2016 Spring Chinook Primer

You know you’ve been thinking about it.  In fact, some of you have probably even taken the boat out of moth balls and made a few passes looking for a fabled February Spring Chinook.  But chances are very few have actually brought one to hand.  But staring in the face of long odds, and often miserable weather has never been much of a deterrent for Northwest anglers, even when other options might include having a banner day of chasing hard fighting Winter Steelhead.   Non-fisherman probably look at this act in futility as pure madness and in many ways, I would have to agree.  While the prospects of tangling with a fresh Columbia or Willamette River Springer over the next two weeks are slim as best, it only takes one gleaming specimen to make a memorable start to the season.

Right now a handful of die-hards are prying some of the traditionally best early season Springer holes in search of the leading edge of what fisheries managers from Oregon and Washington estimate to be a combined run of around 300,000 Spring Chinook.  Sellwood Bridge, the head of the Multnomah Channel, and Davis Bar are a few of the areas that hold fish throughout the season but hold a special place in our hearts as they are known to give up some of the earliest fish of the run.

In late January, fisheries managers from both states have set the season for the lower river to run until April 9th below Bonneville Dam, and until May 6th above.  Be careful to note the closures from Bonneville down to Beacon Rock for boat anglers.  As is typical over the last decade, there is a one clipped Chinook limit per angler.  This year there are only two scheduled (currently) closure dates for sport fisherman to allow commercial fishing: March 29th and April 5th. 

After a couple years of gross over-estimations in the late 2000s, it seems the departments have been a bit more conservative in their run size estimates.  With that in mind, it’s quite possible that we’ll see an extension or a couple of single day openers following April 9th.  This seems to be a sensible approach to fish management so as to allow some early fish to get over the wall to satisfy the tribes and upriver anglers before reopening the lower river and risk burning through our impacts too early.  If we have passage numbers like last year we will likely see it reopened in May through the end of the season.  Just keep in mind that there are a certain percentage allocated to each user group meaning if sport fisherman get more time, so do the commercial guys.

Conditions always play a role in the early angler success.  Last season we had great catches early on with low flows and warmer than normal water temps.  This year the snowpack in the basin is shaping up to be higher than average so the catch rate may start off a bit slower as high flows and cold temps can slow the bite. 

Plunkers on lower Columbia beaches will be exited for the deep snow however.  Heavy runoff will push Springers into the softer water along the banks.  Backtrolling may also prove effective in the big river again if water clarity drops.  This method can help put out a scent trail and slower moving lure for fish to hone in on.

Of the nearly 300,000 scheduled to come back to the river mouth, about 70,000 are bound for the Willamette River.  Last year we had a forecast of around 55,000 and nearly double that number returned so prospects on the Willy look pretty optimistic as well. 

Hopefully by now you’ve procured your Herring for the season as when things get going in can be difficult or at the very least expensive to find quality green label.  Not all Sardines are created equal too so it wouldn’t hurt to try and find some that aren’t bloody or freezer burned if you plan to Backtroll, or anchor.  Don’t forget to stock up on Coldwater Prawns as these can be highly effective on the Willamette.

Hopefully you made it to the Sportsmen’s show and got stocked up on all your supplies because Springer season is just around the corner.  See you on the river!