Spring chinook, Columbia Gorge style

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter



For guide Shane Magnuson, there are several decisions to make when trying to catch spring chinook salmon at the mouth of Wind River or Drano Lake in the Columbia Gorge.

Herring? Prawn spinner? Super Baits? Plugs?

But the first decision of the morning is a no-brainer: To put on a pair of nitrile gloves.

“Fish smell in parts per billion,’’ said Magnuson, owner of Upper Columbia Guide Service. “When touching swivels, touching hooks, our scent is a predator-type scent. There are plenty of products to try to cover it up. But, if you can start on a clean base then use a scent product to enhance it you are way better off.’’

Magnuson, of Leavenworth, Wash., guides at Wind and Drano during the peak of the fishery in late April and early May.

Boats limits, two-pole rule begin today

HOME VALLEY — Boat limits and the two-pole endorsement opportunity begin today at Wind River and Drano Lake.

Through June 30, each angler on a boat may keep fishing with salmon and steelhead gear until the limit has been achieved for all aboard.

In addition, license holders who purchased the two-pole endorsement ($14.30) may fish with two rods during the same period.

“I personally like Wind River a little bit better,’’ he said. “Usually what makes me decide is the weather. In Drano, you can get in a little protected out of the weather. And sometimes the bite is just so good at Drano you’ve got to be there.’’

Magnuson said it’s important when fishing at Wind River and Drano Lake to match the right offerings together. Herring and prawn spinners fish well together as do Super Baits and plugs.

“Herring and prawns troll really well at a slow speed,’’ he said.”If you put on a herring and a plug, you’re going to go troll at a speed you have confidence in. If you have more confidence in the plug, you’re going to troll at a faster speed and the herring’s not fishing — or vice versa.’’

Here are Magnuson’s thoughts about each of the four main trolling methods at Wind River and Drano Lake:

Herring/prawn spinners — He puts a couple of beads on each side of his slider, then ties the main line to a chain swivel. From the chain swivel to the flasher, Magnuson puts 8 inches of 40-pound monofilament line.

He call those 8 inches the “shock leader.’’

“It’s really stiff. It allows that Fish Flash to stay nice and straight behind that chain swivel and rotate. It gives a good axis because it’s stiff line.’’

A 42-inch leader of 20- to 25-pound-test connects the flasher with the herring. His dropper line to a 5- to 8-ounce round sinker is never heavier than 15-pound-test, so it will break if snagged.

With 20- to 25-pound leaders, Magnuson will use a pair of 3/0 hooks in the herring, of which he prefers the red size.

“If you go with a little smaller hook, the herring is allowed to spin at a much better pace,’’ he said. “You can troll it down to that really slow speed. When you start getting into the bigger hooks — 4/0 or 5/0 — they have so much weight to them some times you’ve got to pull the herring faster to spin right.’’

While many spring chinook anglers like green-label herring, Magnuson will choose red.

“It’s fine with the fish. They’ll eat a small bait. It’s a lot easier to get that little red label to spin at a slow speed.’’

He typically uses the 8-inch size of flasher, although once Drano Lake gets very clear Magnuson might drop to a 6-inch version or jump up to 10 inches if he mouth of Wind River is muddy.

Any color of flasher is fine so long as it’s got some green or chartreuse, he added.

Magnuson uses a Lamiglas Kenai Kwik 1064 rod rated for 30-pound test and a Shimano Tekota 300 or 500 reel. He likes the graphite rod handles.

“The handles are easy to wash,’’ he said. “At the end of the day, I can take my little scrub brush and lemon-fresh Joy and over all by plugs and wash them and wash my handles and even give my reels a scrub.’’

Spring chinook at Wind and Drano bite soft.

“You’ll find when a chinook hits up the river a little ways, he not ready to bite…You get a lot of light biters…When that happens, you really want to sit and wait. You want to let them take it. It’s not like a plug bite where they bite it and take off.’’

The trolling speed when using herring is 0.4 to 0.5 milesper hour, and not faster than 1.5 miles per hour.

If he has four rods in his boat, three will be fishing with prawn spinners and one with a herring, Magnuson said. He has that much confidence in a spinner with a prawn trailing.

The prawn does not always have to rotate.

“Some days they want that thing dead straight. Other days, they want it rolling around.’’

Plugs/Super Baits — Magnuson mostly fishes with a MagLips 3.5 or 4.5 when trolling with plugs, but uses some Wiggle Warts and Fatfish.

“MagLips have taken over my world,’’ he said. “They’ll out fish a Wiggle Wart 4-to-1. They go a little deeper and have a little better action.’’

Magnuson wraps his MagLips with sardine fillets or some tuna — or both.

“I’ll take tuna out of the can, lay it on the belly of the plug, then put a little sardine fillet on top and wrap it,’’ he said.

He uses grocery-store-bought tuna right out of the can. He’ll also drain some of the oil out of the tuna can into a plastic baggie and use it to scent his plugs.

“That tuna oil is great for dipping plugs in, to give a little different scent to a plug,’’ he said.

One caveat: The oil goes bad after a day, so dump it when you’re done.

“They actually fish a little better wrapped,’’ he said. “They’ve got a little weight on them. They stay a little more true plus they’ve got scent on them.’’

Among the top MagLips colors mentioned by Magnuson were blue and green (like a Seahawks uniform), yellow-green and gold.

Magnuson replaces the factory hooks on MagLips with Mustard 2/0 siwash hooks attached by a No. 7 barrel swivel.

A Brad’s Super Bait trolls well with a plug.

“They will bite a Super Bait like a plug,’’ he said. “They fish a lot better at a faster speed.’’

Magnuson will open the Super Bait and fill it with tuna.

“You want to be able to shut it completely,’’ he said. “If you go to shut it and there’s still a little bit of gap, because you’ve filled it so flu, it’s going to throw off the spin.’’

Other tips — When trolling, every so often Magnuson will throttle up his kicker engine to full speed for 10 to 15 yards, then drop to normal speed.

“All the plugs will dig really hard,’’ he said. “It’s a good trick to try.’’

Most of Drano Lake is 25 to 30 feet deep, but the chinook tend to suspend between 15 and 21 feet. But Wind River is shallower, 10 to 20 feet, and most of the fish are on bottom.

He puts his plugs out 60 to 70 feet behind the boat at Drano Lake and a little less at Wind River.

It’s also not always necessary to fish in the Gorge at daybreak.

“They’ll always have that early-morning bite,’’ Magnuson said. “Then they shut off around 9, 10 or 11 o’clock. But, a lot of the time, you can catch a lot of fish at Drano from 1 to 5 p.m. They’ll turn back on. By early afternoon, you start getting new bunches of fish that come in.’’