April in the Northwest to me means Chinook salmon! Whether in the saltwater or on the Columbia River (or its tributaries), this is a good month to get out and chase some good-sized and great-tasting springers. We have longer days and warmer weather and I think all of us are ready for that! Remember that looks can be deceiving, and it still gets nasty out in these parts during the spring, so layer up and bring good rain gear. Much better to have it on and take it off than not to have it at all. It’s always chillier and wetter on the water. Don’t ask me how I learned that.
Chinook fishing should be good north and south of the Canadian border this month. Before you go to B.C., make sure you read the regulations, have the correct license, and know the procedures for crossing. The Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife has a form that must be filled out online at wdfw.com to report your intent to fish Canadian waters. You no longer call the Canadian government if you wish to cross the border without touching land, but you still must not fish when you return to U.S. waters. Check out the B.C. fishing website at pac.dfo-mpo.gc.ca. to brush up.
Tactics for catching kings this time of year in the saltchuck are similar no matter which country you’re in. This is mostly a downrigger trolling show. There are still some old-school anglers who jig darts such as the Point Wilson or mooch herring. Some are very productive with these methods. It’s definitely fun to fight a fish when hooked, jigging, or mooching because you’re not feeling and fighting the resistance of the flasher. However, trolling with heavy downrigger balls lets you cover a lot of water and allows a better handle on where your offering is in the water column.
When choosing a lure or rigging a bait, it helps to think of the way salmon chase and intercept prey. Chinook don’t rise from the deep and grab a bait fish underbelly first, like a great white shark smashes a seal. Salmon will draw a bead on a bait fish from behind, then follow for potentially long periods of time. They may make multiple attempts to grab the smaller prey or abort a strike at the last minute.
So, the Chinook’s view of your terminal tackle is at the hook end. Getting them to commit to taking the bait is all about action. A tremulous, wiggling spoon; a good rolling herring or anchovy; or a hootchie whipping around may be too much for them to resist. Think about the role the flasher plays in productively drawing strikes as well.
Another way Chinook feed occurs when they are on a ball of bait. The salmon will slash through it, stunning the prey fish and then gobbling them up as they fall through the water column. The flasher mimics a slashing salmon and not bait as some might think. So choosing a lure or bait with good action and a flasher with…well…flash, can help you put fish in the boat.
Hopefully, the mighty Columbia River will still be rolling with spring Chinook this month. If you don’t have a river-ready boat, then going with one of the many good guides for this fishery is going to be a bonus.
Plus, these guys usually just know how to put you on the fish. There’s no substitute for being on the water daily and having up-to-the-minute reports. It’s always nice to kick back for the day and let someone else drive the boat too!
Bottom fish and lingcod should be readily available this month off the Washington coast. When the opportunity is open, it’s game on to get some of these fish to fill the freezer. Nothing better than pulling out some nice fillets for fish tacos. Or, for those of us on the Keto diet, fish tacos sans tortillas.
April is a good time to get your prawn, halibut, and lingcod gear ready for May. Prawn traps and lines can get the dust-off, and you can pick up new stuff if needed. Hali and ling tackle can be inventoried and organized. It’s fun to go back over old honey holes on charts and get ready to rock. The time you spend in the shop going over gear will mean more productive time on the water. I find it relaxing, too. These are all good activities on a windy or rainy spring day.
So, get ready, get set, and go this month for some salmon. Next month will be on for prawns and some great-eating flatties and ugly, toothy lingers. As always, it’s a good time to get out on the water and get those groceries!