SPINNER FISHING TILLAMOOK BAY FOR SPRING CHINOOK
By Chris Salter
If you want a chance at one of the best eating, hardest fighting fish in the Pacific Northwest head to Tillamook Bay. The run size may not measure up to the Mighty Columbia River or its tributaries for that matter but it is definitely worth the effort. The crowds are minimal and the fish average between 15-30 lbs. The purpose of this article is to give those interested a jump start to success to fishing the upper bay.
Tillamook Bay springers begin to enter Tillamook Bay in March, although the best fishing is not until May. Peak season is mid May through Mid July. This fishery rarely gets red hot so don't expect Bonneville type action. Tillamook Spring Chinook seem to trickle in unlike their fall cousins. Therefore covering water is essential.
Tillamook Bay is a very large, shallow bay. The best time of the day to target spring salmon is usually two hours before or after low slack. Low tide concentrates these fish into the channels and holes. However, do not give up. High slack can also produce a good bite.
Memaloose boat launch, located on Bay Ocean Drive heading toward the South jetty is a great starting point. The stretch directly in front of the boat launch can be very productive and should not be overlooked. If that particular spot does not produce a bite after a few passes I will usually focus my efforts below that point. The next good spot is about 500 yards below the boat launch. This area is referred to as the Oyster House hole. Below that is the famous (or infamous, depending on past experiences) picket fence (long series of pilings) and finally Ray's Dolphin wraps up the upper bay troll. At that point I will either pick up and run up the bay to repeat the process or fish the opposite direction depending on what the tide is doing. If the tide is incoming I will begin trolling.
There are many other great spots in this upper/middle bay section but require knowledge of the channels in order to navigate without issues. The spots I previously mentioned are relatively easy to negotiate. Here's some advice: pay attention to your depth finder. This bay can go from 10 feet to 6 inches in no time! I have seen more than a few boats stuck over the years. Don't be the guy screaming along at 35mph only to find yourself buried on a mud flat until an incoming tide saves you. Not a good time.
Obviously spinners are what I typically use in the upper bay, hence the title of this article. Of course that is not the only way to catch these fish. Plugs and bait can be very productive. I employ spinners 90% of the time. The reason is because I can cover a lot of water and they are extremely productive.
Choosing a spinner can be a bit overwhelming. There seems to be no end to color combinations and styles available. There are a few things that separate the "fish killers" from the rest of the pack. When selecting a spinner, consider the following: Hooks, the spacing between the blade tip and point as well as tubing. These subtle differences can make all the difference.
Hooks and spacing:
My personal choice for a hook that will be exposed to saltwater is the VMC Perma-steel. It is a galvanized hook that is sticky sharp right out of the package. Will it last all season? No, but it will stay sharper and last longer than most hooks around. You can pay a lot more for hooks but you won't find anything better for saltwater use.
As far as spacing is concerned the blade tip should be at the top of the hook eye or somewhere close. This will give you the optimal bite to hook up ratio. Tubing is another thing to consider when selecting a spinner. The Tubing itself is not as important as how it is fitted onto the spinner shaft/hook. It is important that there is enough tubing to keep the hook "true" to the wire. Also, a 3mm or 4mm plastic bead placed in the tubing above the bottom wire loop can do wonders for aligning the hook and wire. I consider this a must. The bead should be inserted in the top portion of the tubing helping to bind the wire, tubing and hook tight together. With properly built spinners you should be able to spin the wire and see the hook rotate like a wheel on an axle, no wobble. If it does wobble you most likely have an issue with the bottom loop. I would suggest straightening it with a pair of pliers to make it true. I would go as far to say that this is the number one thing that separates the spinners that catch fish from the ones that merely take up space in the tackle box.
By far the most common blade for spinners in this fishery is the Cascade, also known as the Mag Willow or Olympic. However, do not overlook the Colorado or Indiana style blades. There is a time and place for those blades as well. Sizes 6-8 will be the most productive but you may want to keep a few #5's for when the current is really ripping. The classic paint patterns will all work in this fishery. Green dot, red/white, rainbows, fluorescent tips, etc. Three patterns that I will not leave home without are ½ red ½ brass with blue dot and the blue tip rainbow and green tip with brass top. Those are my all-time favorites for Tillamook Bay. Don't be afraid to experiment with a variety of patterns and finishes. Plain brass, copper or silver can produce as well.
Any basic salmon gear will suffice for this fishery. I use an 8'6" rod and baitcaster reel with 50lb. braid. Anything along those lines will do. I would go no lighter than 25 lb. test for leader. Tillamook spring Chinook run larger than their Columbia River cousins. They are also considered one of the scrappiest fish around. Combine that with an abundance of submerged drift wood and you have a challenge once you hook into one of these fighters. Sliders, bead chains and cannon balls ranging from 1-6oz. are about all you need for terminal gear.
When trolling, I would suggest a "down hill" or with the current troll if at all possible. Crowds are usually not an issue so that should be easy to do. Paying attention to blade rotation is critical for this fishery. Between 115-130 blade revolution per minute is optimal. This seems rather knit picky but is a key to success. I usually count/time a 10 second interval then extrapolate the number. I will then speed up or slow down my troll speed depending on my result. This will look very different trolling with the current as opposed to running against the current. This will also change as the tide changes throughout the day.
There are a few small things that can make or break a day on Tillamook Bay:
1. Be proactive when checking your gear for debris; this bay in notorious for grass finding your gear. Check your gear every 5-10 minutes.
2. Don't be afraid to adjust your dropper length anywhere from 6"-24". Adjusting the dropper length can sometimes be the ticket for getting a bite, especially on a changing tide. I have found that lengthening or shortening the dropper to coincide with the tides has been successful. For example, I will increase my dropper length (18-24") during the incoming through high slack. There is more water in the bay and the fish will suspend off the bottom at times. Outgoing through low slack, I will fish a shorter dropper (6-12"). There is less water overall and the fish tend to hug the bottom.
3. Hold that fishing rod! Tillamook salmon are notorious for the slack line bites. If you are trolling along and see your line go slack, reel as fast as possible and set the hook!
This fishery can be a nice break from the Willamette or Columbia River crowds. This run is also later than the Columbia River system, therefore, extending your overall spring season.
This picture shows the small bead inside the tubing, which helps keep the hook aligned with the wire
This is an assortment of successful spinners for Tillamook Bay