Columbia River Spring Chinook fishing guide, Kevin Newell welcomes you to join him on a great Columbia River Spring Chinook trip! Learn the best methods in the best locations!

Follow totalfisherman on Twitter

Columbia River Fishing Guide

How to catch salmon on the Columbia River, specifically How to Catch Spring Chinook on the Columbia River!


Tech Tip #2 - “What technique is best?” and “Why is trolling so much better than anchoring?”


Copyright 2010 - Author Kevin Newell - Total Fisherman


What fishing technique or method is the best one for catching spring Chinook on the Columbia?  Before I answer this question, let’s take a look at the methods that are available for us to use in our pursuit of these awesome fish!


In general we have two choices when it comes to spring Chinook fishing.  Do we anchor or do we troll?  On any given day in March and April you will find boaters up and down the lower Columbia employing both methods, and both of these methods produce fish, so how do we decide which is better?  Let’s do a side by side comparison of the pros and con’s of each fishing method.


Trolling Positives:


Able to go back through the same area over and over again
Able to stay on the fish as they move upstream
Able to vary the presentation speed on the fly
Able to fish in every direction
More active approach to fishing
Boat isn’t restricted in its ability to maneuver


Let’s go into some detail on some of the positives that I have listed for trolling.


Go back through the same area over and over again


This is huge!  The fact that a fisherman can go back through the same fish holding water over and over again allows them to pull multiple fish out of one location and when that location stops producing he can then attempt to follow the salmon upstream or find another holding area.


One of the biggest mistakes that I see anglers (both pros and novices) make is that they don’t go back through an area where they hooked up!  I see it all the time, a boat will hook up, throw the fish in the box and keep trolling until they are out of sight.  Don’t be this guy!  Mark that spot on the GPS, go another 200 – 300 yards and if you haven’t hooked up again then you need to run back up and troll back through the same path you just took.  Do this once or maybe even twice and then if you haven’t hooked up, you will have some decisions to make, you can keep going or you may want to run farther upriver to see if you can get back in front of the fish.


Stay on the fish as they move upstream


The salmon will eventually start moving rather than holding in a specific spot and the ability to realize that this movement is happening and in turn follow the fish upstream is one the best aspects of trolling.  It’s simple, staying on the fish is going to put more fish in the boat.


Vary the presentation speed on the fly


Changing direction can also be a method that triggers fish to strike.  I used to troll like a drunken man staggers, because at one time I really put a lot of stock in varying my trolling pattern, believing that more changes in direction equaled more strikes.  Well after a while I figured out that this was important, but it wasn’t as critical as I thought.  One of the reasons I stopped religiously trolling an “S” pattern was because it made it harder for me to line up on the spots that I knew the fish were holding in.  I haven’t thrown this method away but I’m more likely to use a change in direction as just one of the many additional tools that I use at the right time to get the Chinook to strike, it’s like a change in speed, if I should be getting bit and I’m not, I will often change direction.


I like to think of these changes in direction and speed as “finessing the fish” or “working them”.  These are just little things that might get me that bite that maybe wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and they are things that you just can’t do on anchor.


More active approach to salmon fishing


How many or you are like me?  You get in the boat and expect to catch salmon right away and when it happens, well that is great because you were expecting to catch them right away.  But sometimes it doesn’t happen this way, and no matter what you do you can tell it’s going to be a slow day of fishing, slow days happen, I had one back in ’89 so I know they exist!  It’s times like these where trolling really shines because it’s active; you’re at least moving around and seeing new things, working your rod, trying to find the fish etc.  On anchor … well you’re going to be sleeping, and dreaming about fish is as close as you are going to get to one.  A slow day of trolling isn’t nearly as slow as a slow day of anchor fishing.


What it all boils down to is this, “I get bored!” and I feel like I'm not being effective and my customers also get bored.  I also feel like I’m not working hard enough to get into the fish if I’m anchored up.  On a slow day of fishing I will take a tiller handle anytime! Trolling is extra effort but it seems like the harder I work the luckier I get and this really rings true on a slow day of fishing where the difference between a good day and really bad day might be just one fish.


