For many of us spring means a number of things associated with the usually nicer weather. For some it’s the opportunity to do yard work that has been on the back burner for months for some it’s time for baseball and the starting of many outdoor activities. For others it means fresh Spring Chinook are on their way up the Columbia River in earnest and it’s time to go fishing.
One of the best places in Washington to fish these fabulous hard fighting, great tasting Chinook is Drano Lake which is a few miles above Bonneville Dam on the mighty Columbia River. One of the things that make Drano Lake a great place to fish is it easily accessible for just about every type of boat you can drag out there. A word of caution to those using small car toppers is that Drano is located in the Columbia River Gorge which is known for its strong winds that can turn a mirror like lake into a white capping mess in a matter of a few minutes.
The size of these Drano Lake Spring Chinook average around 12 pounds with many going well over 20 and a few although rare hitting that 30 pound trophy mark.
Here’s some tips on when and how to put a nice Drano Lake Spring Chinook or two on your Barbecue.
Drano Lake Spring Chinook fishing is generally in full swing by the middle part of April but every year is a little different as the run seems to be getting a little later every season.
So how does one determine when to go? Look for the amount of Chinook going over Bonneville dam to be at one thousand fish a day for 5 days in a row if you see those numbers, get going! You can catch fish in the lake before the numbers over the dam reach the magic thousand mark but those numbers are a pretty good judge of how the fishing is going to be. We start fishing when numbers are in the hundreds a day and fishing can be very good at times.
What to use to get these fish to bite is pretty straight forward. Since Drano Lake is pretty uniform in depth, at about 25 foot give or take a foot or two, trolling is the best method for taking the Springer’s here at this time. Trolling up and down the lake until you find areas were the fish are that day is the way to go. Just start trolling as soon as you leave the dock and watch the pattern the others are doing and you’re good to go.
Since we are going to be trolling, rods we want to use should be capable of trolling up to 4 ounces of weight and have reels that carry at least 140 yards of 20 pound test.
Early in the season I really like to troll herring above any other method. Spring Chinook can be very picky eaters so make sure your herring is good and fresh. Green labeled herring seems to be the best size and accounts for more fish than any other size of herring at Drano. I like to brine my herring before I fish them and the Salmon University Herring Brine recipe works extremely well for these fish.
Here is the basic set up I use for trolling herring at Drano. I use 20 pound main line and I always like a sliding weight system for this way of fishing. So I slide a slider onto the main line, add a bead then tie a good quality bead chain swivel. I then attach my leader which is 6 foot long to the bead chain swivel. From the slider itself I attach a 2 foot piece of Mono with a swivel to attach my weight to.
As for hooks I use a good quality 4/0, 3/0 combo. Add my plug cut herring and I’m fishing. I rig my herring just like this.
For many simply dropping their offering out a few pulls and sticking it into the rod holder and trolling away is the way they get fish. I like more of a hand on approach and like holding the rod when fishing herring. So we will drop our offering until it ticks bottom reel up a few cranks, troll for a little bit and repeat the process over and over again always working my baits up and down from right on bottom to as much as 10 foot off the bottom. Often times when these fish bite they will not take it hard at all and when you have the rod in your hand you want to set the hook, DON’T! You want these fish eat it. Let them try to rip the rod out of your hand. I know it’s hard to do but you’ll put a lot more fish in the boat this way. Getting to anxious and setting the hook to early will lead to many lost fish. Patience pays off big when the take happens.
Many do not use bait at all instead they use plugs. There are a wide variety of plugs you can use but there are two that account for more Chinook here than any others.
The first is a Magnum Wiggle Wart not just any color although many colors will catch you fish. The most common and widely used color is bright orange. It is by far the most productive and fished color there is on the lake. I don’t know why but these fish in this lake love these orange plugs. The way we troll these is probably the easiest and user friendly method there is. The same rods you would use to fish herring will work just fine for fishing these plugs. Twenty pound mono for your main line is perfect for attaching your plug snap. Attach your plug, let out roughly 50 foot of line and set your rod in the holder and troll away. These plugs will dive to about 13 foot and can be a hassle free productive way to fish the lake.
The Second plug that has been out fishing others is the new Wordens M2 SP Flatfish fished in the same manner as you would the Wiggle Wart. The two differences between M2 Flatfish and the Wiggle Warts would be you can wrap the M2 plugs with sardines to help give the plug added scent without affecting the action and for some reason Orange doesn’t seem to be the best color when using these plugs. With the M2 Flatfish greens seem to be best for me. Plugs with Chartreuse on them or colors like Wordens Fickle Pickle or the Metallic Chartreuse Lime are top producers. These plugs are relatively new to this fishery so trying various colors may work for you. I like limes and chartreuses as they have put a lot of fish in the boat from this area. And always seem to be colors an angler can have confidence in when fishing for Chinook
These M2 dive to about 17 foot, a little deeper than the Wiggle Warts and can be just the ticket when the fish are a little deeper during the course of a day.
Don’t forget you can use scents on these plugs and I wouldn’t think about throwing them out with out using my favorite scents.
The last and over the past few years one of the top three tactics for catching Drano Lake Springer’s has been trolling the brightly dyed cured prawns with spinners. This method is fished basically the same as you would the herring. Prawns have gotten a lot of attention lately from Springer fisherman from Washington and Oregon and its well deserved. Many tackle Shops now sell these prawns already cured and dyed for you. Remember when buying your bait fresh is always best. The Spinner rigs are also sold at the same stores you get your prawns. Blade colors for your spinners vary widely with silver and gold blades tipped with chartreuse, blue, green or pink being top colors.
Drano Lake is a busy fishery that can at times be the best Spring Chinook fishing Washington has to offer. When you go be open minded, have fresh bait and be prepared with the 3 basic methods we’ve discussed and you’ll come home with a fish or two.