Outdoor News: Try spinners for Buoy 10 salmon

I was outnumbered, what with my single red-and-white spinner competing against four herring as we trolled near the Astoria-Megler Bridge. I knew my friends, all confirmed bait addicts, wondered if I was losing it a little when I’d traded my herring in for a spinner as we began our downstream troll a half-hour earlier.

But, that thought quickly vanished when my rod buckled with what turned out to be a 36-pound chinook, followed by a second spinner-loving salmon a half-hour later that I handed off before the other rods (all rigged with herring) could be cleared.

It’s no secret that bait is more popular than hardware at Buoy 10. However, most guides and anglers recognize that there are times when spinners will work just as well, perhaps better. What can be difficult is selecting what spinner size and color the fish want at any given time, which is why I keep in contact with friends (to discover what’s working for them) and switch offerings based on conditions.

There have been more than a few recent years when spinners were working so well, in fact, that I didn’t even consider using bait. However, there are some years or times of the season when I fish bait on at least two rods, if for no other reason than to calm the nerves of my bait-addicted fishing companions. It’s during these times when I’ll run spinners on my front rods and bait on the rods trailing out the back of the boat – all fished in combination with a flasher. The reason: some salmon are so aggressive they’re going to bite the first thing that comes along and it’s the front rods that get there first. It’s also true that the fish taken on the back rods are following fish, and I want the smell of a herring or anchovy to help draw them in.

While the above strategy is what I use to capture salmon at the Columbia River mouth, I’m always curious to discover that works for others. So I reached out to a few accomplished guides for my own education and to share with you their ideas on spinners and discover how they might alter their fishing methods due to the warmer water we’re likely to encounter at Buoy 10 this season.

According to Guide Pat Able, (503-307-6033): “Given the warmer water conditions this season, spinners are likely to account for more salmon than usual. My strategy is to fish mostly bait while trolling the cool water carried in with the flood tide, but switch to spinners once the tide ebbs and the salmon are hit with a wall of warm water. Salmon just seem to bite spinners better than bait when reaching areas where the water is warmer.”

Although Pat has been known to experiment with a variety of spinner sizes and colors, Pat’s top producer for the last several years has been the size 5-1/2 Mulkey Squid Spinner in the Red n’ White and Red Racer finishes.

Guide Tyler Courtney (503-780-4067) doesn’t plan on changing his trolling strategy at Buoy 10 this year due to the warmer than normal water conditions. “What I believe is that this will be a phenomenal year at Buoy 10 due to the large salmon return and because the fish will stage at the mouth longer than normal due to the warm water,” he says. “After all, they’re going to be reluctant to migrate upriver given the warm water so (you) should stage at the Columbia mouth longer than usual.”

Tyler normally fishes six clients and starts his day with a different setup on his front, middle and back rods.

“What works for me is to run cut-plug herring with a small spinner blade attached to a plastic clevis on the line just ahead of the bait on my front rods — I only run these out 20 feet on the line counters,” he explains. “I run whole herring or anchovy rigged with a bait helmets on my middle rod set near bottom, and squid spinners on my back rods. Unless the fish tell me otherwise, it’s only late in the season that I sometimes switch to all spinners with my most productive in recent years being the 5-1/2 squid spinners designed by Terry Mukley.”

The salmon returning to the Columbia River mouth over the next six weeks is expected to total 750,000 coho and another 900,000 fall chinook. I hope to see you there.



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