The boat isn’t restricted in its ability to maneuver


What this really means is that you can quickly adapt to changes that present opportunity or to get out of the way of something negative.


When you’re trolling you often see another boat hooking up, fish jumping, or a real fishy looking tide rip or current seam.  All of these things say “Hey get over here!” to a good salmon fisherman.  Keep your eyes open and react quickly to these opportunities and you will find yourself in the fish.

On the other hand, salmon fishing on big water like the Columbia River also occasionally presents risks to your safety.  Logs, ships, tugs with barges, pilings, shallow water, rough water, bridges, other boaters, etc are all inherent risks that go along with the territory when you’re on the Columbia and your ability to quickly react to them is critical in keeping your day safe and fun.  When you aren’t tethered to an anchor you are able to more rapidly respond to situations that require you to get out of harms way.

Now for the negatives, there is always a downside to every technique and salmon trolling is no different.


Trolling Negatives:


Burn more gas
Go through more bait and lures
Trolling is more work and it’s difficult for beginners


You’re going to burn more gas


Trolling requires you to run your trolling motor all day and periodically firing up your main motor to move to another location or to repeat your pattern.  This is going to consume fuel and add to your fishing expense in a major way.  Depending on your boat you could find yourself burning anywhere from 6 gallons to 40 gallons (give or take) during a day of trolling.


Go through more bait and lures


Trolling for spring Chinook means mostly using bait and when you’re using bait you need to be changing it often.  I generally allow for a dozen herring per angler per day on my boat, I don’t like to be short on bait when the fish are really biting and I like to keep it fresh.  No matter whether you are using bait or spinners, inevitably you are going to be snagging up and losing tackle which adds to the overall expense of your fishing trip.


Trolling is more work and it’s difficult for beginners


Trolling for Chinook salmon is definitely not as easy as anchoring for them.  To really be good at trolling requires a lot of focus, attention to detail, and constant manipulation of the gear and the boat.  This technique can be flat out tiring, frustrating and not at all what many people envisioned a nice easy day of fishing to entail.  The learning curve is steep especially when weather and large numbers of other boaters are thrown into the mix.


Anchoring Positives:


Easy for beginners, less stressful
Able to precisely target a fish holding spot where the salmon come to you; you don’t have to find them
Cheaper, saves on gas and bait
Can get out of the weather


Let’s look at the positives I have listed for anchoring.


Easy for beginners and less stressful


Anchor fishing for spring Chinook is pretty mellow once you get the anchoring out of the way.  It’s quite relaxing to sit out on the river enjoying the view, maybe cooking some food, or playing cribbage, and enjoying good conversation with friends and family while waiting for that takedown on your rod.


Anchoring is easy and the relaxation it provides is probably the greatest reason we see so many boats anchored on the Columbia during our spring Chinook season.


Able to precisely target a fish holding spot


If you have a location that you know holds fish such as a traveling lane, drop off, or edge of some structure then anchoring can be very productive.  Anchoring on locations such as these allows you to pretty much own that spot and put your lure (generally a sardine wrapped Kwikfish) directly in front of the salmon.


As long as there are fish moving, then in areas such as these, the fish are going come to you, and you’re going to have a great chance of hooking up.


Cheaper, anchoring saves on gas and bait


Anchoring doesn’t have nearly the trip expense when compared with trolling.  An angler can generally get through a trip on two to five gallons of gas and a few packages of sardines.  Another bonus is that the wear and tear on motors is also limited.


Anglers can get out of the weather


You will find that quite a few anglers who specialize in anchor fishing like to have a covered area on their boat.  Having a top on your boat when trolling can often restrict visibility but when on anchor it is much less of an issue, it is actually a bonus because you can get out of the rain.  Many boaters have a small heater onboard, jackets don’t have to be worn, and it can get quite comfortable under the top!


There is definitely also a downside associated with anchor fishing, lets go through the main disadvantages.


