With the fall salmon run in full or almost full swing, in the majority of the Midwest, it came to my mind to do a three-part series covering river tactics for salmon, brown trout and steelhead.
Every fall, I have conversations with anglers who think chinook and coho salmon “don’t bite” once they enter the river – this can’t be further from the truth. Once the chinooks start entering the rivers, they will spend up to a couple of weeks in the deeper holes before they move onto shallow gravel to spawn. This is a perfect time to pull out the spinning or centerpin rod and target these fish using skein (spawn still in the membrane). I prefer to use my Raven RPX 13’ centerpin or 12’6” Shimano Convergence rod for drifting skein under a float. If I’m fishing a deeper, faster run, I will peg an 8mm bead 1-2’’ above my piece of skein to get it to sink quicker. On days the chinooks don’t want anything to do with skein or I have run out of skein, I will pull out my 13 Fishing Omen Black and either an inline spinner or small crankbait and slow roll them on a 45-degree angle across the hole. For fly fishing this time of year, I utilize either larger streamers stripped through the hole or a tandem egg pattern floated through under a strike indicator.
For this next part, I want everyone to know that there is virtually zero natural reproduction on the rivers I fish. Also, note that the methods I refer to are for targeting the aggressive male chinooks. If you are fishing water with natural reproduction, I highly advise using selective harvest.
As the water starts to cool down and the chinooks start moving out of the deeper holes to spawning gravel, I spend more time with the fly rod swinging large streamers like a dolly llama or a FishUSA Flash Kandy. I can’t stress this enough – these fish, once on spawning gravel, are striking out of aggression. I walk slowly and once I see two or more male chinooks chasing/beating each other up, I will stand upriver of the fish and send my steamer on a 45-degree angle and swing it through the redd. Once my streamer gets next to the sparring chinooks, I will start snap stripping my line causing my streamer to dart and pause which, 8 times out of 10, will cause one of the males to chase and hit. No matter what the clarity of the river is, I prefer to use a lot of white, orange and chartreuse streamers. I like to tell people, “The bigger and flashier, the better.” On days I feel like switching things up, I will bring along a shorter spinning rod and a box of inline spinners with either silver, orange, or chartreuse blades. Just as I swing streamers, I will swing my inline spinners past sparring chinooks. The biggest thing with using inline spinners is matching the spinner weight for the depth and speed of the water. If your spinner is too heavy, it’ll hit bottom too quick or you’ll have to really burn it back fast. If it’s too light, you’ll never get it down to the fish’s level.
If you get tired of catching chinooks, or don’t believe in fishing spawning chinooks, and want to go for brown trout or steelhead, there is one trick some people do in my area. Take your spinning or centerpin rod, put on an 8mm orange bead and make sure your depth is barely ticking bottom. When you see a female chinook roll on her side dropping eggs, fire your float at her midsection and let it drift down river. A lot of times you will be able to find a steelhead or brown trout sitting behind that spawning chinook, eating the eggs as they come down river.