Low Water Plug Pulling for Chinook

So fall is just around the corner and that means that Chinook salmon are, or will soon be, pointing their noses up into their natal streams. Unfortunately, there are lots of rivers up and down the West Coast this season that are running very low.

Of course, early season kings are notoriously big fans of backtrolled, sardine-wrapped plugs like FlatFish and Kwikfish, but low/clear water conditions can make things tough. Luckily, there are some things you can do to help improve your odds…

Low water Kwikfish

First off, I’ll change my plugs. When my “A Team” of plugs isn’t working, I’ll go to the bullpen and use my low/clear water rotation. These include clear/chartreuse, clear/pink, metallic pink and chartreuse/black. These toned-down patterns still have enough color to interest kings, but not so much as to put them off.

Make sure that your low water plugs are rattle-free as you don’t need any extra noise or vibration to upset the salmon, which in low water, are probably already a little on the nervous side.

The next thing you can do is to start scaling down the size of your plugs. If a K15 Kwikfish is your preferred plug under normal conditions, try backing off to an M-2 Flatfish or a K11 Kwikfish. A lot of times, a smaller plug will be the ticket to getting spooky kings to bite.

However, there’s one situation (there’s always an exception, right?) where going larger may make the difference. That’s in extremely slow water. In very little current, a K16 Kwikfish will wobble side-to-side slow slowly that it’s almost hard to tell that the thing is working. Though the plug is big, it’s action doesn’t bother low water kings. In fact, their reaction to it is often just the opposite — they’ll try to pulverize it. If you try one, just hang on to your rod, okay?

Still not getting bit? Plan B is to throw them a total changeup and run even smaller lures — and I do mean small. Think trout and small steelhead and you’ll get the idea. Tiny wigglers can work their way very close to a king’s face without scaring it — and when the fish finally does notice the plug, it will often act extremely aggressively towards it.

Of course, backtrolling trout-sized lures for big kings has its inherent problems. The largest of which is you have to scale down everything about your tackle to get these babies to run properly. With light steelhead gear and 8-pound line, you’re going to lose more fish than you normally would, but it’s kinda that “it’s better to have loved and lost than to never loved at all” deal. Do you want to get bit or don’t ya?

One other item that’s worth mentioning is that your best fishing during low/clear water conditions typically takes place before the sun comes up. Check your local fishing regulations and see how early in the day you can legally fish. In most areas, it’s an hour or half hour before sunrise. If you can be on the water, rigged and ready to go when the bell sounds, you’ve got a lot better chance at getting a nice king or two than does the guy who shows up at 7 am.

For more tips, check out my monthly columns in Salmon Trout Steelheader, FISH ALAKSA and Western Outdoors magazines.

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