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Title: Fly Fishing for Spring Chinook Salmon on the Cowlitz River

Date of Article: 2008-03-25


Spring Chinook are much like summer steelhead in that they enter the river months before spawning. Pound for pound they are the strongest salmon that swim. They are 2, 3 and 4 salt fish that average fourteen to twenty five pounds, but some may exceed forty five pounds.

Run: April thru July on the Cowlitz River

Chinooks are fish that hide from the light. Best fishing is early and late. During mid-day they often quit moving and occupy deep holes under fast water were they are nearly impossible to reach with existing fly fishing technique. However sight fishing in some pools is productive with very fast sinking lines even at noon.

Chinooks are more territorial while moving and are easier to get at when they are moving in water of moderate depth. Fast sinking lines are still most useful. The angler should be prepared to fish at depths between four and twelve feet. The fly should fish much slower than the current. Chinooks like hugging big bottom structures.

Large flies are the norm. Sizes #2 to #5/0 are used. Fly size averages 2" to 8". Some of these flies should be weighted. Marabou or rabbit strip flies are most popular in black, red, purple, orange and pink. Blue and chartreuse also works at times. All colors can be combined with liberal amounts of flashabou or krystal flash. Shrimp, squid and marine bait fish patterns are all proven.

Salmon will take a fly for one of two reasons: it strikes out of annoyance or it strikes out of habit at something it sees as food.

Salmon will take a fly for one of two reasons: it strikes out of annoyance or it strikes out of habit at something it sees as food.

Attractor patterns: These are generally large, streamer like, sinking flies that are usually brightly colored with exotic eyes and flashy tails.

Egg Sucking Leech: This is perhaps the most familiar to fly fishermen. This is essentially a wooly bugger (chenille body and marabou tail) with a brightly colored chenille head to represent the egg. The leech body can be traditional black or other colors such as purple. Egg colors are usually hot pink, orange, yellow, or chartreuse.

Boss Fly: This fly also has a black chenille body, but this is wrapped with silver ribbing and has a tail of buck tail. The collar is an orange or red saddle hackle. Above the collar are dumbbell eyes. These are made of dumbbell eyes that are tied and cemented at the head of the fly.

Comet: This fly is another variation of the other two. In this fly you wrap flash on the body instead of chenille. The flash should be gold, purple, chartreuse, or orange. Then use strands of flash for the wings. Match the color of the collar to the color of the body (for example, white collar for a white body). Then attach the dumbbell eyes with thread and cement. Finish the head with red thread.

Flesh Fly: On those days when you feel like a little more color, try the Flesh fly. These large patterns look like a small pom pom in your fly box. Made mostly of marabou, these flies have shades of hot pink, orange, purple, and white with often a few strands of flash. These can be tied over a straight hook or you can wrap the body of the hook in silver or colored threads.

Intruder Style Flies: Dark colored “intruder” style flies have been used with good success in recent years.

These are some of the basic attractor patterns. Next we have to consider the secondary fly. Your best bet here is to imitate a food source found in the rivers. While an early season Chinook will take a shad or minnow pattern, the longer they stay in the river the less likely these will succeed. Instead, try some of the following flies.

Egg Fly: The first to try is the traditional single egg fly in a bright color (chartreuse, orange, and shades of pink). These are meant to imitate the spawn laid by the females.

Crystal Sucker Spawn: This pattern is much larger than the traditional egg pattern and is made of crystal flash. This also comes in the hot colors, but has that extra sparkle to get the fish's attention in murky water.

In addition to these patterns, there are two traditional nymph patterns worth mentioning. These flies are standard fare when fishing for stream trout and work surprisingly well on Chinook.

Kaufman Stone Fly: This large black nymph can be used as either an attractor or as a secondary fly. These nymphs are a familiar part of the river landscape and the Chinook recognize them as food. They are big and heavy so be aware of the extra weight.

Squirrel Nymph: This nymph is similar to the Hare's Ear (a small brown nymph pattern) and can be tied to have a bead head. Use traditional colors like brown and tan. When salmon are being picky this small offering can be very effective.

As Chinook change their habits and metabolism, fishermen must change their tactics if they want to be successful.

Submitted By:

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