Late November and early December typically comprise the least busy period of my guiding calendar, which gives me a great opportunity to play around, do some fun fishing, and recharge the batteries after the long fall steelhead grind. After spending months chasing steelhead on the Willamette and Deschutes, a chance to throw a fly at chrome-bright chinook within a few miles of salt water is awfully appealing.
Every year I spend some time chasing chinooks on the coastal rivers. Like many kinds of fishing, it can be hit or miss. If we get a lot of rain here in western Oregon, like we often do in the late fall, opportunities to fly fish for these fish can be few and far between. This year, however, things fell into place just perfectly. I spent the better part of two weeks with great friends fishing a dropping river with bright chinooks showing up on each tide.
The water became low and clear enough that the guys fishing conventional tackle were getting very few bites, but the fish were hungry for our flies. Depending on the depth and flow of the spot, and the water level any given day, we fished anything from a Type III to an Intermediate shooting head on a single-handed rod. Given the clarity of the water, a relatively long fluorocarbon leader seemed to improve the odds.
The most productive fly for me this fall was a clouser minnow in chartreuse and white, chartreuse and black, or chartreuse and blue. All sorts of flies, however, can be effective. In years past on these same rivers, my best pattern was an orange comet.
Many of the holes have a lot of woody structure and snags in them. When you hook a big, bright chinook that decides to head for a log, you have to pull on it with everything that a 10 weight and 20 pound fluorocarbon can muster. This is a lot of the fun of flyfishing for chinooks. A hot steelhead often takes off on long runs culminating in dramatic jumps, while the battle with a chinook is usually more of a wrestling match.
The brightest highlight of my fall chinook season was when my girlfriend Alia fought and landed her first salmon. The battle was hard-fought and resulted in bruised knuckles, a broken finger nail, and sore forearms. She and I were fishing with my friend Brian. For Brian and me it was far more rewarding to watch her get this fish than it would have been to catch it ourselves.