Fly Fishing for Spring Chinook in Oregon . . .


Those of us crazy enough to do this –silly pursuit – understand that we are doing far more than simply trying to catch an actual spring Chinook on a fly. Yes it can be done. Yes some people know how. Yes some people do it by accident. Yes, one can catch far more of these mystical fish on bait, spinners, flatfish, and dynamite and gill nets.

Who cares?

This is a pursuit of God, whatever this means to each of us. Tapping into the life force of the universe. For a few, it is about the most delicious salmon in Oregon. For these few, the pursuit is about food. Bah. They may say it is so, but I find this difficult to believe. They may be thinking about food but I think they are feeding their souls.

Humm. Empty boat ramp. Does everyone else know where the fish are?

Twenty days on the water. The days are long in May and June. Miles logged. Motels. Junk food. Obsessions over fly lines, leaders, backing, flies. Broken sleep. Broken rods. Broken fly lines. Notes scribbled on napkins. Work calls answered in between casts and rain squalls. Review anchor points while drifting off to sleep. Tide tables. Moon phases. Log on the internet to check river flows. More junk food. Evidence that people do, indeed, smoke in no-smoking rooms. Coffee at the Blue Kiosk. Need more leaders. Should I go with 8-pound, or will the 10# be ok? I eye the smelly jelly on the shelf at Tillamook sporting Goods and am tempted by the ramen-tuna-espresso-anchovy-carp flavor – but I decline.

One minute it is hot and sunny.

Then hail and howling wind.

Rarely, it’s just right.

Tillamook Bay tidewater ain’t the Skeena. This is messy, dirty, musty, cow-poop water. Nostrils soak in the scent of rich anaerobic sludge. Boots sink up to shins in goop that threatens to drag you under. Sand bars may be found, places to get out and take a live-fish photo, but these are few in number. Mostly, getting out of the boat means calling for the Coast Guard Rescue Squad.



My family is always with me.

Oregon is not the pristine wild of Alaska or Russia – but I love this place. These are my home waters.

And the Springers, my-oh-my, the Springers.

Purple backed.

Snow bellied.

Long tailed sea lice.

Savage swirls at the head of the hole.

Graceful, slo-mo, head-to-tail rolls. I watched three spring Chinook porpoise as a school cruised into a hole last week – nose, dorsal, tail rolls. Silent. So sleek and slow that the water simply allowed them to slide through without making so much as the slightest ripple.

Chucked my best fly in their path, I did. No answer. It was as if I had imagined the whole scene. No evidence that three Springers had shown themselves moments before.




If you are good, diligent, and lucky as heck, you might catch a spring Chinook in a season. As far as I’m concerned, this is a gift from the living universe. I have gone full seasons without a single Springer, and still felt honored to have known that I was with the salmon.



So it goes.


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7 Responses to Fly Fishing for Spring Chinook in Oregon . . .

  1. Rob R says:

    “Hey baby, you smell somethin’? You should, it’s me, cuz I’m in the shit.” (common Tillamook pick-up line)

  2. Rich Youngers says:

    Very nice Jay. What you wrote is what it is about. We are a lucky bunch of anglers here in good old Oregon.

  3. Bob says:

    I’m apologetic to randomly ask for a favor. I know nothing about fly fishing but need some help quick. My father recently passed away and left me in charge of his estate. I had no idea he was in such deep debt that I am trying to make arrangements, etc. He mentioned a reel before he died and said it would cover his arrangements. Everything looks like junk except a beautiful round blue case {HOUSE OF HARDY} HAS THE PRINCE OF WHALES CREST. THERE’S SO LITTLE WORDING. THE PERFECT 3 5/8. It’s in mint condition but I can’t imagine this is the money I need. Any suggestions Please. I’m clueless and really appreciate you taking the time. Bob

  4. Matt Eifler says:

    An entertaining read, as always, Jay. You’re a great writer, give us a book already.

  5. David Swart says:

    Good article only a fly person would under stand, a friend said that to me on a recent trip when we climb down a steep bank just to fish a certain lie/hole fished for salmon till I move up here looked forward to it by the end it was broken rods, shattered dreams ,lost flies, & lot’s of bumps & brusies but would do again the next year.Tight lines.

  6. Rob R says:

    I would contact Jim Adams: (510) 849-1324

    He can help, if he’s in town.

  7. gregH says:

    Brother – love that writing…. and REALLY love the way you “suffer” for your salmon!! It’s so…. quixotic (never thought I’d use that word – but it fits). Well done – keep suffering and writing about it please.

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