Chinook Rigs That Work

Because spring-run salmon are some of the tastiest fish to move inland, you'll want to maximize your fish-catching potential by using proven rigs.

When it comes to rigging for salmon, there's a lot to be said for the tried-and-true and traditional. There's also a lot to be said for the new and innovative - and for the creative desperation that sometimes takes over after a half-day of being completely skunked. It's all good, especially when a little literary license lets you mix the two together.

Three basic riggings for springers get the vote from Bruce Greene of Wilderness River Outfitters in Springfield, Ore. The first two are fairly common; the one involves divers and bait, the other Kwikfish with a sardine wrap. "Then sometimes there's a weighted spinner that I'll run on a diver with no hook," Greene explains. "I'll put a spinner behind it, so I'm running a little deeper. The depth varies so much in the river that you just fish according to the hole, but I run it right close to the bottom as often as I can."

David Castellanos of Cast Guide Service in Smith River, Calif., fishes Oregon's southern gem, the Rogue River, for spring chinook. "I use a Rogue rod rated at 15- to 25-pound-test line with a stainless steel spreader on it," he says. "Then I add a monofilament dropper of about 12 inches, with 6 to 8 ounces of lead on it. I tie on about a 36-inch leader and use homemade spinners."

Castellanos recommends anchovies on the Rogue; he also favors spinners with colored beads. "You can use any color, or you can get extravagant and use the beads made from Austrian crystal," he says. "They run 25 cents or better, but they have a nice flash and they do attract the fish."

For off-color water on cloudy days, use copper or brass spinners, but if the water's clear and the day is sunny, silver or gold is a better bet. The Colorado spinnerblade is probably the most popular.

Fishing guide John Gross shows the results of downsizing baits as water levels drop. Photo by John Gross

For some rivers, current makes the difference. Umpqua River guide Terry Jarmain recommends spinners. "If the current is strong, you can't use Flatfish or Kwikfish, because the plug will work too fast. Use a spinner instead. Chartreuse is good, and copper or brass blades work well. Shine them up and they're even more effective."

He uses a spinnerbait hook on a whole sardine or anchovy and rigs a blade above the nose of the bait, with beads between the two. "You want the bait to spin in the current," he says, "so you slide on enough beads to get the bait and the spinner separated, then put the spinner blade on. The beads give the two enough room that they'll both spin." Jarmain uses about six beads, usually 4mm in size, and a blade between No. 4 and No. 7 size. But, he says, the size is irrelevant if you get the spinner and the bait both spinning.

Jarmain also recommends a sardine-wrapped Kwikfish, and says it doesn't seem to matter what color plug you choose. "If you fish with chartreuse all the time, you're going to catch fish," he says. "Keep in mind that the fish you're trying to catch has done only two things all of its life: swim and eat. So you want to get this in front of them, which will annoy them. Imagine you are a salmon swimming up the river. It's like having a persistent housefly in your face. Salmon can't slap at it with a hand; they have to bite it."

Some anglers opt for a diver and bait for springers, but it can be a bother if squawfish are present.

And then there's the new: John Gross of Roaring Fork Guide Service in Springfield is an advocate of using tuna balls.

"It's different," says Gross, "quite unlike the traditional sand shrimp and eggs. You take tuna from a can - make sure you get the kind with the heavy oil and not the stuff packed in water - and you make a bait ball wrapped in mesh. You can use the little red net thingies - or even nylons or pantyhose would work. You make bait balls that range upwards from the size of a quarter and rig it like you would roe. This works best back-bouncing rather than with a diver. Some people add flotation into the mesh itself, using puffballs in the tuna. Or you can put Corkys upleader to give it some flotation."

Just because one spring chinook rigging made for a banner day last week, don't get so friendly with it that you want to use only that the next couple of times out. Conditions may dictate a change. "When the river's up and high," says Gross, "and maybe has some color, I'm using wrapped Kwikfish. As the river starts to drop, I move to the smaller plugs, baits and spinners. Use smaller presentations as the river gets lower and clearer, and you'll do better with springers.

"I use a variety of herring and sardine and anchovy to wrap Kwikfish," Gross says. "I like the sardines because of the oil, but they're not as tough as herring. It depends on the quality of the fish you get."

Which wrap you use depends on your preference and the availability of quality baitfish. But what about the Kwikfish? Do the chinook care which one you use? "One of the most all-time popular Kwikfish is the silver body with chartreuse bill," says Gross. "It's really the go-to plug."

He adds that some streams feature nuances in their conditions that make one plug more effective than others; experimentation and gathering local knowledge will determine that lure.

And there's always the weather.

"When the sun comes out, it's hard to beat the silver and yellow plug," says Gross. "Most important, though, you have to be versatile. What works well one week might not work at all next week, so you have to experiment. Remember: It's easy to get caught in the same old groove, so watch the conditions and respond accordingly with sizes and colors. If you fish the same plug every single time, you just won't do as well. It may be an awesome plug, but it's not going to be as effective some days as on others."

Tune A Plug
Most fishing plugs come from the shelf in tune, meaning they'll dive straight down and pull straight while trolling. Hook into a hawg fish or lunker log, though, and the plug can get out of tune.

You can tell when it's out of tune because the plug moves diagonally when pulled through the water, hampering performance and any semblance of realism. Fortunately, this is a problem with an easy fix.

Use needle-nose pliers and twist the eyelet in the direction you want the plug to go. If it's diving to the left, for example, twist the eyelet to the right. Test it in the current to make sure it's di

ving straight, and make sure it's kept tuned.

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