Oregon Fall Chinook: Fly fishing for adults

“Fishin’ for bluebacks?”



Not really.

“Well…what are you doing?”

Rob Russell's Salmon Fly Fishing

Same as everybody else in this estuary. I’m fishing for chinook. Adult chinook. Is that so bizarre? Apparently so, given the twisted looks from passing boaters. Is flyfishing for chinook more bizarre than hucking fist-sized gobs of poison guck under a ball of lead and a giant bobber? Think about that one for a minute.

Rob Russell's Salmon Fly Fishing

It’s taking the local salmon fishermen some getting used to, but I think they are starting to understand that chinook eat flies. Not just smolts and jacks, but actual adult chinook. And for the unlucky few who have been out-fished by my little non-motorized bug-flinging drift boat, the impression has been profound. Maybe a bit unsettling.

Rob Russell's Salmon Fly Fishing

“You made a believer out of me!” said one eyewitness. “That was the coolest thing I’ve seen this season!” said another guy.

I hope the light goes on for other people. I hope more and more fly guys come down and give it a shot. While I would hate to see our rivers and estuaries overrun by hoards of prams like the Chetco and Rogue, we do need more fly anglers on the water. Chinook ask the same level of commitment as steelhead: some days you get a fish, some days you don’t. But every day you learn volumes. Every day you are surrounded by the insane beauty of coastal rivers. And if you play your cards right, you’ll be surrounded by big salmon. The anticipation that builds as you strip flies over rolling kings is electric. Staring at the fish finder forces confidence. And every hook-up pumps you so full of adrenaline, you could run all the way home.

Rob Russell's Salmon Fly Fishing

Fly anglers needed. And we’re fishing for adults, thank you very much.

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13 Responses to Oregon Fall Chinook: Fly fishing for adults

  1. Anthony says:

    I’d love a trip with you in that glass boat of yours. Knowing how much about skagit casting I have learned from you only makes me want to learn from you how to catch kings on the coast…sans toxins.

  2. kyle says:

    you are really gonna push the poison issue again this season ???? love the fly game but to alienate the rest of the angling world into a class of “toxic avengers” not so classy rob

  3. Sam says:

    We also need fly rodders over here on the lower Umpqua and lower Smith. It is primarily cohos but sometimes the chinooks roll with them.

  4. Rob R says:

    Don’t wait around for me. Pick up a clear intermediate shooting head, tie a bunch of crittery little flies, and go fishing. The Siuslaw, Alsea & Siletz are wide open, and full of fish. It takes a leap of faith, it takes showing up, and it takes persistence. But the rivers and the fish are worth the effort. A great place to start is launching at the Mapleton ramp. Row up or down, and fish along the edges where you see rolling fish. Regardless of depth, most fish are cruising at 5 to 10 feet deep. Think of them as giant trout cruising in a big lake and fish accordingly. If you put in your time, you’ll start to hook fish.

  5. Nate K. says:

    Right on, Rob. Pushing the boundaries of convention without a two-stroke or a look back.

  6. Rob R says:

    Hey Kyle, I don’t intend to alientate “the rest of the angling world” by criticizing the use of toxic baits. But I do hope to wake some people up. There are still a lot of thoughtful anglers (like yourself) who are in complete denial, and I want to shake them (you) up. Oregon DEQ and ODFW have made it clear that these sulfite-based cures will not be tollerated in our state after August 2011. If your cure is sulfite-free, more power to you. If not, time to make the change.

  7. Agreed. Target the lower sections of river for fly eating, rod breaking, backing ripping, pissed off kings…its a good time.

  8. Mike W says:

    I would be interested to learn the specifics of a line and leader set up for this endeavor.I have just recently decided to lay down the levelwind and spinners and give this a go so i could use help on the proper way to go.Very good and inspiring writing as usual.

  9. Andy says:

    It’s all fiction and pixie dust. Salmon don’t bite flies. Fly guys are just lining the fish and snagging them. Some years the bait guys can get a little surely and I would recommend avoiding them at first unless you know how to fight a fish well. It is an art form for sure which Mr. Russell seems to be mastering(Zen mastering) well. There are good seasons and bad seasons for it. Rob is right some years it takes multiple long days just to get bite if at all. Some years just suck while others are more consistent. The trick is to go at it and stay at it. It is easy to give in to the bait, bobber or spinner. Somedays it is just a small window of time when they grab and if you miss it…… Have faith. Like everything local knowledge helps but you have to put in the time if you can. It ain’t easy most days but then there are stories of days to dream about and you may never want to go back. Thanks for making the next couple weeks unbearable :).

  10. Rob R says:

    Mike, the simplest way to get started is to pick up a clear intermediate sinking line for your 9- or 10-weight single hander. 30′ shooting heads are most common, followed by 100 feet of Slickshooter or similar running line. I use a 12 to 14 foot leader, starting with 25# Maxima, and working it down to 12# tippet. Don’t overthink it. This is just the same as steelheading or trout fishing. I’ve had success with almost every style of fly you can imagine, starting with small comets, bosses, and even little spey flies. Usually an unweighted fly is most productive. But I blow a lot of time fishing too deep before I finally settle back to unweighted flies. Use your intuition, trust in your skills, and be patient. These fish will bite, eventually.

    Let me offer some hard-earned confidence to beginners: Flies are AT LEAST as productive as any other method employed, as long as the water is relatively clear. I’ve put in my time with every method. Bobber & eggs was my mainstay for 12 years. But over the last two years (I am still a beginner at this), the anglers in my boat have tended to out-fish all other boats in the vicinity with flies. We outfish spinners, even for silvers. Bait has its days, no doubt, but it also sucks wind plenty of other times, while flies are relatively consistent: one or two grabs a day. I have come to believe that flies can be the most productive method for targeting tidewater kings.

    Another thought: When we go to the estuary, we represent fly angling , like it or not. So it is crucial that we hold ourselves to the highest standards of courtesy. It has been said that king fishing gives flyfishing a bad name. That’s because there is an undercurrent of snagging/lining in the culture. When the going gets tough, some folks fall into bad behavior. But it’s also true that there are situations where it’s nearly impossible to avoid foul hooking fish. The way to beat this is to keep your flies and line above the fish. If you are down in them, you’ll eventually foul hook one. That sucks. But if you keep your offering a foot or two above the fish, you’ll just get grabs.

    The Siuslaw, Alsea and Siletz await…

  11. Fishmojo says:

    Andy, Watch _ Rivers of the lost Coast REWIND -watch again It’s the history of fall chinook fishing on the long gone norcal rivers. I been flyfishing fall chinook since 81′ ,building lines, wildcat heads and such. Before there were the modern still water lines, slime lines, they were developed for east coast salt water – bones, tarpon, etc. I grew up fishing in the keys. Granted you’re talking of the famed flossers of the mighty kings but I’ve had agressive big boys meet a fly on the surface almost before it hits the water. R.R. good for your post. I fish the lower coast, can’t get Jim T. to fish down here, likes to fish up there with you.

  12. Mike W says:

    Rob,Thanks for the response.I will give it my best effort this fall.

  13. Andy says:

    Dude I’ve seen it and it is a great movie I love the history of flyfishing for salmon. I do flyfish for chinook and have for years. I was being sarcastic. That’s the problem with email type communication it lacks inflections. I’m one of you. I’ve hooked way more chinook on flies then bait in the last few years. I have lots of lines and boxes of flies dedicated to it and still consider my self a novice. I wish you all the best of luck. Thanks.

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