Now What, Spring King Fans?

With Sunday’s close of springer fishing on the Columbia below Bonneville — and word of potential mainstem reopenings not coming down the pipe until early May — where might you head for your Chinook fix?

No need to fill both tanks, the Multnomah Channel and Willamette River coursing through downtown Portland are open seven days a week for two hatchery springers, an opportunity that Northwest Sportsman kayak kolumnist Mark Veary got on big time this past weekend. We’ll have more on fishing the Willamette in our May issue, which went to press yesterday and should be out on stores middle next week.

There’s also the Cowlitz, where U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks limited a week ago on kingers into the low 20s.

The Lewis, Clackamas and Sandy Rivers as well as Tillamook Bay’s rivers are options, and if you’re in the neighborhood, the Rogue has seen hot bites at times.

But you’ll find most of the Chinook opportunity above Bonneville, where counts are closing in on 50,000 for the year.

First up is the Wind River, on the Washington side. In our April issue, salmon hound Andy Schneider tips:

If you’re on a budget, or just starting in with springers, the Wind just may be your fishery. All that’s needed is $4 for an orange Magnum Wiggle Wart or Mag Lip. A Wart dives to the perfect depth for the shallow-water fishery, and catches king whether trolled fast or slow, a characteristic that also helps when trolling with or against the wind that pushes down the gorge.

Worden’s Mag Lip (formerly the M2SP) has given Wind anglers an advantage in recent years by allowing a bait wrap to be added to a diving plug. Productive colors range across the chart.

The Wart and Mag Lip can be flat-lined or casted with 20-pound mono off a light/medium-action rod (casting or spinning) rated 12-25.

Trolling herring on a short dropper (12 inches) and short leader (5 feet) is also a good early-season technique. Plugcut a green or red-label bait and troll at the same speed as everyone else, keeping your lead dragging bottom. Prawn spinners catch springers here too.

Then there’s Drano Lake where Schneider was yesterday, landing one Chinook as well as one holy-hell of a snag. More on that later. For now, here’s Oregon fish fiend Terry Otto’s advice on fishing the Washington tributary:

It will be hard to ignore Drano this year given the projections. If the run comes in as expected, the lake could see a return of 28,900 adults, the best return since the 1970s.

According to Jim Stahl of J&J Guide Service (425-347-1615), the fishing gets good once enough fish pile into the lake, and usually starts to peak in the second week of May. The fishery will slowly taper off during June.

There are three main trolls. Up inside the point near the mouth of the Little White Salmon River is a good place to look for springers as they stage before entering the hatchery.

A PAIR OF DRANO SPRINGERS. (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

“At times you’ll mark so many fish on your electronics up there, it’s amazing,“ he says, “but it can be tough at times to get them to bite. If you do catch it on a good day it can be lights out.”

Another good troll covers the east end of the lake, but be cautious of the shallow water and snaggy bottom near the east end.

By far the most popular troll is at the outlet and it is usually the most productive. Anglers circle from in front of the boat launch and work their way west into the corner. As you come to the edge of the bridge piling drop your baits to the bottom and troll east as the bottom rises from about 30 feet up to 24 or 25 feet.

“That’s where probably 90 percent of the fish are caught,” notes Stahl.

He starts each day with his baits spread through 10 feet of the water column until he finds the depth they are holding at, and then he adjusts the other rods accordingly.

“The fish often suspend at 21 to 22 feet,” says Stahl. “A good approach is to drop your bait to the bottom and come up one or two cranks.”

He has three main baits: spinner and prawns, Mag Lip plugs and plug-cut herring.

“I start with all three of them and see what they want that particular day,” he says.

Last year he had good success with herring, and for some reason the salmon wanted flashers, an oddity.

Beware the new bank-fishing-only area at Drano, defined as that part of the lake from the easternmost Highway 14 bridge pillar to a post on the north bank — much of which is a fine area to throw Mag Warts. And remember that Drano is closed all Wednesdays through May.

Upstream, you have Underwood and the Klickitat River, both on the Washington side, and the lower 4.5 miles of the Hood River on the Oregon shore, where a “strong” run is expected. The Hood also provides good bank fishing opportunities.

The Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools are open, and last week the middle reservoir kicked out 37 springers for 157 bankees, according to ODFW, while 13 boats managed to only land one. There were no immediate reports for the Bonneville and John Day pools, but at least 23,788 have gone over The Dalles Dam and 12,571 over John Day Dam.

Up in walleye country below McNary Dam, Dennis Dauble of the Tri-Cities checked in with a local guide for the wheres and hows in our April issue:

Mid-Columbia guide Bruce Hewitt (Going Fishing Guide Service; 509-430-6448) fishes this stretch every year starting in late April. He favors a downstream troll using cut-plug herring off 5- to 6 foot-long leader and an inline flasher.

