Transitional spring temperatures can create daily changes in the effectiveness of spring Chinook tactics, but a balance of slow speeds that still cover water while trolling downhill allow anglers to target sporadic groups of moving but lethargic fish.


A first light springer caught on board with Mikoleit Guide Service.


There’s no better table fare and perhaps no bigger challenge than the Columbia River’s Spring Chinook fishery. With such a short window of opportunity, dialing everything in quickly is a necessity to produce results before springers, and the opportunities to target them, both move upstream and into tributaries. Target fish on the classic trolls near Cathlamet, Scappoose, Willow Bar, I-5, and Dodson. Start lower earlier in the season, and further upstream as the season progresses. The Lewis, Cowlitz, Kalama and Willamette all get substantial early runs of spring Chinook that deviate from the herd long before Bonneville.

Rolling herring near the bottom behind a triangle flasher is the cold water standard. Letting line out until you hit bottom and turning up a crank or two will have you fishing in the zone, but staying there requires some awareness of subtle changes in the variables of each troll. Keep a close eye on the graph, looking for humps, buckets, steep ledges and gradual changes in the grade of terrain that require adjustment to maintain proper depths. With consistent speeds, currents, and running the same trolls, a group of anglers on board can work as a team to dial in the depth based on the scope of the line, comparing the depth on the finder with the reading on the line counter. For example, at a 2.5-3mph downhill troll with a scope of 30-45 degrees at a depth of 35 feet should require between 45 and 50 feet of line to run just above the bottom. That being said, the scope can be deceiving based on currents and the amount of lead being used. Eventually an experienced crew of anglers should have some of those depth changes and areas where bites took place memorized by landmarks and be pre-pared for maintaining their depths on the approach.






The weight making contact with the bottom now and then is a good indicator you’re near the bottom but might need to turn the handle of the reel a quarter turn or so until it stops. While making contact with the river bottom may be reassuring, the maintenance to prevent dragging is necessary to avoid tangles, grabbing debris, or blowing out the herring and ruining its roll. If you’re checking your bait now and then and finding debris or the herring is blown out, you’re dragging too much or letting too much line out on your drop. If your gear comes up clean and your herring looks as good as it did when you let it down, check closely to see if the cavity on your cut-plug herring has collected any sand. That sand is an indicator that your weight has made some periodical contact with the bottom, but hasn’t dragged to the point it’s collect-ing weeds and debris. If your herring is too clean, you may be fishing suspended. Although a lot of the fish on the graph will show as suspended, those fish are typically on the move while more stationary fish hugging the bottom are more difficult for electronics to pick up. Think of a hole upriver in the tribs that’s stuffed with fish. If one jumps, do you attempt to target the dozens of fish beneath it or toss a topwater out there and hope that one fish jumps again? Don’t let one or two suspended fish on the graph distract you from targeting the fish on the bottom that you have the best chance at with this gear and technique.


A Chartreuse Shortbus Flasher and a herring rig with the rear hook hanging freely from the back of the herring. For a good spin, thread the rear hook through the side of the stomach cavity first, then the top hook a few rib bones back, just inside the spine.


While there are a lot of different rigging variations, they tend to all function the same to some extent. There are plenty of pre-made bumpers for flashers, but creating your own is as simple as measuring a length of heavy mono that will be slightly longer than the dropper to your lead weight to reduce tangles. Matt Halseth has always been an economical and innovative tackle tinkerer, and I learned a great way to build these bumpers from him. He threads a 16” section of 150-pound monofilament through a size 1.5 aluminum crimp sleeve. Before trimming the loop and crimping the sleeve, he burns the tag end of the loop with a lighter and flattens it to create a flare that keeps the line from traveling through the sleeve while tightening the tag end of the loop flush to the crimp sleeve, then crimps it down. An excessively long tag end hanging below the crimp sleeve is one more opportunity for weeds and tangles in an already complex rigging with lots of protruding points of potential contact. The addition of hardware later on will increase the length of the bumper another inch or two.

