Spring Chinook Fishing Trips on the Columbia

November 8, 2021

When it comes to Spring Chinook Fishing Trips, one of the most anticipated events to take place every year on the Columbia River is the Spring salmon fishing season.  These fish are a bit smaller than their fall run brothers averaging around 10-15 lbs. with larger fish weighing in at around 20lbs. They are still among the most desirable to catch because of their tendency to be ultra-chrome bright, hard fighting, and exceptionally good eating due to the fat content of the meat. Spring chinook also hold up better when they are running due to a chromosome that allows them to spawn much farther upriver than the fall run fish. As a result, even in the upper reaches of the Columbia you can still catch chrome bright fish when fishing for springers.

When to fish for Spring Salmon

Once spring arrives and the winter snows start to melt off the Cascade mountains, water flows begin to rise in the Columbia River watershed. This is when the infamous spring chinook salmon also known as springers begin their journey into the Columbia River. During this time, the spring salmon season takes center stage in the lower sections of the Columbia.

Throughout the months of March, April, May, and June, are the key times for Spring Chinook Fishing Trips and the Columbia River is a hive of activity with fishing guides and sports fishing enthusiasts buzzing up and down the river targeting these amazing fish. The key is to get on the water bright and early because the chinook bite is almost always best at the crack of dawn. This is largely because once the sun comes up, Chinook head to deeper waters to avoid predators. One thing for sure, once the bite is on, its action packed and fun for all.

Where to fish for Spring Chinook

As spring chinook begin to follow the schools of smelt and shad into the Columbia River, you’ll find us working several key locations along their migratory path where we are most likely to catch them.

When the season kicks off in the beginning of March, we start off by working the tides out at Buoy 10 and areas around Astoria.  Here is where the very first spring salmon fishing action begins. When fishing the mouth of the Columbia it’s important to understand that the fishing largely relies on the incoming and outgoing tides. When fishing a tidal fishery such as this it’s important to understand that as the tides flow in and out of the mouth the Columbia the incoming tides bring fresh flows of cold ocean water, bait fish, and salmon. As a result, generally the best bite takes place during the first hour of the high slack tide to the ebbing tide.

Be aware that the fishing the mouth from a high slack tide to an ebbing tide can also be dangerous a time for boaters. If the western winds are blowing, Buoy 10 the water can get very rough during the ebb tide. For this reason, it’s always best to stay close to your takeout so when the tide flows out so you won’t have to fight the waves in a heavy current. If you put in above the Meglar Bridge your best bet is to stay above the bridge during the slack and ebbing tides altogether in the event of foul weather. If you not an experience boater or familiar with fishing the mouth of the Columbia it’s advisable to hire a fishing charter or guide to show you the ropes.

One of the great things about being Portland Fishing Guides is the fact that there are so many great spring salmon fishing opportunities in and around the Portland area.

Cowlitz River Springers

Washington’s Cowlitz River gets anywhere from 10,000 to 25,000 spring chinook every year. These fish run all the way through June and we like to catch then at the mouth of the Cowlitz River in the Columbia. This is a great place to intercept these fish before they make their push into the Cowlitz where they head to the Toutle and the Barrier Dam. As the Cowlitz bite dies off the work our way upriver to the mouth of the Willamette on the Oregon side.

Multnomah Channel Spring Chinook Fishing

The Multnomah Channel is mostly known for sturgeon fishing, but this little piece of water way also produces some excellent spring chinook catch rates. The Multnomah beaks off the Columbia and pushes it way up to the Willamette forming the Sauvie Island on the Oregon side of the Columbia.

Willamette River Springer Fishing

With annual runs of around 58,000 spring Chinook adults returning to the Willamette River every year. The Willamette is one of our favorite places to offer spring chinook fishing trips in the lower Columbia. We’ll follow these mighty fish on the Willamette to the mouth of the Clackamas and even all the way up to Willamette Falls. Our clients really enjoy our Willamette River Fishing Trips because of the excellent spring chinook fishing before returning to the Columbia to target more fish that migrate even further upriver.

Kalama River Spring Salmon

Another great spot to target springers is at the mouth of the Kalama. The Kalama sandbar is a renowned bank fishing spot on the Columbia where anglers can be found lining the bank in hopes of hooking up with both spring chinook and fall chinook as well as summer and winter steelhead. The Kalama on average only sees around 5000 spring chinook every year but is still a great place to catch them when the season is open.

Lewis River Springers

The mouth Lewis River is another favorite spot for targeting spring chinook staging at the mouth before running the river. The Lewis gets a couple thousand spring chinook during the season and is one of the better locations on the Columbia for catching these beautiful fish.