NORTHWEST SPRING CHINOOK ACTION CONTINUES UP THE COLUMBIA TO THE TRI-CITIES AREA WHERE A CLIENT OF GUIDE ELMER HILL PICKED UP A BIG ONE. (MID COLUMBIA RIVER GUIDE SERVICE)

“Fish near the bottom with smaller-sized herring or anchovies where you can get them,” Hewitt suggests.

He advocates keeping a tight spin on your bait, even if it requires sewing the mouth of whole herring shut.

“Because most springers run 10 to 15 pounds, there is no need to use 4/O and 5/O hooks as for the fall run. You can size down to a 2/O if using good quality hooks like Gamakatsu or VMG.”

With an expectation of some 200,000 hatchery kings expected to head up the Snake this year, the lowest part of the river — from Highway 12 up to the no-fishing area below Ice Harbor Dam — opened today. And though it hasn’t been that productive in past years, Dauble got some more tips from Hewitt:

Watch for McNary salmon counts to build before chancing a trip up the lower Snake. The main boat launch is a Hood Park. Once on the water, you won’t find much company because opportunity is limited.

As an example, although the river necks down on the north shore downstream of the navigation lock – in theory funneling and concentrating upstream-migrating springers – the feature-less channel is U-shaped from dredging. In addition, boats are vulnerable to barge traffic and high velocities from spilling. Thus, it’s easier to work shorelines well downstream of the dam.

Indeed, one characteristic that Hewitt likes about the lower Snake River is that “fish tend to be closer to shore.” Here he mixes in size 13 Kwikfish and Worden’s FlatFish with the more traditional herring offering.

There is a small but loyal bank fishery on the south shore downstream of Ice Harbor Dam for springers sneaking up the inside of Goose Island in less than 10 feet of water.

This Saturday, much more of the Snake will open in Washington, Idaho and Oregon.

In the Evergreen State, fishing has been expanded too. Open waters include from the railroad bridge below the Tucannon River mouth up to 1 mile above Little Goose Dam; from Casey Creek upstream 6 miles to the fishing deadline at Lower Granite; and from Blyton Landing boat ramp 12 miles above Lower Granite 19 miles upstream to the launch behind the Quality Inn in Clarkston.

One of the more infamous though productive areas in that whole stretch is The Wall at Little Goose, where the daily limit is one adult and one jack — but you gotta stop fishing after you catch that adult king, under new regs this year. I spoke to Spokane angler Jeff Main about that fishery in our April issue:

All the water rushing out of Little Goose Dam in spring pushes fish to the side of the river and makes it tough to hold bait in the current. So the anglers who fish The Wall – below the dam on the south side – use cannonball weights of up to 48 ounces, according to Spokane fisherman Jeff Main.

WHAT IT'S LIKE TO HIT THE WALL. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

“That’s just to keep your stuff in front of you and not in the next guy’s rig,” says the combat fishery vet.

He makes his own cannonballs melting down tire weights from a buddy and sells them on Craigslist for $10.

Anglers’ baits are basically just 5 feet apart, and typically they’re herring these days, prawns in years past. Main’s involves a pair of spreader bars and a cutplug and a whole herring, a light leader to the weight and 30- to 60-pound mainline.

After rigging up, Main goes to one of the 12 built-in pole holders the Corps of Engineers has affixed to the railing (there’s room for another dozen and a half anglers if they’ve brought their own holders), drops his bait in and puts the rod in the bracket.

HEAVY GEAR IS REQUIRED AT THE WALL. (JEFF MAIN)

Sounds easy, right? Let’s back up a moment. To claim one of those rodholders or a spot on the rail, it’s a mad dash when a gate opens at 6 a.m. and anglers drive and dive for the available spots.

“That’s part of the rush of fishing. You jam it in park, jump out and grab any spot,” Main says.

After hooking a fish, the angler fights it from above and sends a buddy down a walkway to the river.

“There’s a 10- to 15-foot difference between the angler and the netter,” he says.

WALKWAY DOWN TO THE LANDING AREA. (JEFF MAIN)

Indeed, it’s not your ordinary fishery, but Main says you do meet some interesting characters at The Wall.

“It’s not like the Grande Ronde where it’s finesse fishing and the scenery’s beautiful. But a lot of fish are caught there, and that’s why we go,” he says.

KRIS FROHBERG OF SPOKANE WITH A WALL SPRINGER. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

This Saturday also sees Chinook openers on a host of Idaho rivers, including parts of the Clearwater and its North, South and Middle forks; lower Salmon River; and Little Salmon River.

And IDFG and ODFW jointly opened the Snake River from Dug Bar up to Hells Canyon Dam. They expect something like 15,000 springers to run into the dam, far more than managers need for egg-take goals. The daily limit is four hatchery fish, but only two adults.

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