing regulations regarding snagging in your state because flossing can sometimes result in accidentally foul-hooking a fish.  

Equipment Needed For Flossing

Fish Flossing-What You Need to Know

In order to successfully floss for fish, you will need some specialized equipment.

Best Rods For Flossing

Heavier rods undeniably work the best for flossing salmon.  Spinning, baitcasting, and fly fishing rods will all work well when flossing.  Though the salmon is at the end of its life cycle, they will still put up quite the fight once they are on your line.  

Use a medium-heavy or heavy-weight spinner or baitcaster, to ensure that your rod has enough backbone to handle these large fish.  Salmon will have had a lifetime to grow before you will have a chance to floss for them, so come correct.

If you choose to use a fly rod make sure it is 7-10wt.  7-8wt rods will work fine for smaller species like sockeye, but you will want a 9-10wt rod for larger species like Atlantic salmon.

Regardless of the rod you choose, it will need to be capable of casting with a lot of weight on the line. 

The combination of a fast current and extra weights will surely give your rod a workout, make sure not to skimp on this with a medium-weight rod because it will lead to a broken blank.

Best Line For Flossing

Since we need to use a heavier rod to floss, you can bet that a heavy line will need to go along with it.  Most anglers prefer using a heavy-duty monofilament or copolymer line over braided or fluorocarbon.

Braided lines can twist, tangle, fray, and if you get snagged on a large rock, good luck getting it free without something sharp.  They are still fine to use as your mainline, but for the purposes of snagging, they aren’t necessary.

Fluorocarbon has the advantage of being virtually invisible underwater due to its thin diameter, but it is expensive and unnecessary for this type of fishing. 

We are attempting to finesse our hooks into the fish’s mouth, not trying to create a lifelike presentation of our bait underwater.

Monofilament and copolymer lines check all the boxes when it comes to flossing for salmon. Mono is cheap, durable, and has some stretch to it if you accidentally snag something other than a fish.  

Copolymer lines are pricier but they have even better resistance to abrasions, which can be helpful with salmon’s sharp teeth and rocks that line riverbeds.

Shoot for something in the range of 15-30 lbs depending on the species of salmon you are targeting.

Best Weights For Flossing

You will need to use a heavy enough weight that will get to the bottom of the river without snagging on every rock or tree branch in the area.  This is going to vary widely depending on the river’s current and depth.

Split shots and egg sinkers are popular weights for flossing because of their versatility and ease of use. 

Split shots are easy to add or remove from your line making it easy to adapt to changing river conditions plus they can also be added to your leader to manipulate where your hook will present in the water column.

Egg sinkers are cheap, easy to use, and won’t snag on rocks as easily since they can slide up and down your mainline.

Best Hooks For Flossing

The most important factor of a hook for flossing is how sharp it is.  This fishing technique doesn’t have the luxury of having the fish hit the hook hard enough to set itself, so it is imperative that you use something brand new and as sharp as possible.

Both circle hooks and octopus hooks are popular for this style of fishing, either will work fine but they both have some drawbacks.

Circle hooks are designed to avoid hooking the fish anywhere but in the mouth, which is what we are aiming to do. They will avoid any foul hooking, but their design makes them less effective than octopus hooks.

Octopus hooks work great for flossing because they make setting the hook easier than with a circle hook.  Just be cautious to avoid foul-hooking a fish when using this design.

Effective sizes of these hooks can range anywhere from a #6 all the way up to a 2/0 depending on what the situation calls for.  

You will have to assess your skills in order to choose the right hook, smaller short-shanked hooks will do a better job avoiding foul-hooking fish and snagging rocks and larger ones will be easier to successfully hook fish.

Basic Flossing Rig

Fish Flossing-What You Need to Know

Flossing rigs are incredibly simple to set up and use by anglers of all skill levels.  The main consideration you need to assess is the length of your leader. 

Leaders can vary anywhere between 3-9ft depending on the river’s current, depth, and surroundings.

For rivers that are shallow, slow, and free from overhead obstacles use a shorter leader of about 3-5ft.

When fishing deep, fast, or obstructed rivers you should use a longer leader in the range of 6-9ft.

Now let’s take a look at how to tie your first flossing rig:

  • Thread an egg sinker or attach split shots to your mainline and tie on a swivel below.
  • Tie your leader to the other end of the swivel using monofilament or copolymer line
  • Attach your favorite hook

It doesn’t get much more simple than that, and the real challenge to successfully flossing fish comes in the technique. 

Some anglers will tie a piece of yarn to their hook to help avoid foul-hooking or add a bead to adjust the depth of the hook in the water’s profile.

How To Floss For Fish

Successful flossing can take a little practice, but it can yield great results once you get it down.  It consists of casting up and across the current and then dragging your line perpendicular to the current. 

This will “floss” the line through a fish’s mouth and snag a fish in its mouth.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to flossing:

  • Cast across the river, above where the fish are located (10 o’clock position)
  • Let your line drift downstream until it reaches the hot spot (2 o’clock position)
  • Swiftly lift the tip of your rod, like you are setting a hook, to pull your hook across the current and through the open mouth of the fish
  • Reel in and repeat until you hook the big one

While it isn’t the most technical style of fishing, it will take some getting used to in order to effectively employ.

Final Thoughts

Flossing is an effective, yet lesser-known, fishing technique that is frequently employed by salmon anglers.  It requires some specific tackle but is relatively easy to master and can be an effective way to catch fish when they aren’t feeding.  

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