The springers are here!!

If you’ve ever caught a springer, you know the reason why anglers in the Pacific Northwest do some things that don’t make sense to catch them. Things like drain bank accounts, live on 3 hours of sleep for 2 months, go completely MIA from friends and family that don’t fish, and drive hours passing a hundred bodies of water, just to get to the one that has a good run of springers.

Aside from incredibly fatty, melt-in-your-mouth meat, springers bring a new challenge to every angler. I was once told that I would be proposed to (by my current boyfriend) when I caught a springer. He didn’t quite expect that I would catch one my first season, and notice I said boyfriend – not husband or fiancé.

My first ever springer – Cowlitz 2010 – float/eggs

Springers are Chinook that enter the river in the spring time and anticipate staying in the river and spawning in the winter with a typical fall Chinook. Because they anticipate staying in the fresh water for such a long period of time, they store all of their fat contents in their meat rather than generate reproductive organs like other salmon/steelhead species. That results in a highly energized salmon full of bright red, oily meat.

They are easily the most finicky fish that I’ve targeted and have withdrawn more time and energy from my life. My family is lucky if they get one springer meal a year and they are also lucky if they see me on the weekends between April & May.

The Columbia River is the largest source of springers in our area with several tributaries with hatcheries that release springers and many of the fish will go all the way to Idaho for their final destination. Fishing the Columbia can be a great way to catch springers whether you have a perfectly designed boat, or may be plunking off the bank but there are a few smaller rivers both on the Washington coast and Columbia tributaries that get a decent run of springers that create an exciting and challenging time targeting such an aggressive species.

When fishing smaller rivers, you have to think outside of the box and be prepared to try many new techniques that might not make sense to you. Springers aren’t prejudice against any one specific technique, scent, bait, presentation like most other salmon species are. Anything can trigger these fish to be enticed by something floating down stream.

Cowlitz 2012 – free drifting eggs/sandshimp cocktail with herring scent

Bait or scented lures are a must for me when fishing springers. They are different for many reasons, but they are still a salmon. Whatever I’m throwing at them, it’s either bait, scented lure, or both! I could make 100 casts with straight eggs with no bites and then put on anise scent and that was the ticket that sparked their interest. Try different things! Jeff and I never go springer fishing without at least 4 different batches of eggs, 10 different scents, 3 different techniques, and 3 different types of baits. Maybe the first combination will be the one that gets a limit, but we have ran through every single combination that we could think of and still went home with only 1 fish.

One of my proudest springers: Jeff worked on my birthday so I took a solo trip and worked hard all day finally landing one at 4 PM – Cowlitz 2012

  • Bring different batches of cured eggs:
    • colors
    • cures
    • textures and density
    • berry size, and
    • run different size baits on your hooks
  • Bring different scents:
    • Try ones that no one else is using or ones that you might not think a springer would like – you’d be surprised what they bite
    • Always have these 5 common Go-To’s: Anise, shrimp, krill, sardine, herring
    • Yes, you can try combos as well if your budget allows you to purchase more like shrimp/anise or craw/anise
    • Try just a little dab, or smother the bait in that bright green Mike’s Salmon scent
    • Use bait injectors to keep the scent from immediately disbursing upon your first couple of casts. Inject clusters of eggs, sandshrimp bodies, other meats, etc.
  • Bring different baits
    • Of course, eggs
    • Sandshrimp. The fresher, the better. Your sandshrimp should not smell sour, have black  in the body, or be lethargic (unless they are extremely cold). It’s a difficult time of year to get good sandshrimp, but if you’re not using fresh sandshrimp, just don’t use them period.
    • Sardine. Fillet and store in borax at least the night before a fishing trip. If you keep the fillets cold, you can use them again for about a week.
    • Tuna bellies. They don’t last a week like sardine, but they are more durable and typically stay on your hook longer than a sardine
    • Prawn. You can purchase a bag of prawns from your grocery store in the seafood section. They come frozen in a bag. Dump them into a small Ziplok and add cure/scents. Play with different kinds and colors. You can simply add salt/sugar instead of a cure and then add Bad Azz Bait Dye to create a new color, or simply use your favorite cure.
    • Herring. Brined and dyed if desired. Cut into chunks or run them whole under a float
    • Coon shrimp. This is one of most effective baits in areas like Drano Lake and Wind River so why not use it in other areas? Sure, from the bank you can’t fish it the same, but it shouldn’t stop you from trying a combination or technique using this bait. Combine with a small ball of eggs, or run it solo under a float or free drifting.

Jack springer caught steelhead fishing with float/jig – Kalama 2014

  • Be ready to switch to a different technique
    • As picky as springers are, it’s no surprise to us that when we’ve been free-drifting all day with no bites around, if we switch to float fishing bait, it’s fish on within a couple of casts.
    • Different areas will need different methods. Smaller rivers (like Kalama and Sol Duc) won’t need a dart or jig, and bigger rivers (like the Cowlitz) can be effective with those techniques. No matter where you are, you need a drift set up and a float set up.
    • There is nothing more exciting than free-drifting for springers and getting a bite. You are able to get the most natural presentation and allow them to completely engulf themselves in your bait before setting the hook. Whether in a small river, or a big river, this is typically the first method I’ll chose simply because it’s so fun to feel the bite.
    • Float fishing is always my second choice. You get a different presentation and when you get a bite, there’s not waiting or hesitating; when the float goes down, its fish on! A bonus to this is that in larger rivers like the Cowlitz, you are able to cast a lot farther than drift gear because of the float and extra weight. If you are making a long cast, use an in-line weight vs a sliding weight. You’ll get down much faster and experience fewer tangles when your gear is flying in the wind.

I’ll have some videos up showing the actual set up of these many techniques, but the bottom line is that if you’re fishing for springers, you need to be prepared and ready to try the unknown. They are picky fish but well worth the extra work that is needed to go home with limits! :)

Not caught on a small river, but one of the most stressful springers I’ve landed. After a grind all weekend, I finally got my birthday springer! – Columbia 2014