“Springer salmon (springers) are — without a doubt — the finest eating salmon in the world,” Devon Pearsall of Great White Fishing Hooker guide service, in Portland, Ore., explains. “They come into the Columbia River system loaded with enough fat to sustain them until they spawn in September and October.”
To Catch A Springer
Springers can be a challenge to catch. Several years ago, I read Oregon Fish and Wildlife statistics where one springer is landed per 99.3 hours of angler time. So I haven’t fished for them much. I didn’t like those odds, knowing there are some anglers out there who catch them on a fairly regular basis. I love to catch-and-eat fish.
When I get the opportunity to go on a trip with Pearsall, one of the top guides in the area, I am excited.
We meet at Willamette Park — on the Willamette River — at first light. Bob George, of Salem, Ore., and Dave DeLap, of Lyons, Ore., will be my companions for the day.
We head downriver at a fast clip in Pearsall’s new Willie 23-foot custom boat. We pass a small boat landing a fish. That gives us more incentive to get pumped up for the day.
What a cacophony of sounds surrounding us — this is no wilderness salmon experience — Portland is waking to a new day of activity. The din of hundreds of thousands of cars fills the air as we zip under a major freeway bridge. A train clatters across a bridge sending flocks of pigeons exploding into the air. Canada geese, which no longer migrate up north, are everywhere. Their constant honking adds a dimension of things wild to city sounds. Some of them have learned the art of panhandling, and follow boats, looking for a handout.
The Hot Spot
We ease past gigantic oceangoing ships at dock. Electronics show we are in water 70 feet deep. We arrive at an area where Pearsall has experienced success recently. It’s time to get lines in the water.
Pearsall deftly prepares rods with UV coated flashers, from Goodday Fishing of Salem, Ore. He hooks up a plug cut herring on a three-hook mooching rig. Ten-ounce sinkers are attached.
“Let out 20 feet of line on your counters,” he explains. We are using Shimano Tekota reels with line counters, which makes it easy to know how much line you have let out.
We are puzzled. Twenty feet, in water 70 feet deep? Over the years scribes have used gallons of ink stressing, “Chinook salmon travel near the bottom.”
Pearsall didn’t miss the puzzled look on our faces.
“These springers travel suspended in this deep water,” he explains. “We find them in from 15- to 20 feet most of the time.”
DeLap’s rod dips softly two to three times, the subtle bite of a springer testing the brined herring.
“These fish are really soft biters,” Pearsall warns. “Patience, patience, and more patience is the key. Wait until they take it, and the rod buries.”
DeLap lands a mint-bright 11-pound hatchery springer. (Wild/natives must be released.) Twenty minutes later, George’s turn. Another 10- to 11-pound hatchery fish. It has already been a great springer day by 7:30 a.m.!
Then the doldrums descend — we caught nothing over the next two hours. I then hook a big winter steelhead, all decked out in his spawning colors. Pearsall carefully releases the big native. Other boats are combing the area. Landing nets are high and dry.
Pearsall has been waiting for the tide to change for the next bite. I hook into a powerful fish that burns off 100- to 150 feet of line. Pearsall gives chase. Several things can happen — all bad — when a charging salmon gets that far from the boat.
However, the chrome-plated 24-pounder reluctantly succumbs to the net! It’s the largest hatchery springer for Pearsall’s boat this season!
DeLap’s rod is next — another 10- to 11-pound hatchery fish. DeLap is an experienced angler — he has fished from Alaska to Mexico. He carefully examines the Castaway rods we are using.
“These are great salmon rods,” Pearsall said. He explains that he designed them specifically for northwest fishing, and the Texas company builds them for him. He is the northwest representative.
George’s rod slams to the river surface. No soft bite here. After a classic struggle, Pearsall slips the net under another fat 23- to 24-pound hatchery fish!
Five hatchery springers! We have experienced a day of springer fishing that memories are made of, not to forget, a cooler full of the finest table fare to be landed in the heart of a major city!
For more information contact:
Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife
3406 Cherry Avenue NE
Salem, OR 97303
Shop Sportsman’s Guide for a fine assortment of Fishing Gear!