May 18, 2020
By M.D. Johnson
I freely admit I was somewhat intimidated by the thought of swtiching from the angling methods of my formative years in Ohio to the methods that are successful in Pacific Northwest salmon fishing. Truth is, I need not have worried. Before you think I’m implying that salmon fishing is easy, especially when the targets are spring Chinooks, rest assured I am not.
However, there’s a good chance you already possess the gear and some of the know-how needed to bring kings to the boat or bank. We’re putting the words “simple” and “salmon” in the same sentence and getting your prepared for the search for spring Chinook salmon.
New Jersey-born and raised, Rich Casapulla came out to the Spokane area from the East Coast in 1958 while serving in the U.S. Army. “I did nothing but trout fish up there,” he says. “Nice big trout.” Back then, he had no salmon-fishing experience to speak of.
“The first time I went salmon fishingwas from the beach on Sauvie Island (Oregon). Social Security Beach, they called it,” he says. “It was a simple process. You used a Spin-Glo on a leader behind a weight. You just cast it out, put the rod in a rod holder, put a bell on the rod and waited. There were rods every 15 feet for as far up and down the beach as you could see.”
Casapulla didn’t catch a salmon that day, but things have changed in that regard in the past six decades. Around the marina where he launches on a daily basis, the boy from Jersey is known as a highliner—a guy who could catch a salmon in a fast-disappearing mud. But spring Chinooks—or simply “springers,” as they are commonly known—don’t come easy. Casapulla himself once went 21 consecutive days without a bite. On the 22nd, however, he hooked five, landed three and put his limit of two in the cooler. That’s springer fishing for you.
Take it to the Bank
Is it possible to catch springers from the bank? You better believe it. The easiest and most non-scientific way to find a section of river suitable for bank fishing is to just look for the cars—or, better yet, the cars and the people. Lacking that, the folks at local tackle shops and bait stores are usually more than happy to point you in the right direction.
Bank fishing gear differs from the boat tackle used for spring kings in that it’s a bit more stout. Typically, bank rods are 10- to 12-feet long and usually mated to a smooth-running baitcaster capable of holding 200-plus yards of 40- to 60-pound braided line, all of which contribute to the outfit’s ability to throw a lot of weight. Weights in the six- to eight-ounce range are common, though heavier weights, depending on factors like water depth, current, bottom structure and the distance necessary to reach the strike zone, are sometimes called for. Bank rods should be medium-heavy to heavy action with a moderately sensitive tip and enough backbone to subdue a king weighing in excess of 30 pounds.
Bring Them to the Boat
According to Casapulla, the gear you need to catch spring kings from a boat is somewhat different.
“First off, I suggest a medium-heavy rod,” he says. “You can spend $300 to $400 on a really good rod—G. Loomis makes great ones—but you can get a decent one for $40 to $60. A good baitcasting reel will set you back $65 or $70 if you shop around.
“When I’m out on the water, I like a rod that’s 8 1/2 to 9 feet in length. When I fish alone, though, I fish a shorter rod—6 feet, maybe 6 1/2. A shorter rod makes solo netting duties far easier.”
Like many Northwest salmon anglers, Casapulla is a big fan of the high-tech braided lines.
“I like a heavier braided line—anywhere from 40- to 60--pound-test. Even with those heavier lines, the braids are still smaller in diameter when compared to traditional monofilament of the same pound test. That said, I do use mono as leader material.”
Casapulla ties his flasher directly to his braided mainline, while the remainder of his rigging—swivel, weights, hooks, lure, etc.—gets tied to the monofilament. The choice of mono as leader material has nothing to do with kings being leader-shy. When you consider that springtime waters are often quite dingy, that’s hardly a worry. It’s more of a money-saving measure.
“A flasher, depending on the make and model, can cost upwards of $30,” he says. “If you get snagged, losing $5 worth of hooks and lead is a lot easier to stomach than losing a $30 flasher plus everything else.”
Two Trusted Tactics
While there are numerous methods that work for catching springers, Casapulla relies on two.
“You either anchor up, often in a traditional hole or slot, or you troll,” he says. “The people who anchor usually run wobblers (lightweight metal spoons of various colors or color combinations). When I troll, I’m trolling bait, which is plug-cut herring—green label herring, in particular, which are about 7 to 7 1/2 inches long.”
A plug-cut herring is a baitfish that has had its forward section—the head and gills—cut away at an angle. The entrails are removed and a small ‘V’ or notch is made at the vent opening. The reason for all this is to create a bait that spins fast and tight when trolled.
“What you want is a ‘drill bit’ spin on that bait,” says Casapulla. “The tighter the roll, the better. Springers just seem to like that quick roll better. Is there an art to it? Absolutely. Some anglers will cut their herring freehand, and they do it well. Others use a commercial jig for uniformity from one bait to the next. Plus, it’s quicker and easier.”
As for rigging the herring, every angler has his or her “go-to” style. Casapulla is no different.
“Two hooks, solid tied,” he says. “I go through the cavity with the back hook, and come out the side. Then, I’ll put that back hook just ahead of the tail, though sometimes I’ll leave it loose. With the top hook, I’ll go into the cavity about a quarter inch and run the point from the bottom up through the spine and out the top.”
Fancy rods. Sporty reels. High-tech line. Multi-hued wobblers. Carefully cut herring. Double-hook rigs. Do I troll? Should I anchor up? With so many variables involved, fishing for springs may sound intimidating. But remember, there’s a learning curve with any type of fishing. Once you get the system down, and after enough reps, you’ll find that having success in this incredible fishery is extremely rewarding.
Give Them a Little Flash
More often than not, the waters that play home to incoming kings in spring are anything but clear. Snow melt, heavy rains, big tides—they all play a part in turning normally good rivers bad.
That’s why now is the right time to use a tool that helps fish see or home in on your bait or lure via a combination of sight and vibration. Enter the flasher. Commonly made of a heavy-duty plastic material (think thin Plexiglass) or metal, flashers are attached to the mainline behind the weight (if used) and ahead of the leader and lure or bait. As the often brightly colored flasher moves through the water, it rotates; some rotate while simultaneously moving in a 360-degree circle. Regardless of their motion, all flashers share one thing in common: They attract fish using both sensory as well as visual components.
“With something like the Pro-Troll flasher,” says salmon guide Rich Casapulla, “Not only is your herring itself spinning like a bullet, but the Pro-Troll, too, is moving that bait in a 16-inch circle. It’s pretty impressive.”
But is using a flasher absolutely necessary to have success with spring kings?
“Necessary? No. But they can be very effective. They put out a lot of light and vibration, and they do attract a lot of fish. There’s no doubt about that,” says Casapulla.