Which bait? Stay or go? Which scent? Answer your questions about chinook fishing with these five tips. (May 2007)
Photo by Scott Haugen
A Rogue River springer doesn't always come easy. To improve your chances, avoid touching your bait and tackle and use scents to mask smells.
The past few springer seasons have been a bit spotty around Oregon. Some rivers have been red-hot, while others have struggled. Some rivers had runs come in nearly two months late, while other runs seem to have missed the chance of coming in to spawn at all. Maybe that means more four and five salt fish for this spring.
No matter which Oregon springer stream you choose to fish this year, you can take five steps to increase your overall fishing time. You'll have your line in the water longer, which dramatically raises the odds of catching fish. Whether fishing from a boat or off the bank, here are steps you can apply on virtually any river that springers occupy.
NO 1: USE THE RIGHT SCENT
Since the 1990s, scent products have taken salmon fishing to another level. I literally cannot count the number of fish I've caught over the years that I'm positive were caught because of the scent I used.
Even anise oil -- the egg-cure I grew up using as a kid, and the primary scent in the recipe -- was always present. I'm sure it played a major role in the bait's ability to catch fish. It still does today.
But scents have progressed so much, and they continue to improve and expand every year. No question, they're a key component in catching more fish, especially salmon. Salmon can detect smells measured in parts-per-billion. Their noses should be key targets for anglers. The more variety of scents you can offer these fish, the better your odds of catching them.
Scents can be applied to any terminal gear you fish. They can be mixed into egg cures during the curing process, or added later. They can be injected into shrimp, herring or crawdads. The sticky pastes can be applied to lures and plugs, without their washing away.
They can even be spread onto drift-bobbers and rubbed into yarn to help carry scent to where the fish are.
No matter what flavor of scent you use or what you use it on, remember, you are delivering smell to a fish. Do it in a way so they can find it.
This means laying a scent trail that travels downstream in a consistent path so that fish can detect it, follow it and snatch the bait. This is why plunking, back-bouncing and backtrolling plugs are so effective when using scents, because they are either staying in one position or moving downstream in a constant, steady path where fish can track them.
If you haven't yet jumped on the scent craze, do it now. Experiment with a wide variety of scents until you find what the fish like best on specific rivers or under certain conditions. Our sport is growing ever more competitive, and these scents can give you the upper hand needed to catch more salmon.
NO 2: CHANGE BAITS
Not only is altering the size of your bait important, but changing the kind of bait you're using is critical. In those times when springers are around but not biting, try offering them a different bait.
The change may come in the form of a simple egg cure -- for example, offering fish a red borax-based cure rather than a hot-orange sodium sulfite-based cure. Then again, bait changes can be more complex. Two of the most effective I've seen while fishing for salmon involved starting with eggs, and moving to shrimp and sardines.
In both cases, the eggs were kept on, just downsized to make room for a full sand shrimp to be threaded on the hook. The same was true for the sardine, which was cut in a small chunk and slid over the tip of the hook and left to hang in the bend of the hook.
For me, both of these change-ups have proven very effective over the years, in a variety of rivers. In fact, they've been so successful that in my mind, there's no question that if I hadn't changed the bait, I wouldn't have caught the fish.
There are other times when you may want to switch out of baits altogether. Maybe eggs or shrimp by themselves aren't getting the job done. Go to a prawn. Perhaps a plug-cut herring isn't working as you'd planned. Troll a strip or a fillet.
Changing bait is one of the few elements we have control over. Make a change when the bite's slow. Do all you can to turn things on.
But sometimes changing the bait isn't good enough. Often a change may need to take place in pieces. If a bait change didn't work, try something else -- maybe a longer or shorter leader, more weight. But keep in mind that one of the most basic changes that really can make a difference is a drift-bobber.
First, you have to know what drift-bobbers do.
Drift-bobbers come in many designs, sizes and colors. They add color, movement and shape to baits. Some also add buoyancy. Some have wings. Some are round. Some are painted, others metallic. Their variations are many, and they work when fished with bait as well as fished alone.
Once you know what you want to accomplish by changing drift-bobbers, then you can experiment away. Perhaps the water is off-color? In this case, maybe go to a winged drift-bobber. A Flashing and Spinning Cheater or Spin-N-Glo will get the job done. Maybe upsizing a corky or going to a different-colored presentation is what it takes. Could it be you want more lift on your bait to target semi-suspended salmon? Then try a larger drift-bobber to elevate that bait in the water column.
Change can be a good thing, and you never know what will work unless you try. Invest in a wide range of drift-bobbers in colors, sizes and shapes. Using them, you will likely find that some colors and styles work better on one particular river than others. It's an interesting facet of the sport, and one worth delving into.
NO 3: NEVER TOUCH THE BAIT
One of the most repulsive smells to fish, in theory, comes from humans. The oils on your hands appears to have a repelling effect on fish, and the more effort that you can take to prevent the spread of these odors, the more fish you'll catch.
When on the river, keep bait handling to a minimum. The best way to do this is by curing baits at home, with gloved hands. Make an effort to wear rubber gloves when curing eggs, so you don't contaminate them. I like cutting the eggs to fishing-
size at the time of curing, not once I'm on the river. Not only does this save time, it prevents excessive handling later.
