By Bill Swann | 04/10/2014

Many are wondering what’s going on with our springer season. The projection this year was for 265,000 Upper Columbia spring Chinook to return. Usually, we see the majority of those fish in the end of March through the first of April. However, as of today only 1,374 have swam through Bonneville Dam. Anglers have taken that many, too.


While I’m not biologist, my opinion is the run is either late or there’s tons of fish in the river and they are just not moving, which explains the low counts of fish over the dam. Keep in mind, the season was supposed to close already. And, we’ve already gone through one extension, which means they’ve given us an extra week to catch the 10,500 spring Chinook allotted to anglers in the Columbia River from Bonneville to Buoy 10.


The question on everyone’s mind remains is the run going to materialize as forecasted or is the run just late? My thought is the run is just late. There’s a lot of fish in the river system right now, but they aren’t moving. The original season was from March 1 through April 7 when few fish were caught. Our current season runs April 7-14. Are they going to give us another extension? I believe there’s going to be another because there’s no way we can catch 8,000 Chinook between tomorrow and Monday.


To me, what’s going on is there’s a lot of fish in the river system right now. The numbers are in the river, and that’s my opinion, but the fish aren’t traveling fast to get upstream. Keep in mind, these fish come in the spring and don’t spawn until the fall, so they’ve been in no hurry to get upriver. I’m a firm believer that the fish are here and they are biting for those in tune with the fishery and are using the proper bait.


Unfortunately, the biggest hurdle out there right now is perception. People are chasing fishing reports too much, which often aren’t correct. They read that people aren’t catching fish so they don’t come. However, many of professional guides are getting their limits or near limits of spring Chinook everyday. There’s fish here, and lots of them, you just need to tune your techniques to catch them.


I’ve been doing the same thing daily since the season opened and have been successful by curing my herring with Pautzke Fire Brine. I prefer Natural and am curing my herring for 12 hours to ensure the brine does a sufficient job. Meanwhile, many others are using chartreuse and blue to generate success, but I would also make sure that you have red herring in your cooler. The key to catching springers is having good bait.


It’s also imperative that you have more than one color of herring. On sunny days you want natural or blue. Cloudy days you want chartreuse. On partly cloudy days you want red. This is because different colors show up in different light conditions and water temperatures.


Quality gear is also important. I use moderate to slow, heavy action 9 to 10.5 foot rods and 65-pound Suffix braid. My leader consists of Maxima 25-pound Ultragreen. I also use Yakima Bait’s Big Al’s Fish Flash. Come rigged properly and with good herring and you’ll do well.


This fishery is pretty simple. There’s no reason to make it difficult. You want to make sure that you follow the bottom. Your bait needs to be on the bottom, not suspended. Speed is not as important when it comes to springer fishing. The most important thing is that your bait is flirting with the bottom, at all times. Troll the bottom and you’ll have a chance to catch fish.


Tides do matter. The best chance to catch your fish is on the high slack and low slack, but there’s so many fish in the system right now I don’t think it matters as much.


Editor’s Note: Bill “Swanny” Swann operates Swanny’s Fishing. To learn more about his springer trips please visit Anglers are permitted one spring Chinook per day.