Catching chinook salmon depends on location, timing

4:42 pm July 18th, 2012


By Bob Brown

July is a transition month between spring and autumn, and for many anglers it is a transition month in sport fishing. July opens the door to multiple choices of where and what to catch or try to catch.

Salmon, steelhead, crab, sturgeon, trout, bass and walleye are all now available to harvest. And while steelhead continues to be the pie-in-the-sky for some fishermen, many are turning their efforts towards catching salmon, and especially chinook.

Often referred to as the king of salmon, chinook are noted for their size, speed, strength, streamlined contours and table quality. In his book “Washington Fishing,” Terry Rudnick wrote, “Despite its immense popularity, the king’s secrets are known and understood by relatively few. To loosely paraphrase Tina Turner, luck has nothing to do with catching chinook. If you want to catch kings, you fish for kings, and there are really only a few simple rules to remember. Fish the right way, at the right time, in the right places and you’ll catch them consistently.”

The best time of the day to fish for chinook is said to be at first light, and in July that means between 4 and 4:30 a.m. Tide changes, and especially during a flood tide, are good bite periods, as well as during the last hour of daylight. Because chinook like the bottom, successful anglers keep their baits and lures within a few feet of the bottom, but fishing the bottom doesn’t necessarily mean fishing extremely deep. Fishing at depths of 125 feet or less is common practice.

Rudnick also said mature chinook headed for fresh water are like wolves on the prowl, often patrolling coves, small bays and kelp beds in search of oil-rich baitfish that will sustain them through the rigors of spawning. Fishing for kings near shore and in those areas can provide some of salmon fishing’s most spectacular action.

When chinook transition from saltwater to freshwater, its popularity doesn’t end, and especially when they return to their home streams several months before spawning. Commonly referred to as springers, the returning fish spark one of Washington’s most popular fisheries. The saltwater rule of fishing the first half-hour and last half-hour of the day for best bite periods also apply to freshwater springer fishing. Also, keeping bait or lures hugging rocky bottoms most of the time is a must.

According to Rudnick, the key to catching is not so much what bait or lure is being used, but where it is placed in the river. Do the fishing where other anglers are catching, and watch to learn the routes of the fish. Sounds like pretty good advice.

Summer-run steelhead are being recycled

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) biologists are conducting a recycling study of summer-run steelhead in the Cowlitz River. During the first week of July, 31 fish were transported to the lower Cowlitz and released at the Interstate 5 boat launch. The fish are part of a study monitoring steelhead movement. The fish are expected to do one of four things – return the second time to the hatchery, get caught, remain in the lower Cowlitz or a tributary through the spawning period, or leave the river before spawning time. Sixty radio tags and 440 visual tags have been inserted into steelhead captured at the Cowlitz hatchery.

Recycling was initially ended over concern that non-native hatchery steelhead might stray into lower Cowlitz tributaries and cause negative effects on wild steelhead known to spawn in the streams. Wolf Dammers, a district WDFW fish biologist, said the results of the study “could support reinitiating of a recycling program to enhance the summer steelhead sport fishery.” Outdoors writer Bob Brown lives in Roy. He can be reached at robertb1285

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