We’re loaded for bear here at FOTL. Just picked up an arsenal of lures, swivels, weights, and the incomparable Smelly Jelly. The last four days have seen more than a thousand Columbia River spring chinook counted over Bonneville Dam each day, with more than 2,000 on two of those days. The time is now.
Down at the tackle shop the boys are talking up the Mag Wart, pictured above. Aren’t those tempting little buggers? Personally, the hot red color has me fired up. I can just see my fly-fishing bretheren rolling their eyes. Look how far he’s fallen. Thee Originoo Trouthole shakes his head sadly. What can I say? Fishin’ is fishin’. I’ll save the flyrod for shad. The chinook get the wart.
I’ve never fished for springers before, so this is terra incognita—or aqua incognita, as the case may be. My plan is to drive down next week and camp somewhere in the Gorge, then spend a day at the mouth of the Little White Salmon River—a place known, rather unfortunately, as Drano Lake—and see if I can hook into one of these upriver brights from the bank. It’s mostly a boat show, so my expectations are not high, but I figure I’ll learn a ton on this first exploratory mission.
Salmon aficionados consider Columbia River spring chinook to be quite possibly the tastiest salmon of them all. What makes spring chinook so special is their high fat content, fat translating into flavor. As the name implies, springers return to their natal rivers earlier than summer and fall chinook, which means they must survive the rigors of a freshwater environment for a longer stretch until the fall spawn begins. Since they won’t be eating during that time, their bodies are equipped to handle the holdover with extra fat reserves.
If they’re not eating, you might reasonably ask, how do you get them to strike a lure? Short answer: piss ’em off. The Mag Warts are outfitted with rattles to irritate the salmon, and they thrash around like an injured baitfish. A honking big buck of a springer just can’t help himself; he must take a nip out of the Wart as it swims past his nose. In theory, at least.
This year’s run of upper Columbia River springers, forecasted at 269,300 fish, is the third largest since 1977. This causes no end of confusion among those who don’t closely follow the plight of salmon and salmon fisheries. Wasn’t most of the West Coast just closed to salmon fishing? they ask. Yes, but not for the current springer run. The summer and fall runs, especially those in California, are looking dismal, hence the emergency closure. The springers are in better shape this year, and at FOTL we hope to tie into one and offer up a recipe or two soon.