The days are getting longer, and temperatures are warming up. With Spring inching closer it won’t be long before spring salmon, aka springers, start flooding into the Rogue and Umpqua rivers. They’re already being caught to our north in the Columbia and Willamette, which means they won’t be far behind for those of us in Southern Oregon. Springers are known as one of the toughest runs of salmon to catch, but with these 8 tips you’ll see your catch rates increase, and be able to take home more of the tastiest fish in our rivers.
Tips for catching Upper Rogue River Springers:
1. Early Bird Gets the Worm!
The most consistent bite each and every day is before the sun hits the water. Even on the slowest days there are always a few springers caught right at day break. Legal fishing time on the Rogue starts an hour before sunrise, or 30 minutes before sunrise above the HWY 62 bridge just above Casey State Park. The first 2 hours of legal fishing time is often best, and that can mean getting up at 3am to get to the river before fishing starts at 4:30am. Now this doesn’t mean there won’t be a bite all day long, but if you’re trying to take home a fish each time out, getting up early will pay off more often than not.
2. Get Away From the Crowd
If you’ve ever fished for springers on the Upper Rogue you’ve seen the huge crowds lining the banks near the hatchery. These holes are popular because they will hold a lot of fish, however, most people fishing these spots are trying to snag. This will put the salmon off the bite making them much harder to catch using legal methods. There are plenty of other spots along the upper river that you can have all to yourself, and still have a great shot at catching a springer. Spending a day exploring, or even hiring a guide, will help you find those spots that produce fish without the crowds.
Recommended guides for the Upper Rogue:
3. Eggs, Eggs, and more Eggs!
The single best bait for springers is eggs, and don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise. I use eggs 95% of the time while guiding, and there’s good reason for it. Sure there will be days where something else may catch more fish, but day in, and day out, eggs are going to produce consistently. Having eggs that have been well taken care of is also another key. If you’re curing your own that means using fresh, blood free skeins and a quality cure such as Pautzke’s Fire Cure. If you don’t have any eggs available to cure yourself then I highly recommend ordering cured salmon eggs from Sunrise Bait. Ed makes a great product that I use while guiding when I run out of my own cured eggs.
Here’s how I cure my own eggs for springers:
4. Use Big Baits
When fishing eggs for springers on the Upper Rogue, a lot of people like to use smaller baits. However, I’ve found that they aren’t shy of bigger baits, and there are a few advantages to using a chunk of eggs as large as a golf ball. On the Upper Rogue many of the holes have fairly heavy current and there are usually plenty of boulders strewn throughout. A large bait is going to be able to withstand the beating it will take, and you won’t have to re-bait as often. The larger baits will also produce more scent for a longer period of time. Scent is the key to catching salmon, and the easier it is for one to find your bait, the better chance you have of catching one. Both of these advantages also allow you to spend more time with your bait in the water which instantly increases your chances of catching a fish.
5. Give Tuna a Try
Tuna has been gaining a lot of popularity over the last few years as a scent for salmon. Whether it’s added to your eggs, or as a wrap on Kwikfish, it’s proved its self as an effective salmon catcher. There are two types of tuna that most people use: tuna bellies, and canned tuna in oil. Tuna bellies, especially fresh ones, are great for wrapping Kwikfish. I have personally witnessed days where the bite has been slow for everyone running sardine wraps on their plugs, but the one boat using tuna bellies was catching fish left and right. Canned tuna also works well as a wrap on plugs. Form it onto the belly of your plug, and then wrap it tightly with magic thread and it will stay on just as long as a standard sardine wrap. It’s much cheaper and doesn’t go bad like sardines will if not used.
Adding canned tuna to your eggs is one of the best tips I can give to anyone that may be struggling to catch a springer. Those that have gone on a trip with me know that I don’t fish eggs without adding tuna to them. Some people prefer to just use the oil from the can, but I like to add the entire thing to my eggs. I cut them into bait size chunks the night before and put them into a tupperware container. Add your can of tuna and mix it in thoroughly. By the morning the eggs will be perfect, and the addition of tuna will make even mediocre eggs a salmon catching machine.
When buying canned tuna be sure it is packed in oil not water. Also don’t worry about price. The cheapest I can find is what I use.
6. Make a Shrimp Cocktail
Adding sand shrimp to your eggs, aka a shrimp cocktail, can make a big difference on whether or not you catch a springer. I’ve found that they seem to have the most affect on early season springers while the water is still cold. It can often be the difference on those tough crowded days. I like to use a bait threader to thread the sand shrimp onto my leader above the eggs. This means having to cut your leader each time, but the extra hassle helps to keep your sand shrimp on for a much longer period of time. Doing it this way allows you to add a corkie between your eggs and sandshrimp which will also help keep the shrimp in better shape for longer.
If you’re looking to buy sand shrimp in the Rogue Valley they can be pre-ordered every week from Sportsman’s Warehouse or Big R. They can also be purchased at Bradbury’s Gun-n-Tackle in Grants Pass. At most stores they typically arrive on Thursday or Friday, so plan accordingly. To keep the sand shrimp alive until you plan on using them there are a couple of things you can do. The containers they come in are terrible and it’s best to switch them to a tupperware container so they aren’t laying on top of each other. Add a paper towel underneath them, and change it every day. It takes extra work to keep them alive, but they are much more effective.
7. Learn to Back Bounce from a Boat
For those that have access to a boat, back bouncing is the one technique you must learn to have the best chance at catching springers each time out. Back bouncing is a technique where you use a heavy weight to slowly walk your bait out in front of the boat using the current. One mistake I see most people making is using too light of a weight. It’s critical that you feel the bottom every time you bounce it, and if you’re using weight that isn’t heavy enough, you’ll never find the bottom. A heavy weight will also slow your bait down making it easier for a salmon to find it. I use 3 to 5 ounces the most while fishing on the Upper Rogue, and I’d rather be fishing directly under the boat making sure I feel bottom every time, versus trying to get my bait way out in the current and not feeling the bottom very often. You don’t have to be an expert back bouncer to see your catch rates increase over using plugs and divers.
8. Use Bobbers from the Bank
The most overlooked technique on the Rogue is bobber fishing for salmon, especially springers. It’s an extremely effective technique, and one of the best ways to fish eggs from the bank. A slip bobber setup is key in the deep holes of the Upper Rogue. You’ll use anywhere from 1 to 5oz setups with a 2 or 3oz setup being most common. Your weight will be determined on the depth, and current. For deep boily holes you’ll want to use heavier weight to make sure your eggs stay down on the bottom. For shallower holes with less current you can use lighter weight. Use the tips above for your baits, and it won’t take you long before you’re consistently putting springers on the bank.
Here’s a good video to help get you going in the right direction with your bobber setup:
Check out the latest Rogue River Fishing Report.
Steven Theel is a full time guide in Southern Oregon, and an expert on fishing for springers on the Upper Rogue. For more information on his trips visit www.so-chrome.com