Skip to main content

Oregon's Hottest Springer Bite

Oregon's Hottest Springer Bite

When the fish counts start rising this spring, it's time to check out these Beaver State rivers for spring-run Chinook!

By David M. Jones

The tip of my rod was pulsing nicely, and I glanced over at my partner's rod to check it. I feathered the water with my oars and held the drift boat in the spring current. Suddenly my rod plunged downward with a violent pull. Line screamed from the reel. I was fast into a Trask River spring chinook.

After pumping the rod and getting up enough adrenaline to land 10 fish, we boated a sea-bright salmon of 20 pounds. With my hands still shaking and arms that were fatigued, I rowed back toward the head of the same hole we'd just fished to once again work the boat and our pair of Wiggle Warts down through the run.

We didn't take another fish out of that run above the Johnson Bridge on the Trask, but on that May 22, the fish had made my day. It was my birthday, after all, and the fish had hit my favorite Tillamook system springer plug, a blue pirate Wiggle Wart.

Where you find your most successful spring-run chinook fishing this year could be made a bit easier now with this issue of Washington-Oregon Game & Fish in your hands. Here we cover some of Oregon's hottest action for the spring of 2003.

My blue pirate isn't the only plug that works on Trask River springers. My brother Keith took a bright chinook pulling a green and silver Wee Wart through a hole we had already worked with Wiggle Warts.

Author Dave Jones shows off a sea-bright Umpqua River springer that fell for a spinner. Photo courtesy of David M. Jones

I watched as Rusty Bell captained his boat and took a nice spring chinook with a chartreuse and silver Kwikfish in the tidewater section of the Trask one day.


Rusty was again running his boat on the Trask when I caught a sea-bright fish just upstream from the boat ramp (above Highway 101) on eggs bounced on the bottom. It wasn't, however, a conventional egg setup. We were preparing to take out when Rusty told me to throw away a large bait of salmon eggs. The eternal optimist - spell that a-n-g-l-e-r - I figured one last cast would take a fish. I threw the cache of eggs away with hook and line attached, and suddenly, we were into a good fish. It just about got into the brush twice: Once I horsed it out, and the other time I gave it slack line. Amazingly, the fish returned to the main current both times and remained hooked. We netted the fish just before we took out the drift boat.

The public boat take-out on the Trask is just above the Highway 101 Trask River Bridge, a place where you'll find a couple of fishing holes used by bank anglers. The put-ins upstream on the Trask at Hanenkrats and Loren's Drift also host bank access for fishing. This is the run I take the most when I fish the Trask, but you can also put in at the Highway 101 site and float down.

Biologist Rick Klumph and I did that one spring day. He showed me how to float a bobber and eggs down into a hole while anchored above it. We took a bright fin-clipped chinook - a Whiskey Creek hatchery fish clipped on the ventral fin - on our first try. The take-out below there is on Long Prairie Road, where bank fishing is also possible.

Trask anglers are limited to taking fin-clipped spring-run chinook. According to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Keith Braun, hatchery fish are identified by either a missing adipose or left ventral fin.

Both the Wilson and Trask rivers are stocked, and Braun predicts a reasonable numbers of fish by Mother's Day. "The Tillamook system will have complete age classes of marked fish," he added, meaning fish in the 3- to 5-year range.

There is bank-fishing access along Highway 6, which parallels the Wilson River. A good source for information, bait and gear is the Guide Shop on Highway 6 near the last Wilson River bridge as you travel downstream. There is a good boat put-in and bank-fishing access below the bridge.

A good day drift is to the Sollie Smith boat ramp. One can also put in at Sollie and fish down with a motor and run back up. Try bobber and eggs in the lower rivers. The Guide Shop can arrange shuttles and guide service.

"With good water conditions, the run can be fantastic," said Jim Amick, a Guide Shop guide. He does not drift the rivers if the Wilson gauge is below 3 feet and uses the Wilson gauge for the Trask. If low, he fishes Tillamook Bay.

River techniques to try are bobber and eggs/shrimp in the slower holes and back-bouncing bait or plugs in holes with current. Amick says it is important to get your bait in front of the salmon. One method to do this is to plum the depths using a 6-foot leader tipped with eggs under a bait diver.

For fishing Kwikfish, Amick prefers chartreuse/silver, with his second choice being red/white. In waters less than 8 feet deep, he suggested flat-lining plugs to your intended target runs and using weight or divers for anything deeper than 8 feet. Amick stressed tuning the plugs to ensure they dive properly, especially so if you wrap the plug with a bait fillet.

