Fly Fishing For Spring Chinooks

Fly Fishing For Spring Chinooks in the Sandy River

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Spring Chinook Salmon
Historically the Sandy River basin was noted for its huge Chinook runs. In the 1850's Chinooks came in large numbers nearly year round. In those days steelhead were regarded as an incidental nuisance. By 1915 these prolific Chinook runs were decimated by splash dam logging, barrier dams, and commercial and hatchery harvest. From 1900 to 1970 these runs had dropped to the low hundreds.

Starting in 1970 the tide started to turn. Political change in the community fostered water flow improvements at Marmot Dam and riparian zone stabilization. New hatchery technology resulted in producing basin compatible brood stock. Escapement has allowed spawn to reseed the basin with enough eggs to produce naturally reared fish in numbers large enough to maintain a viable self perpetuating wild population. Recent years have shown an ever increasing wild population and steady return fish to the Cedar Creek hatchery.  The hatchery is located at about river mile twenty and supplies a very good sport fishery in the lower basin. This fuels a very popular sport fishery in the lower river.

Spring Chinook are much like summer steelhead in that they enter the river months before spawning. Pound for pound they are the strongest salmon that swim. They are 2, 3 and 4 salt fish that average fourteen to twenty five pounds, but some may exceed forty five pounds. Some years thirty pounders are fairly common. All enter the river Ocean bright and beautiful. They have enough fat reserves to sustain them until they spawn in September.

Spring Chinook are sometimes caught in mid-February, however they are still rare through March. During warm water periods in April, small bursts of fish enter the river in fishable numbers. May brings a steady parade. The run peaks in June and trails off in July. By August these fish have lost much of their weight, are colored and often spotted with fungus.

Chinooks are fish that hide from the light. Best fishing is early and late. During mid-day they often quit moving and occupy deep holes under

 fast water were they are nearly impossible to reach with existing fly fishing technique. However sight fishing in some pools is productive with very fast sinking lines even at noon.

Chinooks are more territorial while moving and are easier to get at when they are moving in water of moderate depth. Fast sinking lines are still most useful. The angler should be prepared to fish at depths between four and twelve feet. The fly should fish much slower than the current. Jim Teeny T-300, T-400 and T-500 lines are most useful. Be prepared to loose some gear. Chinooks like big bottom structure.

These fish are much larger on average than steelhead and demand heavier tackle. Rods from

ten to twelve weight are most useful. Eight weight rods are too light. A beefy nine weight is minimum. Spey rods capable of throwing fast sinking tips are handy on some water.

Large flies are the norm. Sizes #2 to #5/0 are used. Fly size averages 2" to 8". Some of these flies should be weighted. Marabou or rabbit strip flies are most popular in black, red, purple, orange and pink. Blue and chartreuse also works at times. All colors can be combined with liberal amounts of flashabou or krystal flash. Shrimp, squid and marine bait fish patterns are all proven.

On the Sandy River, wind is not usually a factor while casting.

Salt water reels with disk drags and a capacity of 200 yards of thirty pound test backing should be considered. Fifteen to twenty pound test abrasion resistant tippet is required. Battles may last over an hour, with half an hour average. During this period the angler can expect to traverse many yards of river bank.

At the present time spring Chinook are actively pursued by only a few fly fishermen. These fish require specialized tackle and skills and the ability to be adaptable. They are however as easy to catch as winter steelhead, Tarpon and Permit and just about as fast and strong. These fish and their parent river are definitely world class and should deserve your consideration.

More information on Sandy River Chinook Salmon.


The Fly Fishing Shop, Welches, OR

1 (800) 266-3971

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