The greatest gamefish in the northwest United States is the spring Chinook salmon.

If you disagree, thats fine. Its ok to be wrong sometimes. It occasionally happens to me and I find it refreshing.

Now wait, not every one knows what a spring chinook is. Its not the same thing our cousins to the north call a “spring”.

A spring chinook is also very much NOT the same as a fall chinook, or even a summer chinook.

Here is the real difference. A spring chinook enters the river somewhere as early as February, and maybe as late as July, with the bulk of the run returning around the middle of May-ish.

But they don’t spawn until fall. So they have to sit in the river without eating for at least 4 months. To manage that they have to enter the river with an incredible amount of stored fat and energy.

Thats the first thing that makes them different than other king salmon, more energy/power/fat.

The next big thing is this. Fall kings seem to know that if the water is low, and they wait, it will rain and the river will rise. Spring kings seem pre programmed to understand that things are only going to get worse for them, they hit the river and go. They will blast right through shallow water to get upriver fast. They are in a hurry.

The third thing I believe is the sun.

Spring sunshine hits the water early, and is directly overhead a huge portion of the day. That coupled with typical low flows and clear water makes this deep water crepuscular predator extremely edgy.

Hard to imagine a cooler fish

You can expect springers to be harder to find than steelhead, harder to make bite than steelhead, harder to get the hook into than steelhead, and harder to land than a steelhead.

Cross a big wild buck summer steelhead with a fall chinook, thats how they fight. Cross a big wild buck summer steelhead with a carp…you get fall chinook.

I think thats right.

It really is the Permit of the northwest.

Except for one thing.

It may be best eating salmon in the world.

Where it gets really interesting is when you have spring chinook in really clear water.

yes, you are correct. That is an awesome fish.

They get line shine, leader shy, boat shy, shy of a bad cast, a sloppy mend..I have seen them, this is totally true, spook right out of a hole down the tail out, into the next hole, at the sight of a fly line approaching from 25 feet away.

No spring creek trout has ever been this neurotic.

On any gear, spring chinook in clear water are a bucket list fish for anyone who fishes. More than a steelhead? Absolutly.

Now, if you can find them in dirty water, say 1 to 3 feet of visibility, its a whole lot easier. Still hard, but easier.

So if you want to try and catch one one get in touch. Its the one time of year we do quite a bit of gear fishing, just so folks get a chance to take some hatchery fish home. If you want to try to catch one on a fly, thats awesome, we do it every spring, and I am game. But you may want to thaw out some hamburger just in case.

If say, 10 people commented that they would like to hear more about springer fishing with flies, I would write ( 3 min of my life wasted on that edit Glen) more about it, and maybe do a workshop.

Jim Kerr

Rain coast guides

Posted in Winter Steelhead Fly Fishing Report | 18 Comments


  1. steven says:

    I’m interested in hearing more!

  2. Chris O'Neill says:

    Always interested in hearing more.

  3. Connor Craig says:

    Great stuff, thanks Jim!

  4. Brian Lencho says:

    I’d like to hear more – gear for the BBQ but on a fly would be an epic achievement!

    • raincoastguides says:

      Exactly. To consistently hook spring kings on a fly is a gaol as challenging as constantly hooking permit, or giant roosters from the beach,there is practically no “luck” factor. You have to rely on hard work and great casting and presentation. It is entirely doable, but hard as hell. Why would anyone ever do anything else?

  5. G. Law says:

    Yes– please “right” some more.
    That’s 5 people . . .

  6. Tyk Bowman says:

    i would like to learn more can you swing for springers being they are so leader shy

    • raincoastguides says:

      Exactly. Spey line scares the shit out of them. In the right conditions yes, but often the one hander and a long leader is a much better tool.

  7. MIKE DAGLEY says:

    I would love to hear more about springer fishing with flies. To catch springers, at least semi-consistently, on a fly is at he top of my bucket list.

  8. Jon Blue says:

    I want to try springers with flies.

  9. chuck says:

    I’ve managed to find some spots where they hold up this time of year but never gotten one to eat. More info would be much appreciated.

  10. Jon Blue says:

    I’d be super stoked to go to a workshop on Springer on the fly.

  11. Jon Blue says:

    And maybe bring Jack along.

  12. Jon Blue says:

    Or Hondo.

    Does this count as 10?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *