Gearing Up For Springers
Where To Go, How To Rig
Where To Go:
Best and worst advice: follow the crowds. Springer fishermen stick to the moving schools like glue. As a rule, in early March head for the Clifton Channel near Cathlamet, Tenasillahe and Puget Islands then head upriver to the mouths of the Cowlitz (if you like crowds, you'll love the Cowlitz mouth) Lewis and Kalama river mouths.
Lots of springers stack in the Columbia directly off and just below the mouth of the Willamette River targeting Oregon fish that are making up their minds to turn right or go straight. The Multnomah Channel, a branch off the Willamette, hits the Columbia below the main river and gives the Oregon springers their first whiff of natal water. Try Coon Island. Springers hang there to sort out river scents. Sellwood Bridge is a traditional hot spot Trolling herring, Kwikfish is the best way to hit the Willamette and Multnomah springers. Near Oregon City/Willamette Falls expect to find back-bouncers with prawns and eggs working between the trollers. It can make gear problems, but is manageable with good manners. Also some bank plunk opportunities here..
Back in the mainstem Columbia troll and plunk off the sandy banks of Sauvies and Bachelor Island, Warrior Rock, Frenchaman's Bar, immediately below the I-5 Bridge and above and below the mouth of the Sandy--all good spots.
Try to hit an incoming tide and bear in mind that springers prefer to travel shallow water 9- to 25-feet deep to stay out of the heavy currents by swimming river edges.
Rig Like A Pro
By Allen Thomas
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Rods & Reels
Start with a 7 1/2- to 9-foot rod which says on its side it is good for use with 15- to 50-pound test line. Lighter rods will work, especially for trolling plugs like Wind River or Drano Lake. But if you are anchored, the Columbia is running hard on an outgoing tide, and it takes 8 ounces of weight to stay on the bottom, those wimpy rods are a handicap.
For a reel, simply buy a quality level-wind and load it with 30-pound-test line. Plenty of good reels are on the market in the $65 to $80 price range.
Guide Paul Woodrum of Wildlife Fishing Adventures said he likes a 7-foot rod rated for 15- to 50-pound-test line. He fishes 20-pound-test monofilament line and uses about 15-pound-test for his dropper line. Stiff , 20-pound fluorocarbon line resists twists and makes good salmon leaders.
Herring, either whole or plug-cut, are the gold standard of the lower Columbia, but sardines are favored for plug wraps by some top rods because of the additional oil. Buzz Ramsey explains, "Most of the herring you buy in trays have been caught live and starved for 30 days to make nice firm bait, and they make a nice plug-cut. But they don't really have as much oil as sardines for wraps. Ramsey prefers sardines for wrapping MagLips and Kwikfish used backtrolling.
Whole herring can be trolled and fished while at anchor. Whole herring are fished, well, whole. Plug-cut herring have the head sliced off. Most anglers use an inexpensive plug-cutting device to help get the angle and the bevel
Guide Jack Glass recommends leaving the entrails inside a plug-cut herring to provide natural scent. If after trolling a bit, the entrails are dragging out of the body cavity, they can be snipped off with a pair of scissors. Herring come in different sizes, differentiated by the color of the label.
Green label herring tend to be the choice of the majority of spring chinook aficionados. Blue label herring are larger than greens, which are larger than red label. Red label herring normally are fished whole, being on the small side to plug cut. Blue label herring generally are plug cut, unless the angler wants a really large bait. "I prefer a plug-cut herring,'' said fishing guide David Johnson of Oregon. “I usually use a blue label early on in the season. As the water warms or clears, I go to a green label. The clearer the water, the warmer the water, the smaller the bait.''
Guide Lance Fisher of Oregon said he prefers blue label herring. "I don't know if it matters I just like how they roll,'' Fisher said.
Regardless of the size of herring, consider treating them in rock salt. The treatment will brighten and toughen the bait, and helps keep the shiny scales attached. To treat herring, let them thaw for about 45 minutes, or until half thawed out. Then, mix about one cup of rock salt with 3 to 4 cups of warm water in a small plastic container. Some anglers put in a bit of anise extract to add scent. Put the herring in the brine and refrigerate overnight. There also are herring cures available in sporting good stores.
Hooks need to be matched to the size of the herring. A good guide is use 2/0 to 4/0 for red label, 4/0 to 5/0 for green label and 5/0 to 6/0 for blue label herring. Double hooks are used when rigging a herring and can be bought pre-tied at sporting goods stores.
Herring leaders can be bought with either both hooks tied fixed, or with the top hook able to slide. The sliding hook is easier for a newcomer. Johnson said he prefers fixed hooks. The sliding hook sometimes slides down and break off against the fixed hook, he said.
Veteran Clark County angler Craig Lynch ties his own leaders, using a 5/0 hook on top and a 3/0 hook on the bottom. He ties the hooks 1-7/8 inches apart for green label herring.
The debate is endless regarding the length of the leader and dropper line. "I've seen people in a hog line using a six-inch lead line and a four-foot lead line and if the fish are in everybody's catching them,'' Johnson said. As a starting point, use a 5- to 6-foot leader and a 30-inch dropper. Johnson said he uses the length of his arm as the length of his dropper.
Veteran herring trollers often split their leader in half. Three feet of leader is tied to the spreader bar, then a small Spin-n-Glo and a bead is threaded on the line. Tie the tail end to a swivel or bead chain, then run another three feet of leader to the hooks.
Often you'll see an orange or pink golf tee used over the nose of a whole herring.
Fisher uses the same gear he uses at Buoy 10 to troll for spring chinook. That includes a Delta Diver, Fish Flash and leader to the fixed hooks. He also likes his herring hooked so they spin tightly. "What I'm looking for is a very tight spin,'' Fisher said. "I do not like a big, wide tail. I like them almost spinning on their own axis. The main thing I get out of it is the fish that bite I get.''
Before the proliferation of plastic lures, the choices other than herring largely boiled down to spinners, wobblers or Spin-n-Glos. Spin-n-Glo winged bobbers remain the staple of the bank angler. They come in just about every color and combination of colors imaginable. Orange, pink, chartreuse, silver and gold -- or, more likely, some combination of those colors -- are most popular. A spring chinook is a big fish, so use a size 0 or larger. Spin-n-Glos also are fished by boat anglers, but for some reason seem to be more effective fished from shore than from a boat.
Spinners don't get fished as often as they did in the 1960s and 1970s, but are still an effective spring chinook lure. Buy them large and in the same colors as Spin-n-Glos. Many a spring chinook has fallen to a simple rainbow
Kwikfish and Flatfish are in vogue as spring chinook lures for the thousands of anglers in the hoglines of the lower Columbia River. Made by different companies, the two lures fish similarly. Sizes K14 through K16 Kwikfish
are popular for spring salmon. Several silver-chartreuse Kwikfish color combinations are on the market and are effective. Johnson said he prefers a K15 for spring chinook and a K16 for fall chinook.
Most anglers put a "sardine wrap'' on a Kwikfish. A sardine wrap involves cutting a rectangular piece of meat from a bait sardine, and attaching it to the underside of a Kwikfish. The skin of the sardine goes against the lure. Tiny rubber bands are sold at sporting goods stores to hold the wrap against the lure, or special thread works, too. Sardines are oily and their smell attracts chinook. Herring also are used for wraps. Many anglers then add the scent of their choice.
Woodrum said he's partial to Smelly Jelly's garlic scent. Guide Brandon Glass said he will sometimes mix bits of herring, anchovy and sardine and put the paste inside a Brad's Super Plug Cut lure. It offers the fish a different flavor. Johnson said he often blends scents, such as squid and sardine oil. "Salmon like a mixture of smells, just like we like a good hamburger with lots of things on it,'' he said.
Woodrum also said he doesn't always put a wrap on a Kwikfish. "If you do use wraps, change them about every 45 minutes,'' Woodrum said. Woodrum, Johnson and other guides also give this advice: Wash your Kwikfish daily. "Use Lemon Joy to scrub your plugs with hot water, then let them air dry,'' Woodrum said. "Every day, every Kwikfish is washed in Lemon Joy before it goes back in the tackle box for use the next day.''
Woodrum also suggests pinching the barb down on the treble hooks of a Kwikfish. "Chinook have a bony mouth and jaw,'' he said. "Hooks with a pinched barb often penetrate deeper and better. Just take the needlenose pliers and pinch the barb.'' Some anglers replace the hooks that come on a Kwikfish or Flatfish with single Siwash hooks attached via split rings and swivels. As a guide, use 4/0 Siwash hooks for a K14, 5/0 hooks for a K15 or T-50 Flatfish and 6/0 hooks for a K16 Kwikfish or T-55 Flatfish. Johnson said he swaps out the factory hooks on a Kwikfish with Gamakatsu brand treble hooks and a pair of split rings. He uses size 1 hooks for a K14, size 1/0 for a K15 and size 2/0 for a K16.
Woodrum said he changes lures about every 20 minutes. When anchored on an outgoing tide fishing a Kwikfish, Fisher said he changes his dropper length depending on the speed of the current. If the river is running hard, he
might fish a dropper as short as 12 inches. On a softer flow, the dropper might be as long as 30 to 36 inches. "The harder the tide, the shallower the water I'm looking for up to about 10 feet,'' Fisher said. "On a real soft tide, I might be in 25 to 26 feet deep. The harder the tide, typically I move into the shore. That's what I think the fish are doing.''
The easiest way to fish for spring chinook is to clip a Magnum Wiggle Wart or Brad's Wiggler to a snap, pull out about 20 or so arm's lengths of line and troll. This is the almost universal technique at the mouth of Wind River or Drano Lake, although trolling with herring works there, too.
* Spring chinook travel about 15 to 20 feet deep. Lures should be fished slightly above the salmon. Many trollers
think about 12 feet is just right.
* Troll slowly. Try for the slowest speed at which a spinner blade will make regular, complete revolutions. Troll in s-shaped curves.
* Troll herring downstream on the incoming tide, then anchor on the outgoing tide and fish lures or herring. If the flows are low in the Columbia, a strong tidal push can just about stop the current at high tide.
Baits and lures made to fish in current don't work in slack water. All the tips aside, Anderson's advice about lots of time on the water still prevails. "It doesn't matter what scent you're going to use, how far you put out behind the boat, how much leader you have how much dropper you have, if there are no fish around, you're not going to catch them,'' Johnson said. "If there are lots of fish around, you're going to catch fish the whole day.''
of Allen Thomas, www.columbian.com/news/sports/outdoors.)