Fall Chinook Salmon Fishing 101
All hail the Ivory King! The Chinook salmon is otherwise known as a Chinook, Spring Salmon or King Salmon. These fish are extremely fun to target in our local rivers as they can be very aggressive and love to give you a good run for your money.
Chinook salmon are the largest of the 5 Pacific Salmon Species and that being said, they put up a good battle. There are a few different runs of Chinook Salmon that enter our local rivers. The run we will be going over in this article is the Fall Chinook Run. This particular run of Chinook is a strain from the Harrison River.
These fish are unique in many ways, but a couple of the main distinctive features include a larger average size and white flesh instead of red. In the past few years there has been a phenomenon of fall reds being caught, not many, but some. This strain of Chinook has been transplanted from the Harrison to some rivers in the Fraser Valley and North Shore. Some of these rivers include the Vedder/Chilliwack River and Capilano River, and of course the Harrison River itself.
Run timing of these fish is very similar for most systems, but can be weather and water level dependent. We normally see our first fish arriving in the beginning of September, with the runs normally peaking in the last week of September and into the second week of October.
There are a large variety of methods that can be applied in order to catch these fish. An angler can float/drift fish, cast lures, and fly fish. We will cover all of the basics below.
Drift Fishing or Float Fishing
Drift or float fishing is the most widely-used technique to fish for salmon in our local rivers. This type of setup allows for your bait or presentation to drift freely down the river while keeping it off the bottom in a controlled fashion.
When fishing for Chinook Salmon using this method, your depth is very critical in most scenarios. You will not want to be too shallow, nor too deep. The biggest mistake one can make is fishing too deep, as this will not give you bait the proper presentation to the fish and could also spook or frighten fish from biting. The absolute best depth to be fishing for Chinook is 1-2 ft. off of the bottom. This will allow your bait to be in the strike zone of the fish and hopefully entice a strike.
Now how do we set up this kind of rig? There are many ways to set up this method and a majority of them depend on your personal preference. At the same time, some will work better than others. A basic set-up consists of a float, weight(s), swivel(s), leader line and a hook with your desired bait or presentation.
Fishing Rods: 10'6" to 11' in a Medium to Medium Heavy Action.
Fishing Reels: Baitcasting/levelwind or centrepin reels.
Mainline: Mainline should either be 15-20lb monofilament. We recommend using Maxima Ultra Green, Berkley Big Game, Stren Clear Blue Fl. or Sufix Seige. Braided line can also be used. We would use 40lb-65lb with Sufix 832, Power Pro and Tuf-Line XP.
Floats: There is usually very little need for light tackle in this fishery and even in low clear conditions, one should not downsize to too light. An average float size ranges from 25-35grams and even upwards of 40grams in some scenarios. Popular brands are DNE Floats, Clear Drift clear floats, Drennan, Top Shelf and Badjura cork floats.
Weight(s): There are many ways to rig up your weight system although the two most common are pencil lead or split shot.
Swivels: There are many acceptable swivels on the market and nothing fancy is needed. Anywhere from a number 10 to 8 barrel or crane swivel is a correct size.
Leader Line: There is no need to be shy with the weight of leader line, although it is highly recommended to use a heavy fluorocarbon leader in order to give you the best advantage possible. You will want the best-case scenario, which is strong leader that is invisible to the fish. 15-20lb test leader is recommended. Anything less than 15lb test and you will be breaking fish off and overplaying them if you plan on releasing them. Seaguar Original Blue Label Fluorocarbon and Maxima Ultragreen are popular choices for leader line.
Hooks: We cannot stress enough that good hooks are always a necessity, especially when fishing for these brutes. Gamakatsu or Owner Octopus Bait Hooks are recommended.
Natural Baits: Roe, roe, and more roe. This is not the only natural bait that will work, but it is highly effective when fishing for Chinook most days. Prawns or cocktail shrimp will also work, especially with added Pautzke Fire Dye in pink or red.
Artificial Baits/Presentations: There are a wide variety of artificial baits and lures available on the market such as jigs, Trout Beads, BNR Tackle Soft Beads, Cleardrift Soft Beads, Wool/Yarn, Cleardrift Colorado Blades, Prime Lures Spoons and Blue Fox Vibrax Spinners.