Tillamook-Area Information

In the Tillamook area for the Wilson and Trask rivers, call ODFW fish biologist Keith Braun at (503) 842-2741. The number for the Guide Shop and guide Jim Amick is (503) 842-FISH (3474).


For information on the Clackamas, call Fisherman's Marine and Supply at (503) 557-3313. Guide Mike Boettcher can be reached there or at his home, (503) 655-6501. Jim Muck, the ODFW fish biologist, can be reached at (503) 657-2000.


Oregon DFW Umpqua biologist Dave Loomis is at (541) 440-3353. The Northwest Outdoor Store in Roseburg can be reached at (541) 440-3042. Guide Robert Montgomery can be contacted at 1 (800) 985-3474. Try Umpqua River guide Chris Winslow at 541-584-2332.


For National Weather Service forecasting, call (503) 261-9246. Check for up-to-date river levels. -- David M. Jones


Spring chinook guide Mike Boettcher works at Fisherman's Marine and Outdoor at the Oregon City store near the confluence of the Willamette and Clackamas rivers. Boettcher favors a silver Kwikfish with chartreuse at both ends; it's a pattern local anglers call "Double Trouble." He fishes K-13s and K-14s as well as M-2 or U20 Flatfish (orange with black and red spots). As with Amick, Boettcher also emphasizes the importance of fishing with tuned plugs.

When fishing these plugs Boettcher likes to wait until a fish peels line from the reel before he sets the hook. He prefers to run the plugs with weight to get them down instead of using a diver, believing the diver is prone to letting the plug travel over the head of a hole or a deep pocket that may hold a fish.

When Boettcher uses a bait wrap on plugs, he likes to use fresh, oily sardine. How fresh? He buys them at a Chinese market. And when it comes to eliminating human odor, Boettcher cleans his lures with a "no scent" soap, something my uncle, Dick Hans, advised me to do years ago. Hans had a preference for unscented Ivory. Hans also liked to use shrimp scent on his hands to help cover human odors.

My uncle fished the Clackamas for decades from a sled of his manufacture. He had a preference for back-bouncing bait through deep holes and holding the boat in position with a kicker motor. He would go as heavy as 8 ounces for especially strong current but usually used 4 to 6 ounces to get his offering down to the fish. Egg baits were the size of a Kennedy 50-cent piece; unless the roe was combined with shrimp, then the egg sac was about the size of a quarter.

Savvy anglers add to their fishing time by attaching leaders to the weights before fishing and separating the weights in coffee cans, small buckets or some kind of containers so that all the 4-ounce rigs are in one container, the 5s in another and so on.

Only adipose-clipped salmon may be kept in the Clackamas. Jim Muck, the ODFW biologist on the Clackamas, said the springers will be joined by early arrivals of summer steelhead sometime during May.

If you need another reason to fish the Clackamas this spring, it is as Muck claims: The Clackamas tends to fish well when the Willamette River is colored.

One of my favorite sites for bank fishing the Clackamas is up from the mouth under the old trestle, where a guy can fish with bobbers through a deep hole that invites salmon to stop and rest. My grandfather, "Doc" Hans used to fish there in the old days. He swore by tossing spinners for spring chinook in that hole, and the tailout can be good for steelhead.

Another site to try with bobber and eggs is a little higher up the Clackamas, at High Rocks, which is just downstream from Highway 205. This hole is a walk upstream from the trestle hole. You'll find a good slot to fish downstream of the rocks.

Here's a trick to try at High Rocks: Slip a hook through the tail of a sand shrimp and slide the shrimp up the (24-inch) leader above the hook; add an egg bait to the hook and allow the sand shrimp to hang down over it.

Another place for bank fishing is way upstream at McIver Park. Boat anglers beware: There's an area called the Minefield at McIver Park. As the name suggests, this area is best avoided. Tim Rooney of Fisherman's Marine and Outdoor says there is a launch below the Minefield. It leads downstream to put-ins and take-outs at Feldheimer's, Barton Park, Carver, Riverside Park and Clackamette Park.

Fishing guide Chris Winslow took a 50-pound springer from the Umpqua River a few years ago that is now displayed at Arlene's Restaurant in Elkton, and he says he lost one that was even bigger that same year. So it only makes sense to ask him about his tactics on one of Oregon's premier streams, the Umpqua River.

