By the time the Columbia River Fall Chinook run had reached its peak last year, the rumor finally got out to the masses. A number of guides and a select group of private captains that were in the know had been slaying the Upriver Brights on a method developed and employed for years by Tri-cities anglers. No longer must one rot on the hook just outside of the slot and go 0 for 1 because he didn’t get on the river at 3AM. Or worse yet decide not to fish at all because “the tides aren’t right this weekend.” The success we saw on the lower river last fall was no fluke and its use expands far beyond the URB’s of the Columbia, so let’s take a look at how to employ this killer combo.
Rigging this setup is similar to how one rigs a fish-flash and herring for spring Chinook but there are a few important differences. Perhaps the most important one is what makes this tandem so effective. What’s different about the rotating flasher is that instead of spiraling through the water like an Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass it swings around in a wide arc. Because of this, the standard 12”-16” bumper between your swivel and flasher won’t do, we need something closer to 24”. This allows the flasher to move in a larger circumference and therefore impart more action to the bait. Conversely, we need to shorten the leader from the flasher to the bait. 36” is a good starting point but remember that the longer you make the leader the less action your bait will have, not to mention it gets pretty difficult to net a fish with a total leader length of more than 7’.
After their introduction around a decade ago, the Superbait and Super Cut-Plug had become somewhat of a forgotten lure on the lower Columbia. But recent success with this method has brought these colorful plastic lures back into the spotlight. As far as I can tell it seems that color doesn’t seems to matter a ton as long as you follow the basic rules of available light (solid colors in overcast or low light, metallics in direct light). Pack them with canned Tuna, Sardine, Herring, or Anchovy. Toss them in the river and troll them downstream while waiting for your rod to fold over.
Superbaits aren’t the only lure that works behind a rotating flasher. Small trolling spinners and plug-cut Herring proved very effective for Spring Chinook this year at times. I definitely plan on running Anchovies at Buoy 10 this year with them this season too.
Now that you have the rigging down you just need to find some fish to put your gear in front of. This is where good electronics are worth their weight in gold. Unlike early season Springer trolling you can forget dredging the bottom with your lead. In the summer and fall months Chinook will suspend off the bottom during the tide changes and the flood. As a result, all you need to do is clip enough weight to your slider to get down to the depth you’re marking fish at. During the ebb is a good time to start fishing deeper. Work your gear within 5’-10’ of the bottom to locate traveling fish. Line counter reels are almost a must here. It also doesn’t hurt to have a few buddies on board so you can stagger depths until a biter is found.
Though it was the Fall Salmon season last year that brought this technique to light in the Portland area, it’s proven quite versatile in other fisheries as well. Spring Chinook in the Willamette harbor, Buoy 10, and Ocean Salmon all lend themselves well to this tactic. With Summer Chinook beginning to show up, I’m certain this will have a place for those looking to avoid the 3AM launch time at Bonneville that’s necessary to grab one of the relatively few anchor spots. Good luck out there!!