This is the month spring chinook salmon move into the upper reaches of the big rivers like the Columbia, Willamette and Snake, and tributaries like the Hood River, Wind, Drano and Klickitat.
Lower Columbia tributaries like the Sandy, Clackamas, upper Willamette, Santiams, Hood, Cowlitz, Lewis, Wind, Drano (Little White Salmon), Klickitat, Hood, and Deschutes all host runs. And while the number of chinook expected back to the Lewis and Kalama is predicted to be low, most other salmon producing tributaries will offer decent to excellent opportunity and a two-per-day limits on hatchery, fin-clipped, salmon.
If you’re relatively new to fishing salmon in tributaries realize that while all river fishing methods can produce spring chinook, especially when salmon are moving through the riffles and tail outs, these fish (unlike steelhead) will mostly be found holding in the deep holes, often referred to as salmon holes.
For the bank-bound angler this means using enough weight to get your drift fishing outfit near bottom. Another approach is to suspend your bait (egg cluster and/or sand shrimp) near bottom under a bobber capable of floating a 2-to-3-ounce sinker. This method can make pulling limits easy when fishing big, deep, perhaps slow-moving holes where salmon can collect in large numbers.
Often the most productive fishing methods for those fishing from drift or power boat include back-bouncing bait or bait-wrapped Mag Lip, FlatFish or Kwikfish.
The boat fishing method that dominates the terminal fisheries within Drano Lake and at the Wind River mouth is to rig a couple of rods with a herring or prawn spinner in combination with a flasher, like a 6- or 8-inch Fish Flash, close to the boat and a couple of additional rods with diving plugs trailing 40-to-70 feet behind your craft.
The idea behind a near boat presentation (a flasher and bait) fished in combination with plugs trailing 40 or more feet behind is proven trolling strategy. The reason: fish initially attracted to your gear, due to the commotion caused by your flashers, may not bite right away or by the time they swim toward your gear you’ve moved some distance ahead, just in time for your trailing plugs to come into striking distance.
According to fishing guide Bob Barthlow, a regular at Drano Lake, the deep diving Mag Lip in the 4.5 size is his favorite plug for this method and produces when trolled 60-70 feet behind the boat and offers arm wrenching strikes and consistent action. It’s easy; let your Mag Lip or other plug out behind your moving boat and set the hook when your rod tip surges downward.
If you’re a bank-bound angler, you can find success at Drano or the Wind River mouth too by casting and retrieving diving plugs from shore. Realize too that while the Columbia is closed to boat fishing for salmon from Bonneville Dam to the Tower Island Power lines near The Dalles Dam, this section of the big river is open to bank fishing. This means salmon holding off the mouth of Drano Lake, where boat fishing for salmon is restricted, is open water to those casting plugs from shore.
Salmon-size spinner harnesses (sometimes called spinner n’ bait rigs or bait actionizers) are effective for salmon at the Wind, Drano and other places anglers troll for salmon. These salmon-size bait harnesses are normally fished in combination with prawn, sand shrimp or herring. I’ve had the best success running spinner and bait combinations near bottom and rigging not only my herring but prawn and sand shrimp such that it spins when pulled through the water.
The key to hooking and ultimately landing fish on spinner and bait combinations is to wait until Mr. Salmon pulls your rod tip down three to four times before setting the hook. Just treat the bite the same as you would when using a herring or bait-wrapped salmon plug.
Here’s the number of spring chinook state agencies expect to return to tributaries:
Sandy River: 5,500; Clackamas: 8,200; Hood River: 1,300; Deschutes: 13,000; Cowlitz: 7,800; Kalama: 500; Lewis: 1,100; Wind River: 8,500; Little White Salmon (Drano Lake): 13,100; Klickitat: 2,500; Yakima 9,100; Upper Columbia: 24,100; Snake River: 80,000 over lower Granite Dam.