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Thread: Springer Trolling 101 Tutorial

  1. Default Springer Trolling 101 Tutorial

    In response to Matt's call out for tutorials I thought i would share the basics of my favorite fishery. Trolling for Spring Chinook is probably my strongest season however I admit I am by no means an expert, so I thought I would put together the gear, bait, and tactics necessary to get any rookie started. This tutorial is geared toward the lower Columbia and willamette fisheries but will touch on some key differences in each.


    Lets start with choosing a rod, i prefer a moderate action 10-20# line class 8'6" in length. Specifically one designed for pulling plugs for salmon will work well with it's sensitive tip and strong back bone. Another good choice is a mooching rod, I experimented with these last season with good success, the fish can completely load the rod up before feeling any resistance.

    Reels are simple, it needs a strong and smooth drag and the ability to hold a couple hundred yards of line. I am partial to Shimano's but most 300 to 400 series reels will work just fine.

    What type of mainline to use is up for debate, I like 50lb braid such as power pro but a good 25lb mono works well also, especially if you are limited to using a heavier rod the stretch in the mono will help compensate a little.

    Hook size is important; go too small and you can miss a lot of fish, go too large and your herring wont roll correctly. i usually use size 3/0 in front and 4/0 for the trailing hook. stepping down to 2/0 and 3/0 will work as well but I generally don't go any smaller. for green label herring cut plug tie your hooks fixed at about 6" apart, if you want to fish whole herring rig the top hook sliding so the bait can be pulled into a slight curve. 30lb is a good size for leader.

    I always run my dropper weight on a slider, this helps keep a fish from feeling added tension from the weight while chewing on your bait. Also and more importantly, if your buddy manages to net your cannonball and miss the fish as it take off on another run, you'll be very glad you have it sliding freely up the line. don't ask me how I know. you should have about 6 to 7' of leader in total with a bead chain swivel about half way in between.

    After looking at the above picture you might be wondering "wheres the flasher?" This will depend on where I happen to be fishing. If I'm on the Columbia in the vicinity of the airport I probably won't run one but if I do it will be a smaller, because in that area we fish right on the deck with the bait literally dredging the bottom. A guide friend once told me that if you reel up your gear and the herring doesn't look like its been sand blasted, you aren't fishing! Most guys will run dropper lengths between 6" and 12" long, if this seems short thats because it is, but all i know is it works! With a dropper that short and dragging the bottom constantly it is very easy to get your flasher tangled in your leader unbeknowest to you. For whatever reason Springers hug the bottom here and its been shown that the catch ratio is almost identical between with and without a flasher. 4 to 6 oz of lead is usually appropriate.

    If I happen to be on the Willamette I will raise my dropper length to between 24'' and 30''. Fish do not seam to hug the bottom as much here if fact the will often suspend therefore a medium to large size flasher is always a good bet. as for colors the old rule applies of anyone you want as long as its chartreuse.


    Always were latex or nitrile gloves when handling your bait our gear. Springers just might have the most keen noses of any salmonid and will reject an offering if something isn't right. Bait is usually green label for cut plug and red label for whole. I have demonstrated cut plug partly because thats how I fish and partly because I don't know a good way to rig them whole so I will leave that to someone else. it is important to get good bait, look for herring that have most or all of their scales intact, the reflection off of the scales help attract fish. In the pic below you can see these baits missing many scales but they will work for my demonstration.

    I usually keep my brine pretty basic, I use Brine n Bite from Pro-cure and follow directions on the label and i will add a little extra rock salt to firm things up a bit more. after the brine is done I might add Krill, Garlic, or Anise afterward. Another tip I have heard is to use bottled water instead of tap water for the brine. Tap water often has chlorine and other chemicals that can negatively impact the baits scent, and while I've always used tap water; it never hurts to take the extra precaution.


    Cut your bait using the directions on your bait cutting guide. use a very sharp knife in order to get the cleanest cut possible, this will help it roll, then carefully carve out the guts, and make an incision through the vent hole to allow some water to pass through.

    Start with the bottom hook going through the "short side" of the bait, then pull it through.

    The top hook should be run up through the bait with the hook point exposed and on the "short side" of the spine.

    A completed bait, ready to roll. Notice the trailing hook extends slightly past the bait to catch those pesky short strikers. A tighter roll is generally considered best, however I have seen several fish caught that had a belly full of cut plug herring. These were not delicately stripped off of several unexpected anglers lines but instead were old baits that guys had pitched overboard after they had "lost their scent" and were merely tumbling along the bottom of the river with the current. A perfect roll isn't always needed but it doesn't hurt to try for it.