Bonneville Dam Spring Chinook 

Some of the best springer fishing on the Columbia is in the Bonneville Pool. Every year thousands of spring chinook stack up just below the Bonneville Dam. On average around 200,000 spring chinook are counted as they pass through the Bonneville to the upper reaches of the Columbia. Unfortunately, depending on the fish counts the springer season below the Bonneville can be limited is regards to retention. Washington and Oregon Fishing Guides probably offer most of their Spring Chinook fishing trips in this section of the river.

Wind River Springers

Once the spring run pushes past the Bonneville is all about camping out in front of the Wind River. Eager Anglers catch springers heading up the Wind River or fish staging before moving on the Drano Lake just a couple miles away.

Drano Lake Spring Chinook Fishing

Drano Lake offers prime time spring chinook fishing however boats do tend to get stacked up about as tight as the fish do. It’s not unusual to see a pile of boats trolling the Drano in a tight circle as poles get bent in half by greedy springers looking to take advantage of an easy meal. Due to the congestion of anglers and boats when you fish Drano Lake springers you need to troll slow. We run our gear at about 1.5 to 2.0 miles per hours trolling herring, plugs, or spinners. When the bite is on it’s not unusual to see multiple boats with multiple hooks up.

Wenatchee River Spring Salmon

The Wenatchee River is feed by a hatchery that produces spring chinook to spawn in the Chipawa River. From the bank or in a boat, this is one of the go to spots in the region to get in on some excellent spring chinook fishing action. Drifting or plucking eggs is very productive and trolling bait at the mouth works great a well.

Hood River Springers

The Hood River is yet another great spring chinook fishing hot spot where Columbia River anglers troll the flats at the mouth or anchor up and plunk bait. This is one of our last stops before working our way up to the last big push of Spring salmon headed for the Snake River.

John Day River Spring Chinook

The John Day is one of the few rivers in the Columbia River system that has a healthy enough wild spring chinook salmon populations to allow retention. The John Day gets over 4000 wild spring chinook every year and is among a few Columbia River spring chinook fisheries that doesn’t really get much attention. We like to post up just below the mouth on the Columbia and have had excellent success for years catching these fish.

Umatilla Pool Springer Fishing

The Umatilla River is another spring salmon destination within the Columbia River estuary. We refer to this area as the Umatilla Pool. When it comes to targeting the big ones the Umatilla Pool on the Columbia has proven a winner over and over again. This is one of our favorite spots to fish for springers before our last stop for springer fishing on the Columbia River.

Snake River Spring Salmon

The Snake river is where we finish off the Columbia River spring chinook season. The mouth of the Snake River is that place to be as spring chinook work their way to the spawning grounds on the Tucannon River. Bait fish and roe is the name of the game here and amazingly the fish are still pretty bright even this far up the river.

Springer Fishing Tactics

Once the water temps in the Columbia get up over 40 degrees the spring chinook bite starts to pick up. At 45 degrees, the bite gets really good. Among our favorite methods for catching springers is trolling bait. Cut plug herring is a spring chinook favorite, but we also like to anchor at stacking points and pitch roe. Natural bait is our number one go to, but trolling spinners and super baits stuffed with herring or tuna work great as well.

When fishing lures greens and chartreuse are very effective as well as pinks and reds. All of which have caught countless spring and fall salmon.

The bite tends to be much better during low light conditions like during daybreak or sunset. On overcast days the bite can be more consistent as bright sunny days tent to push spring chinook into deeper waters. As a rule of thumb fish shallow in the morning and move into deeper waters in the afternoon.

Low and slow is the name of the game. We like to run a 9-inch Pro Troll flasher with about a 6 foot of leader and cut plug on the end. We like to run our rig as close to the bottom as possible without getting snagged up at a nice slow pace of about 3 miles per hour.

We also frequently anchor our boat in known spring chinook stacking locations and plunk cured salmon eggs, spinner baits, or herring. Both these techniques are very effective and, on many occasions, when the fishing is good, it’s not uncommon for everyone in the boat to limit out within a couple hours.

Spring Chinook Fishing Trips

Of all the fishing guides services we offer, our spring salmon fishing trips are among our favorites. We are one of the few guides that can provide corporate fishing events three boats with total seating capacity of up to 24 anglers. We can fish with just two people or a boat load, if you’re looking for the fishing trip of a lifetime, we at Columbia River Fishing Adventures will do our best to provide an unforgettable fishing trip for all our clients. Give us a call at 503-490-3099 and book your trip today.

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