Springer Seminar

Are you ready for Springers?

I had the amazing opportunity to see Terry Wiest and Bill “Swanny” Swanson give 2 amazing seminars on spring chinook fishing in both the smaller rivers, and trolling in the Columbia. Here is a recap from this weekend and a few tips and tricks to help you gear up for the springers this year!

Why do we all love springers so much?

Spring chinook are chinook that enter the river system a few months earlier than it’s fall siblings. However, they still spawn around the same time in late fall/early winter. They are much more prepared to live in fresh water for several months before making it to their spawning grounds or hatcheries. These fish have a much higher fat content and enter the fresh water while the tempurature is still quite a bit cooler than in August and September. The cooler water doesn’t break down the fish’s genetic disposition and because of this, the prized springers have quite a bit more energy to fight on the end of your line and a much higher fat content for better table fare.

Where can you find springers?

Springers are not only prized because of their table fare and strong fights, but even more elusive than the steelhead, they aren’t in every river and they are one of the most finicky fish in it’s species.

Here is a list of common rivers that you can find spring chinook:

Columbia (and some tributaries):

  • Cowlitz
  • Kalama
  • Lewis

Coastal rivers:

  • Hoh
  • Sol Duc

Techniques for “small” river fishing:

Your main technique is generally plunking and float fishing and both technbiques are very universal in many water conditions but many other techniques are used and can be just as effective if the water is right and if it’s fished correctly.

Hover fishing and backbouncing are very hands on techniques that will help you target the fish that rest near the bottom of holes that are about 8-12 ft deep and with an experienced rower or an electric motor.

Pulling plugs or using them when plunking can also be very effective but remember scent is crucial with springers and all plugs should be sardine wrapped.

What types of bait and scent do you use?

EGGS! And lots of ‘em! Large, golf ball sized baits. These fish will often sit and chomp and chew your bait before they actually commit to the bite so it’s important to have plenty of bait to cover up your 3/o and 4/o hooks while they decide to commit. You can also use sandshrimp to add as a combo and be sure to add a lot of SCENT. These fish are primarily scent driven. Terry uses tuna scent over anything else but will also use anise. Swanny adds sardine, anchovy, shrimp, anise, and krill powder to his herring. My personal favorites for springers is sardine, tuna, herring, and garlic.

Tips for trolling herring on the Columbia:

- You want a limber, medium to slow action rod.

  • When you use braid, you have zero stretch so it’s important to have a shock leader as well as a limber rod that will absorb the tension when fighting a fish with braided line

- Use covers on your beaded chains! You can find them on Good Day Fishing or make them yourself using heat shrink tubing

  • This is to prevent weeds from latching on to the space between the beads and getting tangles

- Keep your dropper leader should be shorter than your shock leader

  • This is to prevent tangles

- Adjust your hook spacing and size with your herring

  • A typical green label can use a 2/o for the top and center hooks, but use a 1/o hook for the trailing hook. The trailing hook is generally 2″ longer than the tail of the herring

- Remember it’s BARBLESS this year!

  • Try the cotton test if you are going to pinch your own barbs and remember it’s always safer to try to purchase barbless hooks.

- If you notice your flasher getting strikes, shorten your leader!

  • The fish are likely not seeing your bait when they see your flasher.

Swanny’s herring brine/cure:

2 qts purified, non-chlorinated water or river water

2 cups sea salt

1 cup brown sugar

1 tbs Mrs. Stuart’s Bluing – for SHINE and bringing out the blues, greens, and purples in the scales

¼ cup powdered milk - to keep the scales set and in tact when the herring gets ‘burnt’ from the salt


1 bottle of Pautzke’s Fire Brine and 1 bottle of matching color nectar for scent addatives. Do not add additional sugar or salt, but krill powder can be added for additional scent (except chartruese because it will change the color)

These cures/brines will cover 1-3 dozen herring

These are just a few tips and tricks from this weekend and I thank Swanny and Terry so much for giving such great presentations! Hope some of them help you as much as they will help me this spring!