Spring Chinook, as defined in the Columbia River region, are often regarded as the best-tasting salmon in the world. The fishery is a highly anticipated time that brings multitudes of anglers to both boat and bank, to try their hand at these impressive fish.
Fishing for Springers
Spring chinook is often a difficult percentage fishery. The timing of the run and closures can leave many anglers frustrated at the hours spent for minimum reward. When the fishing is good, it can be really good and few fisheries provide the satisfaction that springers do.
If you do it right and take advantage of the fishing, you could be in for an epic day.
We discuss springer tactics often, subscribe to our Youtube
or read more articles for that information. Below, we are going to discuss the species and the spring season itself.
“Springers” in the Columbia River typically start to show catches in February, often by winter steelhead anglers or salmon anglers looking for an early fish. The fleet of spring chinook anglers starts to mobilize more in March with catches often become more frequent near late March. Early April is often very good fishing, though in comparison to other fisheries it’s still not necessarily easy to limit out. Around this time the lower Columbia main-stem will close, right when the peak of the run is happening. The fishery opens up later to allow anglers another chance at spring fish.
The tributaries in the lower Columbia still offer opportunity during closure times and above the dams the upper-river spring chinook fisheries start to kick off. Around this time the North Oregon Coast and other Coastal areas start to receive good pushes of spring chinook.
A big portion of the angler effort is spent in the early stages of the runs to intercept early arriving fish, however – good opportunity continues to exist if an angler is willing to look for it.
Hatchery Springer for Harvest!
How Spring Chinook are Different from Fall Fish
Spring chinook are very different from their fall counter-parts. Springers are genetically disposed to enter the spawning tributaries earlier in their life-cycle than a “fall-fish” would. Much like the difference between summer and winter steelhead, you could define these as “stream-maturing” and “ocean-maturing” fish – spring and fall respectively.
This simply means that spring chinook arrive in their streams while still maturing and developing eggs. Fall chinook are often very close to spawn before arriving in their spawning tributaries.
This genetic pre-disposition means that spring chinook arrive in fresh-water with a good amount of fat and energy in them. Because they must survive in the stream for a lot longer before spawning, they must have big reserves of energy built up to hold over in the streams. This results in a very pleasant tasting and healthy looking fish.
Adult Spring Chinook Activity While in Stream
Spring chinook face many hurdles as a species. Because they are in streams for longer they are much more subject to warm temperatures, as many of them have to arrive in spring, then survive all summer in order to spawn. They are also more likely to face repeated angling pressure and predators.
Forest with a giant Hatchery Springer!
A spring chinook is not simply on a race to build a spawning bed immediately but must find good holding water to survive in over a long period of time. Due to the longer time period of holding, spring chinook do not spawn in many streams that fall chinook do. Smaller creeks and streams that receive good rainfall in the fall, winter and spring may become much too low, clear and warm in summer to harbor spring chinook that are holding over. Springers are attracted to and spawn successfully in rivers that harbor more consistent and cold flows. Glacial rivers are often well-suited for Springers due to not having to rely on rainfall to maintain flows. If a river has deeper, cold water throughout the summer it can often hold spring chinook.
Spring chinook are also built to swim long distances. They often will swim high in the river, even near the headwaters of big rivers to find cold canyon water to spend the summer in. Surprisingly, some spring chinook will spawn not long before fall chinook and if they are to do so successfully, they often need to spawn above where the fall fish will dig redds. Fall chinook may roll in to the first hole out of tidewater and dig a redd, spring chinook often search higher in the system.
The Author, Lucas Holmgren, caught this wild spring chinook in Oregon.
Because spring chinook only exist in river systems where they are planted or rivers that match their habitat needs, there are less of them to choose from. Even less wild springers exist so we encourage only the harvest of hatchery fish where applicable until abundance needs are met.
Please Protect These Fish
If you come upon spring chinook that are near spawn timing it is best to leave those alone to spawn. Springers early in migration make for an excellent meal. All in all – appreciate and fight for these species so that we have more for generations to come!