Anchoring Negatives:

Get up really early and fight other boaters for the good spot
Can’t use herring as well on anchor
Anchoring too close to shipping channel
Can’t move to where the fish are being caught and you can’t search out fish
Difficult to fish when it’s windy
Can be boring
Very tide driven
Sea lions
Anchoring, pulling anchor, dropping off of anchor


Get up early, or arrive to the anchor location early, and fight other boaters for the good spot


There are many really good anchor fishing spots on the Columbia River and these spots don’t stay secrets for long, fishermen notice where fish are being caught.  If your spot is producing fish then trust me somebody has noticed and you’re going to have to get up extra early to beat the other boaters to that same spot the next day or the next weekend.


I say you have to get up early because we’re assuming in this scenario that the tide is already running out at dawn, but let’s say the tide doesn’t change until 11 o’clock and you plan on trolling the incoming tide first thing in the morning.  Life is good, you trolled the during the morning and now you arrive at your chosen anchor location just to find that three other boaters have beaten you to it and are now holding against the current with their trolling motors in reverse waiting for the tide to change.  “Ah ha” you say, “This won’t happen to me tomorrow!  I will get here extra early and beat them at their own game!”  Well that is fine, but just remember that they have the same plan, and so does the other guy that showed up late.  Also, that block of time you spent holding in reverse wasn’t spent fishing, because you’re not fishing until that tide starts running out.  The time you spent holding the boat in place with the trolling motor could have been spent trolling, and putting fish in the boat.


Can’t use herring as well on anchor


Herring is exceptional bait for spring Chinook and it probably catches the bulk of the fish during March and April.  Trolling herring works really well but what many anglers don’t realize is that it can also be fished while on anchor … but conditions have to be just right for this method to work perfectly.


In order to fish herring on anchor and get it to spin properly you need to have a pretty strong outgoing current, otherwise it will sink to the bottom or just wobble in the current and not spin at all.  Not all areas of the river get strong enough current to fish herring on anchor and the areas that do get strong current don’t always have it for an extended period of time.  So if you can’t fish herring and you’re forced to use something else, you just took one of the best producing baits and took it out of the game.


Anchoring in the shipping channel


One of the major drawbacks of anchor fishing is that commercial river traffic has the right of way in the shipping channel.  In some areas of the river the shipping channel takes up almost the whole river, while in others it is a very narrow travel lane, either way boaters must move for vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver and operating in the shipping channel.  If you were wondering, a vessel that must stay in the shipping channel is definitely restricted in its ability to maneuver and you have to give it the right of way.


What does this mean to you as a fisherman anchored in the river?  It means that you often times can’t fish where the fish are actually running which is often in the shipping channel.  You can’t catch them where they aint.  Some folks actually do anchor in the shipping channel and play chicken with the ships which is a good way to get a large ticket from the coast guard or worse yet ran over.  Others anchor in the channel and quickly pull anchor when the ship is bearing down on them, hoping they see the ship in time to move, either way it is a bad idea, unsafe, and generally not a good practice to follow.


Can’t move to where the fish are being caught and you can’t search out fish


You’re on the river, you got up early and your in the spot where you have been catching fish the last two days.  The tide is right and the fish are finally biting but unfortunately not in your boat.  Today the fish are running in a line four boats farther out in the river and the guys in that spot are killing them and are just one fish away from being limited.  What do you do?  Nothing really, for the most part you have missed your chance at the bulk of the fish that have gone by today.  Oh yeah you can anchor in a different spot or go farther upriver but that isn’t going to salvage your day by much if any.


This is obvious, but when you’re on anchor you can’t go looking for the fish.  I don’t care how good a spot an anchor fisherman has, the fish don’t always run in that location, and when they aren’t there, it just isn’t going to happen for you.


Difficult to fish when it’s windy


Anchor fishing is really easy when the weather conditions cooperate, which is most of the time, especially during the first half of the day.  However when the wind comes up in the afternoon or a storm is blowing in, effective anchor fishing can be almost impossible.  The boat tops that were so great when it was cold, rainy, and calm have now just turned into big sails that catch the wind and blow your boat back and forth, in turn dragging your lure all over the bottom of the river.  With your boat swinging back and forth your odds of catching a Springer just went down dramatically.