    If you have never been out during the height of Springer season the, most important thing I can tell you is to "Just get along" that is don't try to adopt your own program in the midst of 200 of your closest friends or they will soon become your enemies. If you want to do your own thing please go find an empty piece of water and knock yourself out. And above all else if you decide to give up trolling to sit on the hook for awhile fine, but I am begging you please don't anchor in an established trolling lane. This isn't just a courtesy thing but for safety also, imagine traveling downstream in a straight line with other boats around you in close proximity as is commonly the case when out of the fog and fray you see a boat anchored directly in front of you. It is very difficult to take evasive action in that situation. There are plenty of good places to anchor fish and they are well defined by the time daylight comes.

    For fishing the Columbia near the airport i have already covered dropper length, that is step one, step two is go SSSSLLLLLLOOOOOWWWWLLLYYYYY. some guys will only have their kicker in gear only so they can adjust direction, and will just let the current do the work. Troll downstream, don't waste time and friendships by being that one guy who just has to troll up stream, yes you can catch fish this way but it will be far fewer than going downhill where you are likely to put your gear in a lot more faces. your weight needs to be consistently hitting the bottom, in fact your rod tip should look like you have a small trout on or are getting bit by a shaker sturgeon. Unless your in a troll that has a very consistent depth I would suggest holding your rod and slowly paying line in and out as needed if possible. Generaly speaking look for 15' to 25' of water, but try varying your depths until you get bit. Watch the water temperature as well, often early in the season it will be in the mid to high 30's and a slight adjustment into shallower water (15' or so) will yield a degree or two warmer water. Fish will gravitate toward this at times and be less lethargic and more apt to bite.

    On the Willamette look for the same depth range but keep in mind that these fish will suspend especially later in the season. In may and june i will often fish in 40' to 50'of water but have just 10 to 15 "pulls" of line out. it is important to stay positive, I have had some of my best days while dozens of boats are around but nobody else is catching fish and also had days when I seemed to be the only one striking out. If you are having one of those days try to change things up, ie change dropper length, fish a different depth, new scent combos etc. Springers are amongst the most finicky fish out there but it only takes one good grab to change your day for the better.

    The Grab

    Like any type of fishing, this can go a couple different ways but the beauty of trolling downstream is the fact that the fish often only gets a split second to decide weather or not he want to take the bait, if they go for it immediately the hook or hooks are pulled into the corner of the mouth. This results in hard take downs and the hooks already buried, when this happens just pick up the rod and enjoy the fight. occasionally they will turn and follow the bait however and in this case the grab will start out soft, this is where that light tip pays dividends, it must have enough give that the fish will continue chewing until the time he turns and heads back upstream. This scenario requires patience, and you must wait for the rod to fully load up and preferably some line coming off the real as well. Also, it's a good idea to change out those baits every 30 to 60 minutes. Some guys will do it every 15 minutes though but that gets a bit expensive for me.

    Good luck!

    Last edited by Goldenstone; 02-27-2010 at 01:02 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    gresham, oregon


    Thanks for all the info. You went all out with all the photos. Hope to get one this year from the bank.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Fairview, OR
    Blog Entries


    Thanks! Great Post

    “Many of us would probably be better fishermen if we did not spend so much time watching and waiting for the world to become perfect”
    ― Norman Maclean,

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2009
    Wood Village, OR


    I have one of those very same rods as shown in the pic. Now I just need a boat

    Two fish swim into a concrete wall... One looks to the other and says " Dam!"

  5. #5


    Dang nice tutorial! I have never done that kind of fishing before, but I would like to give it a try this season. Thanks for taking the time to share the info

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    on the river


    Well done tutorial!
    It sure can be an exciting fishery on some days. Almost looks like the rods gonna break on some of the vicious takedowns with downhill herring fisheries.
    I have a couple of the NXNW's too

  7. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by ryank View Post
    Dang nice tutorial! I have never done that kind of fishing before, but I would like to give it a try this season. Thanks for taking the time to share the info
    Ryan, I will let you know if i have a seat available this year, the baby is due april 15 so my springer season is kinda screwed but I plan on getting out a couple times in March so I will let you know.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Pacific Northwest


    Super work Jack! Thanks for taking the time to do this : ) SSSF stickers may have been printed today, your on the list!
    C. Winterwolf ><,> NWFI Community Director <,><

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    Fighting over the fish will only serve to divert us from our common goal ><,>

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  9. #9


    Nice job Jack. And Ryan we'll be out for springers every weekend and Fridays too I'll let you know when we have our first trip planned.
    fishing is a family thing and crabbing and camping and...

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    Linnton, OR
    Blog Entries


    SUPER post Jack, thank you for the great information!!!
    Teddy Wise - Senior Moderator, NWFI

    OSU Class of 2013 - Go Beavs
    B.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences
    Fisheries Technician with WDFW

    "The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope." ~ John Buchan

    Death is Certain - Fishing is Not


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