Scents: When fishing for salmon, especially Chinook, scents can play a huge role in determining whether a fish will bite or not. Pacific Salmon do not feed once they have entered freshwater to spawn but are very responsive to certain scents which can trigger extra-aggressive bites. Scents come in various forms such as oil or gel. Anchovy, Herring, Bloody Tuna, and Shrimp/Krill scent are some proven winners.
While not the most common way to fish for Chinook, it has proven to be deadly in some scenarios. This method is best applied in stagnant to slow moving water with a good amount of depth (4ft or deeper). Spinners and spoons are your go-to lures. A good general rule of thumb when lure fishing for Chinook is to make sure you have a consistently slow retrieve, that is quite close to the bottom.
Rods: 8’6″ to 10’6″ Medium Heavy (casting or spinning). See the Luhr Jensen Legacy Twitching Jig spinning rod or Trophy XL 600 Series baitcasting rod.
Reels: Casting/levelwind or spinning adequate to hold at least 100yds of line with good quality and a strong drag system are recommended. See the Abu Garcia C3 Classic or the Shimano Calcutta B baitcasting reels. For spinning reels check out the Daiwa Tatula LT and the Penn Battle II.
Mainline: Bright Monofilament 17-20lb test, or braided line 30-40lb test.
Spinners: Blue Fox Vibrax Spinners in size 4-5, Prime Lures Spinners (Helpful Hint: Try adding a hootchie squid to the back of your spinners for extra movement and colour. This can be deadly effective!)
We know how effective fly fishing can be for Pacific Salmon and the fall white Chinook is a prime target. Catching a river Chinook on the fly is something that, not that long ago, was thought an impossible catch but the aggressive nature of these fall Chinook and the advancement of fly tackle has made it possible to catch a large fish on a fly rod on a regular basis. Because of the large size of these fish, a larger fly rod whether it be a single-handed, switch or spey rod should be at least an 8 wt. rod of 9’6-14ft.
Single Handed Fly Rods
Switch and Spey Rods
Your fly reel must have a drag that can handle a large fish and hold enough backing. A sinking tip type fly line is best and for single handed rods we like the RIO VersiTip II. The interchangeable tip system allows an angler to match the water being fished to the type of sink tip required with an effortless reliable loop to loop system.
For the switch and spey rods, the line selection is endless and the run would probably have gone past us by the time we were able to explain all the different options. We do have all of the options in stock and can go through them all with you at the shop or on the phone.
We recommend the RIO and Airflo Skagit style lines with a sink tip that is suitable for the water being fished. Again, a huge number of options are out there for sink tips: MOW, IMOW T-10, T-11, T-14, T-17, type 3, type 6 and type 8. Sink tip selection will depend on water conditions or runs being fished.
We want to be close to the bottom with our fly but not so close that we are snagging on the bottom every cast. Snagging on the bottom can lead to an expensive fly and sink tip day and low fish-catching. Ideally the fly is within a couple feet of the bottom as the fish are always looking up and will react and chase a swung or retrieved fly better if they can see it. It's very rare to watch a Chinook salmon nosing through the rocks on the bottom looking for a fly to eat. Not all water is “fly” water. We want to try and target spots that are under ten feet in depth as this will make it easier to present our offering in the "bite zone".
Flies should grab attention. Brightly coloured flies with pinks, oranges and fluorescent red are a good first choice. Be sure to have a selection of black and blue flies, as this is a great change-up option.
We rely mostly on casting and swinging flies for chinook, the fly should be cast almost directly in front of us. A mend (re-positioning the fly line upstream of where it lies in the water) and then we should follow with the rod tip as the fly swings naturally across the current until the current has swung the fly line directly downstream or into water that is too shallow for the fish to hold in.
Keep in mind that your fly in relation to your fly line on top of the water will be in a different location. By this we mean that just because your fly line is close to shore doesn’t mean that the fly is there. Your fly is swinging and will be further away from the shore than the end of the floating portion of the line so wait a couple of extra seconds before recasting your fly. A fish could be chasing it.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post and that it has provided some beneficial information that leads to an improvement in your success of catching Chinook.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us by email firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone at 604-931-5044 or stop by Sea-Run Fly & Tackle at #110-1140 Austin Avenue in Coquitlam BC.
Good luck on the water.
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