Switch It Up for Tough Chinook by JD Richey

Switch It Up for Tough Chinook by JD Richey


Sometimes, kings can bite like rabid piranhas and then, other days they can literally be boiling all around you and nobody gets bit.

Those tough days can often be attributed to things outside your control: weather, barometric pressure, fishing traffic, water temp and so on. But there are times when you can get moody chinook to bite by throwing them a big, fat changeup.

chinook bait fishing roe egg

Sometimes, you just have to try something different…like hanging bait where you’d normally troll.

One of my favorite ways to do that is go completely against the grain and fish tidewater style upriver and then bring some of my upstream arsenal back down to the lower sections of a river.

Here are some worth trying next time you find yourself on a tough bite…


Normally, near the mouth of a river you chase kings by trolling the tides. Spinners, anchovy spinnerbaits and cut-plug herring are the main getters. Roe, of course, fished under floats is killer a bit further up the tidewater, but I’d never even considered fishing it at the river mouth until one late September day on the Klamath.

My buddy Reilly and I were scratching to catch a fish—everybody was. There were tons of guys upriver drifting eggs and catching squat. The same was true for those of us dragging stuff around in the estuary. On the afternoon slack tide we were about to give up. Bobbing around in the calm water 100 yards above the mouth, Reilly looked on the graph and noticed a bunch of marks 10 feet below us.

“Wonder if those are salmon?”

He then came up with the brilliant idea to take a couple of our drift rods and rig them for hover fishing like we do well upstream. A soft breeze was blowing off the sea and he set up a drift that started right at the beach separating the estuary from the Pacific and carried us back upstream.

With our lines straight down as we approached the marks on the meter, I got a slight tap and set the hook into a chrome king. Reilly was soon into one and we caught and released a bunch of fish off that school before it was all over.

Since that day, I’ve always kept that in the back of my mind when fishing down low on a system. It doesn’t always work but it also can be a huge day saver more often than not.

While most estuary troll fisheries I’ve participated in involve dragging baits and spinners around at a pretty rapid rate of speed, there are times when another method adapted from the upstream arsenal can reap big rewards: Slow trolling a FlatFish.

Now, you have to be careful when you bust this method out.

Since you will be going a heck of a lot slower than, say the throng trolling the Rogue Bay, you will cause lots of problems—it’s like going 45 mph in the fast lane on the freeway. Not a good way to make friends! But, if you are fishing a quiet section of river and the fish aren’t super snappy, try switching out your traditional offerings and go with a herring-wrapped T-50 or T-55 with just enough lead to keep it down and drag it as slow as it will go.

You’ll be amazed at some of the atomic takedowns you get with a plug that’s almost imperceptibly wobbling! Definitely keep the rods in the holders with this gig!


Up where you have classic salmon holding water like flats, runs and deep holes, most folks will drift or bounce eggs or pull plugs. But again, there are times when you need to show the fish something different. One day years ago I was catching a handful of kings while back-bouncing big plugs slowly through a long, deep flat on the Sacramento River nearly 200 miles upstream.

A little tin boat with a couple old timers putted by and I watched them both cast their Blue Fox spinners out the back with no weight, put their spinning rods in the holders and proceed to troll at about 3 mph. Not unlike the way they do it on some estuary and bays up the coast…

bait fishing chinook salmon king coho

One of my clients asked if those guys catch anything doing that. Just as I was explaining that their spinners would be well off the bottom in the 18- to 20-feet of water they were fishing and the odds of a salmon coming up and hitting their lures were astronomically low, the guy on the tiller got slammed. We watched them catch that fish, run back up to the top three more times, catch three more fish and go home limited out before we got another strike.

Hmmmmmmm…I guess Grasshopper still had much to learn because I wouldn’t have given that a snowball’s chance in Sacramento of working. Of course, I filed that one away too and have busted out the surface trolling technique from time to time when the conditions were right. I’ve found that it’s often deadliest when there’s quite a bit of gear bouncing and wigging along the bottom and the fish get tired of it and start to suspend in the middle of the water column.

I’ve also found days well upstream when back-bouncing cut-plug herring just like you’d do with a plug is a killer. Again, it’s one of those things that doesn’t work all the time but when it does, you can be an absolute hero. It makes sense too, right? I mean, you’re basically fishing a flashy, smelly plug that’s made out of actual fish instead of plastic.

There are some other cool upriver-downriver mix and match tactics that I bust out from time to time but we’ll save those for another column. Try some of these out the next time you have fish around but they aren’t cooperating.

MIX IT UP: Throw the kings a little something different and you could be a hero!

- written by JD Richey

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