Halseth’s program consists of 65-pound PowerPro braid spooled on Shimano TEK400HGCLA line counter reels mounted on G Loomis 10’6” SAMR 1265 and 9’9” SAMR 1174 IMX rods. A slider and duolock snaps to a barrel swivel tied to a 12” dropper leader of 15-pound Maxima with a duolock on the other end. This makes it easier to detach and reattach new leaders and weights quickly and efficiently without having to tie knots. The braid (threaded through the slider) terminates at a 6 bead chain swivel with a duolock that attaches to the flasher bumper. Tied to the flasher, a 4’-6’ leader of 25-pound Maxima Mono to the herring. Herring leaders for spring Chinook are downsized in comparison to fall fish, with either two 3/0 or three 2/0 Gamakatsu Octopus or Owner Herring Hooks. Tie the hooks spaced 2 fingers apart, a little shorter on the three hook configuration, a little longer on the two hook configuration.





Flasher color is as much utility as it is superstition. They all work sometimes, and sometimes they all work. Generally green/chartreuse and chrome are a popular preference for normal clarity and depths of 30-50ft. When fishing shallow, clear, and/or when the sun is high, a more subtle approach of running herring naked (without a flasher) on the rear rods further back in the spread can bring bites from fish drawn in by the flashers on rods up front.


Matt Halseth with a springer caught below the I-5 bridge. During a slow bite, Halseth adds a few different scents to his spread and let's the fish respond with their preference.


Transitional spring temperatures can create daily changes in the effectiveness of spring Chinook tactics, but a balance of slow speeds that still cover water while trolling downhill allow anglers to target sporadic groups of moving but lethargic fish. Going with the flow, trolling speeds between 2 to 2.5 mph are enough to turn the flasher, straighten out the gear, and roll a herring. As for the herring roll, a plug cutter with an option for coho and king function a couple different ways. The coho slot creates a tighter, faster spin, while the king slot creates a wider, slower spin. Cutting your bait custom can create a balance between the two. When moving at a crawl, using the coho slot can help the bait turn over. Depending on the flows and trolling speed, heavier weights up front and lighter weights in the back can help expand the spread. A combination of 8- to 10-ounce weights up front and 6- to 8-ounce weights in the back should create a functional set. With fewer rods in the water, varying weight is less important and a tighter spread might even fish more effectively. As a general rule, fish as light as you can get away with.



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As for herring, have the forethought to bring both options of brined and frozen herring. Keep brines simple, beginning with something free of unnecessary scents and colors. Saltier when it’s warm in the 50s, sweeter when it’s colder, or straight out of the package frozen when it’s in the 40s. As a rule of thumb, having some ready to go out of the package allows you to throw them in the brine if the bite turns on to brined herring. Think of it like adding too much seasoning... You can put herring in the brine, but you can’t take brine out of herring. The same goes for colors and scents. Keep some dye in your boat and add whatever color is working on the fly instead of being stuck with a color that doesn’t fit the water clarity or the fish’s preference. Scent oils and gels in the cavity of a cut plug herring can give the fish a buffet of options when the bite is slow or when you want to extend the life of your bait. Add scent to each individual bait and avoid adding it to the brine or multiple baits. Like most tactics during a seasonal transition, what works one day doesn’t always work the next, and sometimes those changes not only happen overnight, but during the course of a single day.


Green Label Herring are a staple bait for springers. Keep the package frozen and drop a "popsicle" down into the zone.


Patience and persistence are key elements to trolling for springers, as they are with any kind of fishing. While it may seem boring at times, being engaged with your gear and adjustments not only keeps your bait in the zone but keeps your head in the game. Employing these strategies for success can be the difference between hanging your gear off the gunnel and taking a nap during a boat ride, or bringing home the river bacon.




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1 comment

Continued…For some reason, my comment was interrupted and hopefully was not lost.
Back to the continuance of my comment…The hook ups were constant for over three hours when we finally called it quits despite that the kings never stopped biting our vertically-jigged metal jigs. To add to this scenario, we never witnessed a hook-up from any of the trollers within sight of us. After all these subsequent years, I have seen this scene being repeated many times off the Washington Coast. As a lure designer, my most versatile fish catcher is a metal jig. The jigs that we were fishing in this article were exclusively 3/4 oz Crippled Herrings. Capt. Pete

Capt. Pete Rosko

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