Fishing the Columbia River for Spring Chinook
Technique- Trolling Herring Downstream
Every spring a varying number of spring chinook (lovingly called springers!) ascend the Columbia River, and are targeted by anglers with many different techniques. One of the most popular ways to tempt them, especially in the water from St. Helens upstream to Beacon Rock, is trolling herring downstream. This technique can work in any water depth, but is normally fished in water from 10 to 40 feet deep, especially keying on shelves and flats where springers traditionally travel. Often, areas like this combine with slower current, and can be a key to finding the travel lanes where these tasty fish congregate.
The rigging is straightforward, using a traditional sliding weight set up (see accompanying picture) with a 12-24” dropper for weight. Then add a section of heavy monofilament (24-36 inches 50-80 pound line is perfect) slightly longer than the lead dropper, connecting to a flasher, and then a 48-60” twenty-five pound leader, terminating in a two or three hook-mooching rig. If the mainline is spectra, use 8-ounces of lead, and if using monofilament line, 10-ounces of lead should be used for 25-30 pound line. This will allow a 45-degree angle on the lines when the correct trolling speed is achieved.
Look for water that’s 15-30 feet deep, and start a very slow downstream troll. You should be moving just slightly faster than the current. I use a depth finder that has a trolling speed indicator that is generated from a water wheel on the transducer. This allows me to know exactly how fast I’m traveling through the water, not over ground. This is an important distinction, since GPS speed is over ground, and will add the speed of the current to your trolling speed. The key to speed is to be about .3-.5 mph, which when added to the current speed will often be between 2-4 mph. If you don’t have a water speed sensor on your depth finder, use a GPS and drift for a minute when you first get to your selected water to find out what speed the current is carrying you downstream, then add .3-.6 mph when you begin your troll. Keep in mind that current speed may change throughout a given day, based on the amount of water released through Bonneville dam and, to some degree, tidal influences.
A quick side note is, the herring will often not spin at the surface at this speed. Don’t worry about it! There current along the bottom is slower than on the surface, and will allow enough resistance to get your herring to spin enticingly.
To get the most out of this technique, make sure your lead is lightly dragging the bottom, or at least tapping the substrate every few seconds. This is the real key to getting this technique to fish successfully. If you’ve never tried fishing this way, I understand how it can seem to be all wrong, but once a chrome bright springer chomps down your herring, you’ll be forever convinced of its effectiveness! And let ‘em eat!