Anchor fishing can be boring


This is pretty self explanatory, sitting on the hook (anchored up) can get really old when fish aren’t being caught, and it can get downright frustrating when you see someone troll by and catch one!


Very tide driven


Some new anglers don’t know this, but anchoring up with Kwikfish is done on the outgoing tide only, for some reason anchor fishing on the incoming tide just doesn’t produce.  Some sections of the lower Columbia especially from the Portland area upstream have a minimal tidal influence on the incoming tide.  This section of river often has downstream flow all day long.  The current may slow down during the incoming tide but it doesn’t actually reverse directions and flow upstream like it does near Longview or Clatskanie.  You may be thinking to yourself that this sounds like a perfect place to anchor, but keep in mind that just because this area has outgoing current doesn’t mean that it has the optimal current speed to work the Kwikfish.  The water in this area can often be very slow and not conducive to creating the good Kwikfish wobble that most anchor fishermen really want.


Since anchor fishing is an outgoing tide only deal, then in many areas you are either forced to troll, or just not fish on the incoming tide.  If you go to Longview or any of the areas downstream this is often what you will see, hardly anyone fishing the incoming tide but when the outgoing happens then here come all of the boats.  These guys are really missing out on some of the best fishing of the day by not taking advantage of the incoming tide.


Sea lions


Sea lions love to take salmon from spring Chinook fishermen and they especially like to take them from the fishermen in the hog lines (lines of anchored boats).  Why?  Because it is easier for them to figure out who has a fish on in these areas and to pick that boat off.  They see all of the guys in the boat jump up and run around fighting the fish, lifting the net in the air, and dropping out of the hog line, and this quickly lets them know what is going on.  Sea lions love to hang out below the hog lines and just wait for the action to begin!


When you're trolling it isn’t nearly as evident to a Sea lion that you have a fish on, the boat is already moving and the anglers are constantly getting up and down in the boat, as well as reeling in their rods, so from a Sea lion’s point of view not much stands out when a boat that is trolling hooks into a salmon.  Since it is harder for Sea lions to determine which boats have fish on, it is also harder for them to consistently make a meal of troll caught fish, therefore they really don’t tend to hang out in the trolling lanes much. I know guys that anchor fish that have hooked up seven or eight fish just to have every one of them stolen by Sea lions; this just doesn’t happen when you’re trolling.


Anchoring, pulling anchor, and dropping off of anchor


Fishing on anchor involves deploying the anchor, pulling the anchor at the end of the day and dropping off of the anchor rope when a fish is hooked up.  One person can generally deploy the anchor and pull it but when a fish is hooked; having multiple people in the boat is really an advantage.


When a fish gets hooked someone needs to grab the rod and it’s important to release the boat from the anchor rope and start drifting back as soon as possible.  It’s mighty hard for the guy fighting the fish to walk forward and release the anchor rope, especially when he is in a windshield boat.  Anchor fishing is mostly a team sport; don’t get me wrong it can be done by one person, but not as easily as trolling is for one person.


To wrap it up


Ultimately an angler has to decide what he is after in a day of fishing.  Some folks are after fun and relaxation, others are hell bent to put fish in the boat at all costs, and there is everything in between.  Personally my approach to fishing is that I expect it to be work because it is my work, and the harder I work the luckier I get.  However many anglers are out on the water for some relaxation, and unfortunately relaxation and catching a bunch of fish don’t necessarily go hand in hand.  Sometimes catching salmon is easy but more often than not, an angler with a full fish box had to work his hind quarters off to make it happen.  You just have to decide what you AND your group are after in a days fishing, and choose the appropriate technique that suits you.

If you haven't read Tech Tip #1 How to Catch Columbia River Spring Chinook "Where do I fish?" then Click Here





© Copyright 2011 Total Fisherman Guide Service - All Rights Reserved.