High Water Forcing Anglers to Run Plugs for Columbia Springers

By: Mike Ainsworth

A reflection of high water and lots of snowmelt this week the Columbia River is a foot and a half above flood stage. Fortunately, this doesn’t mean you have to forgo your spring king fishing. Meanwhile, you’ll likely have to alter your techniques to be successful. The springers are going to come in whether the water is high and dirty or not. There’s only about 10 inches of visibility right now (near Woodland). Conditions aren’t optimal, but there are salmon available for anglers willing to put in time and work hard.

In past years when conditions were drier, and runoff was less, the Columbia has been optimal for trolling Fire Brine herring. However, given this year’s conditions anchor fishing is going to be the ticket. Much like this fall when we had heavy rains we opted to slow things down using tuna, sardine and herring wrapped plugs soaked in Fire Brine for it’s UV Properties and to make the wraps last longer. This technique can be effective in high dirty water, which is what we have now. Trolling herring is more challenging with the water conditions we are facing this spring. Keep in mind, with higher water the water is also faster, which makes it tougher to slow down your presentation.


Given the current conditions I’m a firm believer in heavily scenting the wraps. There are an endless number of effective scents. However, I tend to focus on two: Liquid Krill and Fire Cure. Keep in mind Fire Brine doesn’t have scent. Therefore sprinkling the krill and egg cure on your wraps provides a potent scent that the salmon can key in on. Keep in mind, the salmon are going to smell your bait long before they see the plug.


Make sure to bring patience and variety of baits to try while on anchor. One of my favorite things to do is to bring a bag of Natural Fire Brine cut bait and a few colors of Fire Dye. If notice another boat catching fish on a specific color I drop the sardine or herring in the Ziploc and soak in the Fire Dye for 5-10 minutes. Then they are ready to fish. The color change happens that quickly. In dirty water the Red and Chartreuse Fire Dye color wraps tend to work best.

Now that you have bait and curing options covered let’s talk rigging and locations. Rigging your plugs will be determined by the speed of water you are fishing. In deeper water I run 60-pound braided main line with slider and four-foot dropper of 20-pound mono to a four-to-eight-ounce weight. Then I’ll tie on a four-to-five-foot, 40-pound leader to my plug. In the shallower water you’ll be able run straight to the plug. We’ll be running anything from a 4.5 to 5.0 Maglip or a K-15 or K-16 Kwikfish.


Pay attention to what your plugs are telling you. My rule for plug fishing is, “If it’s wiggling, it’s working”. If you notice a pause in the rod tip for more than a couple of seconds your plug is probably hitting bottom and you need to adjust what your doing by either lengthening your dropper, raising your rod tips or changing to a smaller plug.

Just like fishing smaller rivers during high water you’ll want to concentrate on the edges of the river in shallower water and current brakes. Focus on water five to 15 feet deep. You may think five feet is too shallow, but I promise it’s not. Using a depth finder search for humps and saddles and anchor your boat accordingly so your plugs fish on the upriver side.

Editor’s Note: Mike Ainsworth operates First Light Guide Service. For more information on his guided springer trips please visit www.firstlightguideservice.com or www.facebook.com/First-Light-Guide-Service.