Icicle Springers Open Thursday, May 8

A complete total newbie salmon fisherman – a guy who may not be able to tell you the difference between a cut-plug herring and a plug nickel – will walk away with a springer on the Icicle Creek opener if Thursday, May 13’s opener goes like those in recent years.

It’s been all but automatic on the small eastern Cascade Mountains stream. Scott Fletcher did it in May 2008, Albert Alcala did it the year before and some dude from Texas lassoed one in 2006.

Like the others, Fletcher – a Californian better versed at appraising houses and landing bass – found himself at Hooked On Toys (509-663-0740) in Wenatchee with an itch to catch salmon right before season opened. He’d heard Don Talbot was the guy to talk to, and sure enough, the sharpie showed him how to rig up a red-and-white Spin-N-Glo and 8- to 16-ounce pyramid weight, depending on current, and plug cut a herring.

All Fletcher had to do was show up at 3 a.m., wait for legal fishing light – and then wait some more.

“I stuck it out when everyone else had left, and about 9:15 a.m. my rod went off with the fight of my life,” he recalls when we spoke to him last spring. “He turned out to be 10 pounds, 10 ounces. It was the best looking fish I had ever seen.”

SCOTT FLETCHER'S OPENING-DAY 2008 ICICLE CREEK SPRINGER. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

THERE SHOULD BE A WHOLE LOT more good-looking fish this season too.

WDFW says that a whopping 11,000 are on their way back to the hatchery; they only need 1,000 to meet eggtake goals. So far, 9,536 springers have gone over Rock Island Dam, including 51 PIT-tagged fish headed for the Icicle. A total of 150 Leavenworth fish with the passive integrated transponders have been counted at Bonneville Dam this year.

The creek is open from the closure signs located 800 feet upstream of the mouth to 500 feet downstream of the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery Barrier Dam.

Daily limit is two salmon, but those with one or more round holes punched in their tail must be released. They’re part of a study and have been anesthetized; the FDA requires a 21-day ban on consumption of these fish. There’s also a night closure in effect.

When the Icicle opens, you may find a bleery-eyed Shane Magnuson of Upper Columbia Guide Services (509-630-5433) and his bleery-eyed clients (whom he meets as early as 3 a.m.) anchored up in his Willie drifter midcrick.

“It’s a sit-and-wait fishery,” he told us last year. “Most of the time those fish are going to run up from the Wenatchee first thing in the morning or last thing in the day. But if it’s high, it can get a midday run.”

Travis Collier, manager of the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, confirms the salmon’s early-running nature, based on passive integrated transponders, or PIT tags, in the fish.

“There’s a lot of movement in the mornings, entering into the ladder from midnight to 7 a.m.,” he says.

Not only are these moving fish, but because the Icicle lacks any real depths, you’re not fishing this like other king streams.

“We find a run slot and run a 3- to 4-ounce cannonball and a No. 2 Spin-N-Glo and red-package whole herring,” Magnuson says.

He can get his herring to spin with special hook placement, but says you can get the same effect with an anchovy helmet. Greens, chartreuses and limes are good winged bobber colors, he says.

On warm days when the river colors up from runoff, he may break out a diver and M2 FlatFish.

“But as soon as it gets any clarity, you gotta go back to bait because the fish get spooked by them.”

There’s only about 2.7 miles of creek – “It’s a river in the springtime,” corrects Magnuson – to fish from a drifter, and much, much less from the bank. Best shore access is from 500 feet downstream of the hatchery to its hard turn north, primarily plunking water with a bit for drift-fishing on the corner.

There’s also room for two anglers on friendly terms to fish below the East Leavenworth Road Bridge.
Take-out is about 1 mile below the Icicle’s mouth, on the Wenatchee’s south side. The lower 800 feet of the creek have been closed to fishing.

OVER THE PAST eight years, the Icicle has opened in May’s back half, but most springers have been caught in June, according to preliminary catch stats from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife.

“They really come in pulses,” says Collier. “You gotta be here when the run shows up.”

But fish are also bonked in May and, he notes, into July.

“They’re still quality fish. They haul through the system,” Collier says.

Watch its progress past Columbia River dams by monitoring PIT tag passage of “LEAV” fish at cbr.washington.edu/
dart.

MEANWHILE, BACK AT HOOKED, Don Talbot’s probably looking for yet another bright-eyed newbie.

“With a rookie, no problem,” he told us last spring. “You gotta have someone who’s optimistic, with optimism in his heart.”

The personification of that – and, well, cheapness – might have been that 2006 Texan. Talbot says the angler would only spend $40 on a rod and reel, refused to buy waders for the frigid water, but did spring for some “really nice” sand shrimp.

“I told him to cast it like a bass lure,” Talbot says. A toss or two later, bam, fish on.

Alcala was plunking a herring below the hatchery. Fletcher’s no longer a newbie. He went on to record 25 more salmon on his catch card that year, including summer kings and sockeye, and he’s now sending us shots of triploids and upper Columbia steelhead as well.

EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS ARTICLE IS LARGELY BASED ON ONE THAT RAN IN OUR MAY 2009 ISSUE, ON PAGES 84 AND 85.

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