Spring Chinook Salmon Fishing Tips and Techniques

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Spring Chinook Tips Techniques
Early Season Spring Chinook

Does the Willamette River’s Multnomah Channel play a part in the lanes springers will be using to travel?

Yes a very large percentage of the Willamette River Spring Chinook will take the Multnomah Channel route to get up into the main-stem Willamette. The Channel comes in about 15 miles downstream of the Willamette Mouth so it is the first strong smell of the Willamette they get and it is apparently mighty alluring!

What are the preferred Willamette boat ramps to access the Willamette?

Starting from the mouth of the Willamette and working upstream, they are; Fred’s Marina, Cathedral Park, Swan Island, Willamette Park, Jefferson Street Boat Ramp, Oak Grove, Cedar Oak, Meldrum Bar, Clackamette Park, Sportcraft Marina, Bernert Landing. I’ve never launched above Willamette Park so I’m just quoting (http://www.oregon.gov/OSMB/library/d…Guide.pdf?ga=t) for the launches above there.

What are good stretches to troll herring downhill (other than follow the other 1,000 boats)?

Assuming you’re talking about the Willamette. Because the current tends to run much slower then the Columbia, it isn’t as important to troll with the current in this river, unless of course the current is running hard and you aren’t making any headway upstream. Most folks in the Willamette focus on a specific area (such as the Sellwood Bridge) and troll up and down working the different ledges. In the harbor (downstream from downtown Portland) folks troll pretty randomly until they find fish and then they work the fishy areas hard.

If herring does not seem to be the trick, would you switch up to a bright spinner while trolling or try to play the anchor and kwikfish type of game?

If folks are catching fish around you on herring then I would stay with herring. If fish aren’t being caught at all then it isn’t because of the herring it’s because the fish aren’t in that location or the tide is wrong. The best time to catch spring chinook is an hour before and an hour after the tide change, so if I wasn’t catching fish or seeing them caught, I would head downriver toward the tide change. Once the bite stopped there, I would head upriver toward the tide change (it’s much harder to chase the tide change upriver than to find it downriver, it happens pretty fast as it moves upstream.) I don’t anchor fish for Springers, it just isn’t as effective for me as trolling herring or prawns.

When fishing Drano Lake, I notice quite a few guides start out early in the morning trolling wrapped Kwikfish, what’s the best way to ensure your offering is getting down to where the fish are?

See that’s the key … you don’t need to get down to where they are, they aren’t deep. The fish are shallow really early in the morning and standard Kwikfish and Super Flatfish work great during that time. Folks troll them 50′ to 60′ back which is plenty of line to get them down. Well why wouldn’t prawns work that early in the morning? They would but if you run them shallow i.e 10 to 14 feet down, the boat spooks the fish and they don’t see your offering which is right below the boat. If you found a way to get the prawns back that far and still shallow they would probably work equally well.
If you want to get your Kwikfish deeper run a bead chain or two on your line or even a small sinker.
Kwikfish really seem to work at Drano during cold water years and early in the seaon before the water has warmed up. Obviously the best place to use them is in the main lake where you can let that much line out and not interfere with other anglers. Kwikfish also target those shallow fish that most anglers don’t target because most anglers fish directly below the boat which is a must when you’re in close quarters, but when your out in the lake you can fish the whole water column.

We all know the popular spots on the Columbia River for Spring Chinook, but the fish have to move between them and I can’t believe they cannot be caught in those places also?

The popular spots are popular and tend to be productive for one or two of the following reasons; they hold fish, and/or they are easy to fish. The best and seemingly most popular are where both of these reasons happen in the same spot.
Fish move from holding location to holding location during the early to mid part of the season, after that the majority of them are blasting through. They can be caught in the in-between areas but like you and I discussed on the phone the other day … do you really want to devote the limited amount of hours in the day to the in-between areas where even if they are there they may or may not be willing to bite? Or do you want to get the heck upstream or downstream to where you know the next holding area or tide change is going to be happening? Spring Chinook fishing isn’t easy and I want to spend my time in the most productive water possible.
The key difference between Tillamook tide water and the lower 146 miles of the Columbia River is that in Tillamook those fish are only a few miles and days/weeks from spawning and their spawning grounds. Spring Chinook are in a different part of their life cycle and hundreds of miles and at least a month or even months away from spawning. So what I’m saying is that they aren’t holding in the Columbia like they would in the Wilson, when these fish move they don’t move to the next hole around the corner, they move 15 miles upstream, as the water warms, some don’t even stop. The exception to this rule would be the gigantic amount of fish that hold behind Bonneville Dam, but we don’t get much fishing time up there anymore.
The correlation that you we’re drawing would be more likely to occur in the Willamette where the fish do hold for a much longer period of time before heading over the falls. There is always a certain stretch during May where you can pretty much expect to catch a springer behind every rock!

How deep does the water have to be before Spring Salmon will suspend? When they do suspend, will they split the difference between the top and bottom or do they favor a bit deeper vs a bit more shallow?

A certain percentage of the fish are always going to suspend and when this is a small percentage I find that I’m wasting my time fishing for them especially if the greater percentage is hugging the bottom. I would only target those suspended fish if the bottom was so snaggy that fishing very close to it proved to be a nightmare (i.e. so much time spent retying that I’m not being effective). More likely I would go to a location where the bottom suited the technique.
I want to spend the bulk of my time in the zone, and the zone is defined as where the bulk of the fish are located AND where they are willing to bite AND where the pattern for harvesting them can be duplicated time and time again. I don’t find that the majority of the biting fish suspend in the Columbia. Just ask anyone who fished that deep water from the rail road bridge downstream to above Davis Bar last year. They may have caught a few fish (a very few fish) but most caught nothing in that deep water.
How deep does the water have to be? Not trying to be elusive here, but that depends on the conditions. Last year we were catching fish on the bottom in 40 to 50 feet of water on the Columbia. However it was a unique year and I attribute that to the low flows that we were experiencing. I remember years past (2004) when I caught fish at Laurel Beach on anchor using Kwikfish in 35 to 40 feet of water.
So what I am about to tell you is just a rule of thumb and the fish don’t often consult me so they don’t always know these rules. I believe they favor shallower water and they tend to move deeper as the day gets longer. “Spring Chinook will suspend between 16′ and 24′ when the water is deeper than 40′.” This is something we mostly focus on in the Willamette where we KNOW we are fishing on suspended salmon that are kind of holding or not really moving too fast.
If you see a large number of them running shallower than this, I would venture to say that it is later in the (Columbia) season and that what you’re actually seeing is steelhead.

Is there a need to brine herring or sardines before you wrap the Kwikfish?

No I don’t believe there is a need to this before hand.

Is there a need to add any scents after wrapping the plugs for a better scent trail, what do you guys do?

You can juice them up with sardine oil and all kinds of other scents but I typically just fish them as fresh wraps and then after 20 to 30 minutes I will pull them in and juice them up really well with Sardine Oil and put them back out for another 20 minutes. After that I pull them in and put on new bait wraps.