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15 tips for spring chinook fishing

By , Columbian Outdoors Reporter
Published: March 10, 2011, 12:00am

No 1 Which bait, what temperature?

Baits and lures perform differently in varying water temperatures. When the water is in the 40s, herring generally work best. Temperatures in the 50s are prime for Kwikfish. In water between 55 and 70 degrees, try spinners.

No. 2 Cleaniless counts!

Guides agree that keeping Kwikfish washed and clean is critical in spring chinook fishing. Most tout Lemon Joy as their preferred detergent for washing plugs.

Carry a little bucket in your boat where you can keep water and wash the lure. Also, clean the handles of your rods, especially cork handles. And when was the last time you cleaned the towels in the boat?

No. 3 Sardine wraps

Wrapping a fillet of sardine to the belly of a K14 or K15 Kwikfish is a popular ways to fish for spring chinook. Some anglers don’t bother with the sardine wrap, but that’s a mistake, guides say.

But don’t put on too big a wrap and change it every 30 to 60 minutes.

No. 4 Patience please

As soon as the rod starts bouncing, too many spring salmon anglers grab it out of the holder and try to set the hook. This is a bad practice. With a herring, try waiting three seconds, which will seem like an eternity.

No. 5 Fish Flash color

Fish Flash, a flasher made by Big Al’s Tackle Co. of Gig Harbor, is frequently used along with herring to attract the attention of spring chinook. There’s not a lot of consensus among the guides, but some feel red is better in murky water, chartreuese is better in clear water.

No. 6 Kwikfish color

If you’re going to anchor and fish with Kwikfish, you don’t need every color and style Luhr Jensen makes. But have these three patterns: a) silver body with a chartreuse head, b) silver body with a chartreuse head and tail, c) silvery body with a chartreuse head or tail and blue herringbone stripes.

Feeling a need for something other than silver and chartreuse? We’ve caught spring fish, including a 30.5-pounder last year, on both orange and a deep red (almost maroon).

No. 7 Herring details

Packaged herring come in several sizes and are graded by color. Green label and blue label are the most common sizes for spring chinook. Blue label herring are larger than greens.

Then there’s the choice of plug-cut (head removed) or whole herring, and whether to leave the guts in or out on a plug cut.

Plug cut tend to be popular than whole herring for spring chinook. There is absolutely no agreement on whether to leave the guts in or dig them out. A tight spin is considered best.

If anchored, try a whole herring, in essence, fishing a “meat spinner.’’

No. 8 Tides and depth

Start off shallower in the morning. In a hogline, you’ll see the inside boats catch fish first, then the boats in deeper water will get fish. As the daylight brightens, the fish move deeper. Consider the time of day it is when selecting your spot in a hogline.

Also, the harder the tide, the shallower the water.

No. 9 Leader color

Try a clear leader. What can it hurt, although many guides say chinook are not at all leader shy. Flurocarbon lines resist twisting and make good leader material.

No. 10 Scouting

Go out with your depth finder early and look for humps in the river. Many popular hoglines tend to be near humps on the bottom, with the lures presented where the chinook are moving on the upslope of a hump.

No. 11 Try tipping

Add an enticement like a pink plastic worm on the hook of a herring. It’s a popular method in Puget Sound. If you’ve already made a half dozen downstream passes for the day with no fish, why not try it?

Chartreuse is another good color of worm. Experiment with varying lengths.

No. 12 Do not pet your cat

Pet have lots of odors. If you pet the cat or dog, wash with Lemon Joy before touching any of your gear. Consider wearing nitrile gloves because some folks appear to have scents off-putting to fish.

No. 13 Make your luck

But perseverence also matters. Sooner or later, there’s going to be a good bite. The more time you spend on the water, the more likely you’ll be there when that hot bite turns on.

No. 14 Mix up the scent

Try mixing up bits of herring, anchovy and sardine, then put the paste inside a Brad’s Super Bait Cut Plug lure and troll it like a herring. It’s probably best to get a separate blender for this rather than use the family’s blender from the kitchen. What color of lure? Blackjack (No. 21) gets the best reviews, followed by Blue Hawaiian (No. 22).

The Super Bait works well for coho in the ocean and at Buoy 10. The jury is still out if these are effective in the river for spring chinook, but they do catch some fish.

No. 15 Consider (gulp) an Oregon license

With the lower Columbia anticipated to close in early April, then what? Wait for a couple of weeks, then pound away at Wind River or Drano Lake? Some local anglers plan to buy an Oregon non-resident license, launch at Ridgefield Marina and fish Multnomah Channel, which the portion of the Willamette River on the west side of Sauvie Island.

That will cost $106.25 for an Oregon non-resident license, $26.50 for a harvest tag and $22 for an aquatic invasives species permit. The total is $154.75.

For that amount, you’ll probably want to make several trips.

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