Winslow likes fishing with sardines. They have more oil than herring, he says, and he recommends that anglers "use mature fish for more oil." Whole fish produce more oil than cut bait, and you should always use baits that have all their scales. In case you were guessing, Winslow's 50-pound springer ate a sardine.

Winslow says to anchor in a travel slot, which in many cases is near shore and usually in less than 8 feet of water. In colored water, he'll even fish in 4 to 6 feet of water in places where the slot "narrows up and shallows up."

Whenever I fish the Umpqua, I put in with a motor attached to my drift boat or my sled, which forces me to put in at Scott Creek. There are plenty of other put-ins, however. For instance, one can put in at Sawyers Rapids for a small fee and drift down to Scott Creek. Keep in mind that the Umpqua, although a big river, is susceptible to fluctuating water flows. It's best to scout rapids before you run them.

My partner Len Brock and I did quite well one day last spring putting in at Scott Creek on Highway 38 and anchoring across the Umpqua. We fished spinners that we bought from a gentleman at the put-in the day before.

On the Umpqua that day, Brock and I took all of our fish on spinners fished about 20 feet behind the boat. We used 2 ounces of lead tied beneath 18 inches of dropper line. The water was greenish with a tint of brown.

One lesson Brock and I learned was to be ready to follow these springers when we hooked up. These fish are strong. I pulled the hook out of the first one trying to horse it upstream, and I was late getting to my rod on the second one. Brock and I finally figured out that I should grab the rod with one hand and start the motor with the other while he pulled the anchor. We boated four spring-run chinook after we got it right. The largest was 37 pounds.

Unless we get spring rains the Scott Creek area starts to clear and grow "grass" in the water that will build up on anglers' lines. One will have to clear it regularly.

Some 50 percent to 60 percent of the Umpqua's spring-run chinook will be in the North Umpqua by mid-May, according to Dave Loomis, the ODFW biologist for the Umpqua River. He expects a good fishery in 2003, based on a good return of jacks last year. I saw about 80 springers spawning on one large gravel bar on the North Umpqua in the fall. This is indeed a healthy run of fish.

Anglers can keep native spring chinook in the Umpqua, one of the few places left where such a luxury is allowed. Those fish will be mixed with hatchery fish.

Loomis said Amacher Park has a good boat ramp, a campground and room for 10 to 12 boats to fish below Winchester Dam on the North Umpqua. Bank fishing is possible there but guide Robert Montgomery says a motorboat is better for fishing this water.

Montgomery likes to back-troll with 1 to 3 ounces of lead with the traditional shrimp an

d egg cocktail. He favors a leader as long as 6 feet. He said the area at Amacher Park fishes best when the gauge at Winchester Dam registers 3.5 to 5 feet.

There is another park at the forks of the North and South Umpqua called River Forks Park. This park, a day-use area, has a good boat ramp but no camping. Some anchor fishing is done there, and the traditional methods of pulling plugs and bouncing bait will also work.

When the North Umpqua clears, many spring chinook travel upriver and congregate in the stretch below the Rock Creek Hatchery. There can be a lot of fish stacked up there and consequently a large number of anglers. The most popular method is using a bobber and eggs or the effective bobber and shrimp/egg combo.

Keep in mind how large a river the Umpqua is and if you don't want a crowded fishery, you can seek out areas in the lower river that will hold fish. That is were I will be on my birthday - scouting for a few good fish with my wife and fishing partner, Rita.

Discover even more in our monthly magazine,
and have it delivered to your door!
Subscribe to Washington-Oregon Game & Fish

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Recommended Articles

Recent Videos

Game & Fish Magazine Covers Print and Tablet Versions

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Digital Now Included!


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


Buy Digital Single Issues

Magazine App Logo

Don't miss an issue.
Buy single digital issue for your phone or tablet.

Buy Single Digital Issue on the Game & Fish App

Other Magazines

See All Other Magazines

Special Interest Magazines

See All Special Interest Magazines

GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.

Get the top Game & Fish stories delivered right to your inbox every week.

Phone Icon

Get Digital Access.

All Game & Fish subscribers now have digital access to their magazine content. This means you have the option to read your magazine on most popular phones and tablets.

To get started, click the link below to visit and learn how to access your digital magazine.

Get Digital Access

Not a Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Enjoying What You're Reading?

Get a Full Year
of Guns & Ammo
& Digital Access.

Offer only for new subscribers.

Subscribe Now