Spinner Fishing Techniques for Salmon & Steelhead
I have to preface this article with a simple statement, “I love fishing blades!” Maybe this statement is a bit overstated, but it’s a fact, and overtime has become one of my favorite ways to target salmon and steelhead. This article is going to talk about spinner fishing techniques for salmon & steelhead, but more importantly, when and where they are used with the most success. We’ll also cover blade sizes and shapes for the different seasons, and finally what colors always seem to work.
Essentially, fishing spinners on the Columbia and Willamette systems are techniques best suited to our late spring, summer and fall fisheries. While you can catch fish on spinners almost anytime you put them in the water, they definitely fish best when the water temperatures begin to reach above 56-57 degree mark. When the water temps are cool, bait will almost always out fish hardware, but once the water gets warmer, hardware will often vastly outperform bait. One trick for fishing the cooler water periods is to use the meat and metal combo, which I employee often during the spring Chinook season on the Columbia and Willamette.
In the beginning part of our year, spring Chinook begin entering our rivers as early as January, but not in large quantities. Most years, fishing begins in earnest somewhere towards the middle of March. At this time of year, the water is generally pretty cold, so targeting springers is often a herring show. The opportunities to use spinners during this early season are by running a blade in front of trolled herring or prawns. This is accomplished simply by running 10 or 12 small 4, 5 & 6-millimeter beads above your bait, and then adding a removable clevis, and then adding the blade of choice. When fishing this meat and metal combo, it’s a good idea to use smaller blades, centering around sizes 3, 4 & 4.5 Colorados. Two things you should be cautioned about; First, when using the plastic quick-change clevises, you are going to loose some blades when fish bite. I would say I loose a blade every 2-3 fish, but honestly this hasn’t ever been a concern since I think I’m hooking more fish by use of the blade. Second, never use the wire spring style quick-change clevis. For sure, you won’t loose any blades, but you’re definitely going to loose some fish. When the metal spring spins around your mono (or fluorocarbon) leader, it begins to chafe, and often you will break any fish off during the first part of the fight.
Colors for running meat and metal combos for springers can be any of the traditional salmon colors, and I haven’t honestly found any blade I think is akin to a magic bullet. For spring Chinook it often seems the most important aspect to consistently catching fish, is first putting in your time, and second, fishing where there are some fish. I’ve had good luck fishing red, pink, green and chartreuse, and varying combinations of these colors. I do like to use beads that match my major blade color, so for a red blade, I’m using eight 4-millimeter beads, followed by three 4 to 6-millimeter beads, with a quick-change clevis on top. I favor number 3 & 4 size Colorado blades while fishing prawns, and 4, 4.5 & 5’s when fishing herring.
I’ve had success using these combos fishing in the deep-water sections of the Willamette, where I’m suspending my baits while forward trolling. I’ve also had very good success fishing shelves and other structure by either forward trolling and bouncing prawns, or back trolling if there’s enough current.
As summer rolls around, the blade fishing opportunities begin to flourish. When the Columbia re-opens for June Hogs, and summer steelhead are beginning to nose into the river in fishable numbers, the spinner fishing opportunities blossom.
With water temperatures generally being fairly low, the fish still respond very well to the meat and metal combo, although plain blades will attract their fare share of fish. This is the time of year I like anchoring in water from 6 to 15 feet deep, especially on inside river bends where a point sticks out into the river. Most of these anchor spots are readily known, so it can be hard to get a prime location if you’re not up early and set up in your spot. The beauty of locations like this is the opportunity to consistently catch a mixed bag of Chinook and steelhead. I still prefer smaller blades sizes, opting for sizes 4, 4.5 and 5’s when running meat and metal combos, and 4.5 and 5’s when fishing straight blades. I still lean towards Colorado’s, but depending on the current speed, Cascade, Bear Valley, CV7, or Indiana Blades all have their place.
For colors I definitely like fishing reds, pinks and oranges more than any of the green colors. You can always find exceptions, but combinations of reds and pinks are my go to colors.
This time of year, coon shrimp is the preferred bait. You can rig them straight, or include an alluring twirl. Both ways fish, but the addition of a small blade definitely adds draw to your offering.
When running straight blades, number 4.5 & 5 sized blades are the most applicable. Different blade styles can be used, and how to select the correct shape is covered latter in the article. This is a great place to begin talking about spinner construction. One of the things that make spinners fish best, is when there isn’t a lot of walk at the nose. What I mean by this is imagine a blade in the water, and you look at the connection point where the spinner is tied onto your leader. At this point the spinner shaft should be running dead straight, with no wobble. If you look at the nose and you see it doing concentric circles, your blade isn’t tuned correctly. If these circles are very small (this is called walk), you’ll be fine, but the larger these circles become, the less effective the blade will be.
One of the tricks to keep blades from walking is having a long nose in front of the blade itself. I’ve seen many spinners, both commercial and homemade, where there is no wire extending in front of the blade. This allows the energy of the blade swinging around the spinner shaft to add wobble to the nose, and is generally undesirable. By having an inch or so of bare wire leading up to the eye, you can mitigate the walk phenomenon considerably.
When fishing straight blades, I also always tie the mono leader directly to the eye of the spinner. Yes, this means changing blades takes a couple more seconds, but having a rigid connection point will also help keep walk to a minimum, while using a duo-clip adds a hinge point, which can magnify issues with walk.
I also like my beads to match the color of the blade. I could actually write an entire article on nothing but the theory of spinner construction, but I’d bore the majority of you to tears! With that said, matching the blade color to the beads is one of the small details I think adds to a spinners fish-ability. Does that mean opposing or mixed colors won’t work? Absolutely not, but I do think they are less consistent than blades with a matching/complimenting color are. Think about how a fish sees the blade from the side, or from behind. The blade itself is revolving around the beads, showing quick glimpses of color from the blade, as well as any flash from bare metal, while the body itself is only visible in quick glimpses between the revolutions of the blade. This is where having complimenting colors becomes important, to give a more stimulating draw. I have had a few experiences where contrasting colors have worked, but this has been the exception more than the rule.
When fishing either straight blades or meat and metal combos this time of year, it’s important to keep your offerings right off the bottom. I like to rig these with a sliding lead line setup, with 5 to 6-foot 30-pound leaders, and 2 to 3-foot lead lines. Bounce them back to where you want them, then set them in the rod holder. Don’t forget to set the hook immediately on the rods running straight blades, because the fish aren’t going to chew on those for long!!
This is the time of year I think blade shape also comes into play. A simple way to look at all the different blade styles is to think about what kind of resistance they will provide in the current, and how fast they’ll spin in different current speeds. The main blade types you’ll run into are Colorado, Bear Valley, CV7, Indiana, and Cascade’s. There are a few others like Lucky R’s and French blades, but the majority of blades you find out there are in the first list, with Colorado, Indiana (Indiana & CV7’s are very close to the same) and Cascades being the most common. Colorado’s also come in both a standard and a deep cup configuration. A simple way to remember what blades should be used when is to look at the shape of the blade. The smaller and thinner the blade is, the easier it will turn in current, while the broader and deeper the cup, the more current it takes to make it spin effectively. This means a Cascade will spin in less current than a deep cup Colorado. When the current is ripping, choose larger, heavier and broader blades, and conversely, when the current slacks off, smaller Cascades become much more important.
In the next issue we’ll cover summer trolling and anchor fishing for steelhead, as well as fishing spinners at Buoy 10, and Tillamook Bay.
See our other articles about fishing Spinners.
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