Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Who Says Chinook Salmon Won't Take Flies?

My apologies to everyone of you who follows my blog for my lack of entries recently. I have been working way too much, building my new watercraft, and fishing when I have the moment to get out. Fishing has been pretty good lately; while everyone is complaining of having no water flowing in the rivers. We have had the lowest December flows since 1977, but the fish still have to make their runs no matter what. Crowds are down, and fishers using conventional tackle are not catching fish using their standard practices; while stealthy fly presentations can really shine during times like this.
A Chrome Bright Chinook Salmon Fresh From the Salt
Two weeks ago, I had a few days to fish for fun with a couple of good friends. We fished for Chinook Salmon, and conditions for getting into fresh "tide-runner" salmon were just right. We were using 10wt single handed rods with heavy duty reels matched up with very serious drag systems. The fly lines we had on were shooting heads with intermediate running lines, and the shooting heads we used were either a Clear Intermediate or a Type II (both 28' long). We had on leaders that were 12' long made of fluorocarbon with a tippet strength of 20 pounds. You have to be ready to put the screws to these fish; since they want to charge directly for any woody structure in the pools; so heavy duty equipment is a must.
Black & Chartreuse Size 6 Clouser Minnow in the Grill
The rivers have been so low; to the point where the salmon coming in have nowhere to go but the deepest "pond-like" holes. You have to present your fly in the fish's holding depth in those holes, and you have to have your fly down and parallel to the bottom during the entire retrieve or swing. The fish are not on the bottom, and they are more likely to be about 1/3 from the bottom according to the depth of the water (they are 4' off the bottom in 12' deep water). In the pools with little or no current, you must retrieve your fly, but not like stripping flies for brown trout. The strip is very slowwwwww and steady, with really long gradual pulls on the line. You are more or less causing the fly to swing; since the current can be so slow, where your fly will sink to the bottom unless you keep tension on it. Think of your presentation as soaking the fly, and not stripping it back in a jerky motion, but pulling it back to you over a long slow retrieval.
The Name "Spot Backs" is very appropriate for Chinook
Most of the grabs I had were in between strips when the fly was simply sitting out there soaking in front of a willing Chinook's face. The grabs were rather awesome; as you would feel a mushy hard pull that instantly converted into throbbing big head shakes. There was no doubt when you got into one, and then it was game on for a while. The 10wts folded over like a steelhead on a 4wt; which is something every fly angler has to feel. The drags on the reels are set where it is painful on your hands to strip the line out of the reel; yet when you have one of these salmon run, your reel peels line out like a drag racing car. Serious POWER!!!
This fish was abused by Sea Lions while crossing the bar......
It was slightly painful watching the guys dunking bait off of their bobbers staring at us hopelessly while our tackle was being battle tested. Not one bobber dunk either day for any of them. Our equipment is relatively simple, and the things that the fish are biting on are even more simple. A #6 fly at the end of a fly line is much more simple than a 6" bobber off of a slider, with swivels, shrimp cocktails, lots of lead weight, and level line reels. Two days in a row, we were the "Top Boat" coming into the takeout. The guys using conventional tackle were not catching anything; while we experienced some of the best Chinook Salmon fly fishing possible.
Size 6 Chartreuse & White Clouser Minnow in this Chinook's mouth
The best highlight of the two day trip was Alia's first Chinook Salmon that she ever wrestled with. She fought the fish as Ethan and I coached her frantically. She had an agonizing battle, and was abused by this beastly tide runner, but eventually the fish yielded. She was so stoked on the fish, as we all celebrated with yells of joy and stoked feelings. Ethan and I took lots of great trophy shots of her beastly fish, before rowing back into the honey hole to get into some more fish.
Picture Perfect first fly caught Chinook Salmon - What a Catch!!!
We had a truly amazing time out there, and times like that remind me of how fortunate we are to live at such a special place called Oregon. Most people travel and spend a ton of money to fish for salmon in Alaska; while there are times when places in Oregon can offer the best fly fishing for salmon possible.


  1. Sounds like ya'll not only know what you're doing, but had a blast doing it as well. Loved the shot of the trophy fish at the end, I can only imagine the excitement on pulling that one in!

  2. What river was this on? Looks incredible!