Learn To Fish Washington’s Nisqually River

By Duane Inglin | 08/25/2014

The Nisqually River is a Puget Sound river where the native Chinook are listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. Therefore, there’s not been any retention of native Chinook on the Nisqually for a number of years. That’s ok, though. Fortunately, there is also successful Chinook hatchery program on the Nisqually.

Credit goes to the lead agency, the Nisqually Nation, who is working with the state to continue to gain ground in Puget Sound salmon recovery. Due to the tribe’s extensive effort we, as sports anglers, get to enjoy a productive fall Chinook fishery.

Meanwhile, this Chinook fishery is a bit earlier than most rivers in the region. It usually gets cranked up between the first and second week of August. You will always have a few fresh Chinook in the river the last week of July, but not many.


Good bank access is literally five minutes off I-5. Serenity isn’t the norm. Keep in mind, a high percentage of folks who fish the Nisqually are not using bait. They are utilizing a technique known as flossing. They are essentially snagging fish with a 10-15 foot leader.

Historically, a majority of Puget Sound Chinook are good biters. This is not the case with Nisqually and why so many anglers choose alternative means when targeting these fish. On the other hand, Nisqually Chinook can be enticed and will bite, when presented with the right offering.


Whether in a boat or on the bank, you can find Chinook biters. Look for classic Chinook holding water, most notably deeper holes, drop-off ledges, a bit of swirl or back eddy. In deeper holes with drop-offs, fish towards the head of the hole, where the water begins to slow and then drop into the hole. Once locating classic Chinook holding water, you have options as to how to target them.

From a sled, drift boat or pontoon you can’t go wrong with bait wrapped plugs. I use sardine or tuna belly wraps and always cure the meat I wrap on my plugs. Pictured here are plugs with cured bait wraps. Those are tuna on the right, cured in Pautzke’s Fire Brine. The plugs on the left have sardine wraps, cured in Fire Cure. Both cures add durability to the meat and also a tremendous amount of UV. Conversely, my favorite way to fish for Nisqually Chinook is with float and eggs. I can accomplish this with two different float presentations and in the right conditions they both work.


My standard rig for vertical float presentation is as follows. I use a 10’ 4” rod with a 10- 20-pound rating. I am float fishing, so braided line is a must. I’ll use at least 50-pound hi-vis braid. I tie on a top-shot of 25-pound monofilament, at least 18’ to 20’ long. This is the line my float will slide up and down, so I need enough length to adjust my stopper bead when fishing deep.

I use 3/4 ounce Beau Mac floats and a 5/8 ounce inline sinker. I’ll tie on a 24” to 30” leader of 25-pound monofilament and use a 3/0 hook with a 1/0 stinger hook. I also add three split shots on the upper half of the leader, which helps to get the bait down under the float. Eggs cured in Pautzke Fire Cure are a must. Chinook like a sulfite based egg that milk out a lot of scent in the water. Fire Cure does just that and the Chinook are drawn to it.



A second way to rig a float presentation is what I refer to as float-drifting, essentially side drifting with a float. In the vertical presentation you don’t want your eggs to drag on the bottom. Fishing eggs suspended under a float is just that, suspended. The weight and eggs drag and tumble along the bottom and stay down in the zone where the fish lie.

If the drift you are fishing is about six feet deep, then set the bobber stop up the line eight feet from your weight. The float stops against a stopper knot, the weight bounces on the bottom and they move down river together. The biggest benefit to this presentation is eliminating the underwater downriver line belly that you have no control over. With the float you eliminate that, which greatly improves your drift. I also use what is pictured here for my sinker, the stick weight. It’s a snag free weight that’s easy to build out of .035 spinner shaft wire and 1/8” hollow core pencil lead. Because this is essentially drift fishing with a float you also need to use a Corkie or Cheater with your Fire Cured eggs.


There is another way to present your Pautzke cured eggs. Some will refer to this as drift fishing, while others will consider it free-drifting. When old school drift fishing your weight bounces along the bottom as your bait moves down river. With free-drifting you are using very little weight. Usually a couple of small split shots get the job done. The other significant component would be the fishing rod. You need to use something that is 10’ 6” up to 12’ in length. This is due to the extremely lightweight and the ability to cast your eggs with ease. Free-drifting works great for moving fish, which are suspended. Your eggs move through the drift freely and do not drag the bottom. This is effective for both Chinook and coho.

Speaking of coho here is something to consider. Along with the 35,000 Chinook returning to the Nisqually this year there will also be 21,000 coho. I would suggest getting your Pautzke Fire Cured eggs and utilizing one or all of these techniques to find success catching them.