Little Baits=Big Fish for Cowlitz Springers

While a lack of snowpack has spelled low water on the Cowlitz River this spring our spring Chinook fishery is in full swing. We’ve been doing well. Meanwhile, the low water has spelled clearer than normal water, which makes for tougher springer bites. We’ve been catching fish for almost a month and the bite will go clear into early June. These are chrome bright, sea lice covered, right out of the salt fish and averaging 12-18 pounds.

One of the best ways to get a spring Chinook to bite in low and clear water is using smaller bait. We’ve been finding great success with small cut plug herring or anchovy’s. Early in the season like this the springers love spinning bait while they are on the move. Most of the springers are on the move until they get upriver closer to the hatchery. It’s important to get in a traveling path with good offerings.

Using Fire Brine, Fire Dye and a little salt I have come with some great dyed herring and anchovy’s that the Cowlitz river springers have been eating with reckless abandon. To make my offerings as small as I can and get a good spin I’m using Dicks sure spin cut plug helmets. By using the extra small and double extra small I can cut my baits down to only 3” or so and get the perfect spin.

In clear water and bright blue skies blue bait is best whereas clouds turn on a chartreuse and green bait bite. I’m using Pautzke brine/dyes to achieve the bait that I am looking for. By brining baits and adding the Dicks cut plug helmets you can adjust the size of your offering to match the conditions you are fishing.

The Cowlitz Spring Brine

Step 1:

Using a two-quart container add I one bottle of Fire Brine. (Blue, Chartreuse, Green are the colors I use.)

Step: 2

Add two tablespoons of Fire Dye to enhance the color further. (I usually match the color of Fire Dye with Fire Brine. Green/Chartreuse Fire Brine can we used with Green Fire Dye.) At this time like to add a cup of salt to toughen baits more for the faster water we are fishing.

Step: 3

I’m a fan of adding scent to brine. Personally, I add several scents including anise, Fire Power, vanilla powder or garlic powder. Make sure to add these very sparingly to not overtake the herring or anchovy smell.

I’m also using Yakima MagLips daily. In fact, I use the MagLips and brined bait at the same time. I always start out with one on my central rods out about 100 feet with a MagLip. Then I put two anchovy rods out at about 60 feet and then two at 50 feet. I rotate the colors around. I’ll have one blue and one chartreuse anchovy out long and one of each out short. I’ll let the fish tell me what they want. If they are crushing my MagLip I’ll switch to two of those and vice versa. The bite changes everyday.

I’m using MagLip 3.5s. My best colors have been Flame (red), Cowgirl (flame red with a chartreuse butt, Double Trouble (chartreuse body, silver in the middle with a chartreuse butt), Blue Pirate and Gold. I always wrap my MagLip with tuna bellies. The tuna bellies are soaked in Natural Fire Brine and hit with a lot of Fire Power to add krill scent.

The entire river has fish right now, all the way from the Barrier Dam at the hatchery to the bottom. The closer you get to the dam you want to fish actual holes. The further you get downstream you’ll have to find traveling lanes. So the top five miles you want to find deeper holes and downstream of that you want 6-10 foot flats and inside corners because they are moving upriver hard.

Editor’s Note: Bob Kratzer operates Anglers Guide Service. For more info on his Cowlitz River springer trips please visit