At the same time, wrapping plugs with fillets -- again, with gloved hands -- can be done the night before you hit the water. This will maximize fishing time and allow you to dedicate more attention to the task at hand. You'll handle bait more efficiently and eliminate the transfer of unwanted odors.
If you cut the baits to size beforehand, all you have to do is grab them and slap them on. For plugs, having them pre-wrapped means handling only the plug, not the bait, once you're on the river.
If you don't like wearing rubber gloves all day long, or don't like applying odor-masking soaps to your hands, there is an alternative. Xtreme Scents has a disposable scent wipe that comes in a small container. The container itself is compact, and the wipes are easy to pull out.
Wipe off your hands before handling any baits, plugs or lures, then do your thing. You can get multiple uses with one wipe. When you're done, you can use the same wipe to clean your hands off; and you can also use it to wipe down plugs, lures and rod handles. Good investment! Very convenient, and it might help you catch more fish.
NO. 4: TRIGGER BITES
I don't know how many times over the years I've awakened early in the morning to get a prime spot on the river, but not touched a fish until midday.
Sometimes I could see the springers, or at least feel them with my line as they swam about in deep holes. I knew they were there. The trouble was, they simply were not biting.
Varying bait selection, changing weight, adding longer leaders and trying different approaches didn't work. There are times when a bite simply won't happen. In this case, the only thing left is persistence.
Often, incessant casting can trigger a reactionary bite. The question is, how long are you willing to wait? And how many fish do you care to catch? But once the bite does turn on, land that fish and get your line back in the water as quickly as possible.
A high percentage of the time, it seems that once one fish bites, others in the school start biting.
You might have had this happen to you. You've been fishing a hole for hours. Nothing's biting your offering, and the other guys aren't getting nibbles either. Finally, someone hooks a fish. Then it's like a chain reaction. More anglers start getting strikes.
Who really knows what triggered the bite? But there's no doubting that persistence played a factor. Without continued casting, nothing would have happened.
Don't give up! Keep casting, and maintain a positive attitude. One thing about fishing a place like this: Once in a while, it doesn't hurt to take a break. These fish aren't going anywhere, and you have the spot tied up. Take a breather from time to time, give that arm a rest, then get back at it with a fresh mental spirit. It may take several hours, but repeated casting can yield results.
NO 5: KNOW WHEN TO MOVE
The slower you move, the more thoroughly you can fish a specific salmon hole. The bonus with this approach is that it doesn't require being in a rush. Even after you've fished a hole, you may elect to start over at the top end and cover it again, maybe with a different presentation.
Perhaps fish that weren't there when you began fishing have moved in. Or maybe they're already in there, but you haven't yet found just the right combination. It can take time and effort to get dialed in.
If your schedule is tight, you may not have the luxury of taking the time to find fish. Maybe you have to be to work at a certain hour, or at your kid's ball game in the afternoon. Now, you could elect to spend your time in one hole. But if those fish aren't in there, they aren't going to bite, no matter how hard you fish it.
This is where going on the move, making an effort to cover more water quickly, can pay huge rewards.
When searching for fish, have all your rods rigged and ready to go; this helps save time. Once you enter a hole, hit the spots you know will -- or should -- hold fish.
Once you've covered the target water, move on to the next spot. However, if you find fish, then it's worth spending time in that one place to try and pull more out of there, because salmon often stage in schools.
If you know you're going to be moving quickly, then have all the gear ready to go. Taking along six or eight rods in the boat, two or three on the bank, is not overkill if that's the number of approaches you plan on presenting.
WHERE TO GO?
Oregon has a varied range of quality springer rivers. If it's big water you're after, the Columbia, Umpqua and Rogue rivers dominate the scene. There are bank-fishing opportunities on each river, but it's the boaters who typically have the most success.
Run counts can fluctuate on these big rivers, as they can with any river, so be sure to check current regulations, fish counts and any possible emergency closures that may occur.
If you're looking for a small-stream salmon experience, there are some good options along the North Coast region of the state. The Wilson and Trask rivers, located near Tillamook, are perhaps the most popular and productive springer streams.
Slightly to the south, the Nestucca River is another good bet. These are small rivers, with drift-boats being the best option. There are some bank angling areas, but private property borders most of both rivers. Down the South Coast, both the Coquille and Coos rivers yield spring chinook, but the action can be spotty.
For the past two springs, the Willamette River and its tributaries have been the top-producing springer streams in the state. The Willamette, a tributary to the Columbia, offers boat fishing at the lower section, near Oregon City. The Middle Fork Willamette, however, offers both drift-boat and bank-fishing opportunities from Springfield to Dexter.
The North and South Santiam rivers, along with the Clackamas, have also been fairly steady the past couple of seasons. The McKenzie River, east of Eugene, has been one of the state's top-producing springer streams in the past two years. The Sandy and Deschutes, tributaries to the Columbia, also have spring chinook runs.
No matter where you choose to go in search of springers, be prepared. Do all within your power to be on top of your game to maximize fishing time on the water. You'll soon see why time is so valuable to the spring chinook angler, for the more time that's spent with your line in the water, the more fish you'll catch.
e: To order signed copies of Scott Haugen's latest book, 300 Tips to More Salmon & Steelhead, log on to ScottHaugen.com.)
Find more about Washington-Oregon fishing and hunting at: WOgameandfish.com