Spring Salmon Tricks: In Case of Emergency, Break Glass by JD Richey

Spring Salmon Tricks: In Case of Emergency, Break Glass by JD Richey

Spring Chinook are enigmatic beasts. Some days they chew like they’ve got a good dose of rabid barracuda in their genes. Other times, they act like they’re trophy brown trout in a spring creek. They’ll drive you nuts… 

spring chinook jd richey california fishing fish

To consistently get at them, you’ve got to be prepared to bust out some outside-the-box thinking! What follows are some of the tricks I like to keep in my back pocket -- to be used when the chips are down and the fish are moody…sort of my “in case of emergency, break glass” techniques.


It’s no secret that springers love tuna.

Guys have been wrapping their plugs with tuna bellies, dipping their eggs in tuna oil…and now, Pro Cure’s even got tuna egg cure. But not a lot of people use straight tuna for spring kings…but they should.

For reasons I don’t fully understand, the use of tuna balls for springers has been popular for eons on the Trinity River in Northern California, but you’ll rarely see them used on any other stream. The bottom line is they work away from the Trinity and will probably catch some fish on your home water too.

Basically, you make them up just as you would spawn sacks.

First, buy some oil-pack tuna and put the juice into a small plastic container (with a good sealing-lid). Cut some netting into squares and fill it up with enough tuna meat to make nickel to quarter-sized clusters. Add a Fish Pill or two to the sack for buoyancy and then tie the netting closed with Miracle Thread or Ghost Cocoon. Soak the tuna balls in the tub of oil until you’re ready to fish them.

You can fish tuna balls any way you’d use eggs or sand shrimp – drift gear, under a float, behind a diver or back-bounced. The stuff holds it scent very well and looks good – particularly when you add a bit of yarn to the rig. They’re also cool because you can extend the life of the bait by re-dipping it in the juice.

Again, springers can be moody buggers and tuna isn’t the answer every day…but there are times when it is like crack to them as well so be sure to give it a try this season.


Everybody from government to corporations seems to be downsizing these days -- and so should you.

While springers can gulp down a whole herring, a giant Toman spinner or a K16 Kwikfish without any trouble at all, there are times when giving them something a little less “meatier” makes sense.

I typically scale down the size of my offerings on days when the fishing pressure is high and the fish seem to be off the grab.

I’ve written in the past about how much I used to love to pull the original STORM Pee Wee Warts for spring Chinook. In case you missed it, I stumbled onto small plugs like the Pee Wee’s and size No. 50 Hot Shots for springers quite by accident years ago while fishing for trout. After getting my trout gear blown up enough times by marauding kings, I started intentionally fishing with little wigglers for salmon and found that they work more often than not.

With Pee Wee’s long hunted to extinction, I’ve moved onto K11X Kwikfish for my small plugs. You can go down to the K9X without any problem but I like the fact that I can put a mini wrap on the slightly larger No. 11’s.

Of course, pulling small plugs requires that you use lighter rods and thinner-diameter lines. The tiny hooks that you have to use to ensure that the plugs run properly means you’re always flirting with disaster when a monster king comes calling.

My take on the whole thing is, however, I’d rather get bit and then worry about how to land a fish than to not get any bites at all…

I’ve also had success on those tough days by scaling down the size of my spinners when chucking hardware from shore. Generally, I’ll toss a size No. 4 spinner for springers under normal conditions and then bump it up to a size 5 if the water’s super cold or off-color. But there are times, too, when dropping down to a size No. 3 is just the ticket. I know, it feels kinda strange tossing what amounts to a trout lure at big Chinook, but on the right day you can go from zero to hero in a few short casts with one of these!

Regardless of size, the three best spinner colors I’ve used are:

  • silver blade/fluorescent orange body;
  • silver blade/metallic purple body;
  • gold blade/fluorescent red body.


They say that necessity is the mother of invention but dumb luck also has its moments. While fishing for stripers over the past several seasons, I’ve found…quite by accident…that spring-run Chinook (fall fish, too!) have a real taste for swimbaits.

spring chinook fishing fish baits

We can debate for hours why a fish that’s 100 miles inland will eagerly chase down a 5-inch lure that looks a heck of a lot like a herring or anchovy, but I’m here to tell you that they do. So frequently, in fact, that I now employ swimbaits from time to time when all else fails. 

There are plenty of companies making swimbaits these days – I like the 5-inch white or purple/blue flash models from RoboWorm  and I’ll run them on ½-ounce jig heads.

In deep, slow pools, work them at a easy, methodical pace just off the bottom and don’t give up on the  retrieve until your lure is out of the water.

The same moody tendencies that make springers so frustrating at times are also what makes them so interesting to fish for. I really enjoy tossing convention to the wind and trying to come up with something a little different they might like. Some days they do; Some days they don’t…but it’s always fun!

- written by JD Richey

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