April STS 2018 Column: Tactics & Tricks
Story & Photos by Scott Haugen
“Have you ever heard of these baits? They’re unlike anything I’ve ever used for springers! Why didn’t I know about them sooner?” A man quizzed me at a recent sport show.
The more he spoke, I learned he was talking about coon shrimp; died and cured coon shrimp to be exact.
He continued, “These things have an amazing color, and stay on like no springer bait I’ve seen. They stayed on my hook so long, I could backbounce, backtroll and drift fish the roughest of water, and they stayed on the whole time, and kept their color. I even left them on the poles overnight, and fished them the next day, and they still caught fish!”
I couldn’t help but admire the man’s enthusiasm.
He was in his early 70s and had been fishing tributary springers throughout Oregon for over 50 years. He went on to elaborate about how he likes fishing cured eggs and sand shrimp, but how the coon shrimp stayed on the hook and kept their color so much longer.
I love it when veteran anglers discover something new.
It’s this willingness to expand one’s approaches and open the mind to trying new things, that makes them better anglers. When it comes to springers, there are many bait options to consider.
Remember, Chinook salmon have a sense of smell measured in parts per billion.
Imagine having a nose so good that you could smell your way back to the precise place where you were born. That’s what salmon do, and anglers who capitalize on this acute sense of smell, find consistent success when it comes to catching springers.
Coon shrimp are just one type of shrimp that’s proven to catch springers.
Sand shrimp are another fish-catcher, and have been since the 1970s in many tributaries throughout the Pacific Northwest. While you can purchase sand shrimp, you can also dig your own. If you plan on doing a lot of fishing over the course of a week, grab a shellfish license and head to the coast to dig your own sand shrimp. The number of shrimp you’ll come away with will save money and you’re assured of fresh, quality bait.
Popcorn shrimp, or salad shrimp, are another shrimp that salmon anglers are discovering. While these shrimp have worked for years on trout and steelhead, springer fishermen are having success on them, too. To firm-up these little morsels so they don’t get torn apart and fall off the hook, cure them in salt. This will allow you to thread them on a hook, where they’ll hold better. The smaller the hook the better. If using 4/0 or larger hooks, maybe put a few shrimp in a nylon wrap and thread that up the hook, or secure it in the egg loop.
If threading the popcorn shrimp directly on to the hook, fishing them under a float or back-trolling them behind a diver will keep them on the hook longer, versus continually casting them for back-bouncing or drift fishing. Putting them in a Brad’s Super Bait works, too. Grinding the popcorn shrimp and using that in egg cures, or as a stand-alone scent, works well.
While cured egg clusters are the go-to bait for most tributary springer fishermen...
Baitfish are what most lower-river anglers use. While trolling and back-trolling herring, sardines and anchovies are popular in main-stem fisheries, don’t overlook their effectiveness in tributaries.
If you feel these baits are too large when fished whole, then trim them down, fishing a small chunk of them. As with a shrimp, adding a strip of baitfish to an egg presentation can produce bites when nothing else seems to work.
However, don’t overlook the effectiveness of using whole baitfish in tributaries. By the time a cured baitfish gets lined-out in a presentation, it’s no larger than a big cluster of eggs teamed with a whole sand shrimp and a drift bobber.
Remember, Chinook are voracious predators at sea and consume large baitfish, and triggering that feeding instinct is the goal when fishing them in river systems.
Adding dyes to your baitfish can also be a game changer. Whether fished whole or in part, blue or chartreuse colored dyes can catch the eye of a salmon. Target a salmon’s sense of smell and sight, and you’ll catch more fish.
Another bait option, consider using strips of squid or octopus.
These add color, movement and scent to any egg or shrimp presentation, and they stay on the hook for a long time, even in rough water and when bounced along the bottom.
Tuna is another bait salmon love, be it wrapped on a plug, placed in a Brad’s Super Bait, or tied in netting. Canned tuna and small strips both work. Flakes of canned tuna can be wrapped in netting then threaded on to the trailing hook of a plug, or placed on an egg hook and fished. Add a little tuna oil to this presentation and that sweetens the package.
In fact, the addition of scent to any presentation can help target a salmon’s sense of smell.
I like Pro-Cure’s line of Super Gels as they feature stabilizers that keep real bait particles fresh, and the sticky formula adheres to lures and baits surprisingly well, for long periods. Enhanced with amino acids, this gel has revolutionized scent use for anglers, and it comes in a variety of flavors that appeal to salmon.
This spring, no matter where you fish Chinook salmon, don’t be afraid to explore a range of bait options. With angler numbers high, and fish counts projected to be low for a couple more years, now is the time to diversify your bait selection and find what the fish like.
Note: Signed copies of his many fishing books, including cookbooks, can be ordered at www.scotthaugen.com. Follow Scott on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
All photos taken by Scott Haugen
Shrimp Egg Rig The shrimp-egg combo, aka, shrimp cocktail, has been catching springers for over 40 years. While this is a tough presentation to beat, there are plenty of other options out there.
EggTunaBait5.15.2: Cured eggs topped with a small tuna fillet–or any baitfish fillet–and a Lil’ Corky Cluster can be a great spring chinook bait combination.
KingAct20: When it comes to targeting a salmon’s sense of smell, think outside the box. Here, a slice of bacon gets wrapped on to a plug, a setup that, minutes later, would claim a nice springer.
JHspringers5.15.2: Jarod Higginbotham switched bait and went to floating it beneath a bobber rather than rolling it along the bottom, like the springer anglers who fished this hole before him, and came away more than pleased with the results.