Angling for position: High, turbid water needn't sink high hopes

Posted: Wednesday, May 08, 2002

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) -- Saddle up to your favorite spring chinook hole and stake a claim. That might be the best way to fish for salmon in the high water of spring runoff.

The Clearwater, Snake and Salmon rivers are expected to be rolling during much of the spring season and many traditional fishing holes may be buried beneath millions of gallons of water.

''What those fish are going to do in those situations, those fish are going to hug the shorelines big time and anglers may do better plunking -- anchored up waiting for fish to swim to them -- than they will back trolling,'' said Buzz Ramsey, a renowned angler and Northwest sales and promotion director for Luhr-Jensen, a fishing supply company at Hood River, Ore.

Plunking describes a method of fishing especially suited to high water. Anglers simply select a weight heavy enough to sink quickly to the bottom and stay there. By using a triple swivel they can feed a leader in front of the weight and attach their favorite salmon plug.

This will ensure the plug stays near the bottom where chinook prefer to move and hang out.

The next thing to do is wait for the fish to swim to you. Boat anglers using diving plates and bank anglers with side planers should also do well.

During high water, chinook travel close to either side of the river bank and also seek calm areas for both travel and rest. By anchoring in these spots or maneuvering through them, anglers could have good luck even in high water.

Larry Barrett of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game says he prefers high water for spring chinook fishing.

''It pushes the fish to shore and slows them down and gives us a chance to hammer these guys,'' said Barrett.

Because the rivers will be higher and muddier than last year, plugs with color finishes, as opposed to chrome finishes, might be better for grabbing their attention. But Barrett said the water should be fairly clean for much of the season, because most of the low elevation snow that carries mud to the rivers has already melted.

''By the time May rolls around, all the low elevation stuff is gone and the Clearwater is generally pretty fishable, even in really high flows.''

High water could be the bank anglers' best friend, pushing the fish closer to shore and giving them a territorial advantage over boats. Bank anglers also won't have to worry about maneuvering in strong currents.

''It wont be a big deal for bank fishermen,'' said Gary Lane, an outfitter at Riggins. ''They can drift through a lot of that stuff we can't hold a boat in.''

Lane said Kwik fish lures with tuna wraps caught fish last year and should do the same this spring.

''Finding holes is going to be a little tougher,'' he said of the high water. ''You'll just have to find those spots conducive to pulling in and hanging out.''

Since salmon migrate in waves, it's best to wait for them to come to you, Lane said.

Higher flows also mean it could be tougher to land fish in many situations and anglers may want to use heavier line and gear, especially in places like the Little Salmon River where they fight rapids as much as the fish.

The run has been lagging this year; downriver, fish managers have just revised their run-size predictions. They now say 250,000 upriver chinook should return to the mouth of the Columbia River.

The forecast for fish returning to Lower Granite Dam, 35 miles west of Clarkston, now calls for 53,200 spring chinook. The previous forecast estimated 71,000 chinook would pass the dam.

Of the fish returning to the Snake River Basin above Lower Granite, 10,600 are expected to return to the Clearwater River, 10,100 to Rapid River and about 500 to the Oxbow Hatchery on the Snake River.

The revision is not expected to effect fishing seasons in Idaho, according to Sharon Kiefer, anadromous fish manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise.

That is because Idaho did not rely on the forecasts made by salmon biologists in Oregon and Washington when it set its seasons.

Instead the state used predictions of returns to individual hatcheries such as Dworshak National Fish Hatchery at Ahsahka and Rapid River Fish Hatchery near Riggins.

''The projection is for fishable numbers even with the downgrade,'' said Kiefer. ''We are not too concerned, at least in terms of fishery implications.''

Barrett said this season will more closely parallel the salmon season of 2000 and not live up to last year's return.

Through Tuesday some 266 chinook had been counted while climbing the fish ladder at Lower Granite Dam and one chinook has already returned to the Rapid River hatchery near Riggins. Barrett said he knows of no anglers who have caught an adult spring chinook in the Snake River fishery this year.

Biologists like Kiefer say cold water and high flows are likely responsible for the late run.

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