Tidal River Chinook fishing and my new favorite lure – Sep 2023

Right now, every river salmon fisherman in the PNW with proximity to saltwater is trying to figure out how to get it done on the tidal push of chinook coming their way. I want to explore this topic of “timing the tides”, but also highlight what is now my new favorite lure!

If you’re a Buoy 10 salmon angler, you already know a bunch of this salmon tidewater behavior, but for many anglers, the tidal portion of the river they fish is only a few miles and they never quite connect all the dots of how reading a tide table translates to when fish will arrive at their preferred holding water.

Here’s a free tip: If you fish the lower end of a river either in tidewater or just above, keep a journal of what the tides were and how many fish were rolling, how many you hooked, caught, etc. Over a few years, you will catch more salmon by dialing in the best tides!

Okay, I just mentioned a topic worth knowing more about: Rolling salmon. Nobody is quite sure why salmon roll, but there are two decent theories and some observations I’ve made:

  1. Salmon roll / jump to loosen eggs and milt
  2. Salmon roll as part of their acclimation to freshwater when recently coming from the salt

Okay, and maybe salmon just roll, just because they’re salmon…As in who knows?! Salmon are strange creatures that don’t always make sense!

Here’s what I’ve noticed though…Early on in a run of salmon and especially near tide water salmon roll quite a bit and likely for reason #2. And, if salmon are not rolling, they are not present in as great of number or maybe not present at all.

I chase rollers in tidewater salmon fisheries. Period. If you chase rollers 100 miles upriver, those fish often won’t bite, but in tidewater I’ve found it ultra reliable to chase rollers.

I wrote about it last article titled “It’s river chinook time and that means bobber downs!”, but I recently walked in on a hole some dudes were fishing and they were covering water that looked like classic chinook holding water, but they weren’t getting bit.

River chinook august 2023 caught on float and eggs

I fished the water that looked like not where chinook would hold, shallow slow moving water very near the tailout, but it’s also where all the fish were rolling and it’s where I pulled out these two chinook on float and eggs within 30 minutes!

So, I went back to that spot a couple of days later and the tide was a bit higher so there was a lot more water and not much river definition.

I decided I wanted to cover water vs try to guess where the salmon were holding via fishing float and eggs.

I broke out my new favorite lure to see if it was up to the task of hooking some chinook or maybe a humpy or three.

Here’s a few things about tide water to understand regarding salmon behavior, particularly early on in a run:

  1. Salmon will enter the river from the saltwater around low slack, or as the ebb turns to a flood and really anytime on the incoming, they could decide to head up river, but especially in the first 2-3 hours of incoming.
  2. Salmon will head upriver with the flood tide until the flood slows down.
  3. On the change from flood to ebb, or high slack, salmon will either commit to heading upriver above tidewater or let the ebb tide take them back downriver towards the salt, sometimes stacking up in some good holding water.

If you are fishing above tidewater, you may find more fresh salmon entering your favorite fishing hole on an ebb tide because of behavior #3. Sometimes that ebb tide is also when salmon become concentrated in a particular spot and can provide epic fishing.

Or sometimes, the same spot that fishes great one day on the ebb will only fish okay a few days later on the ebb, but the fish will pass by on the flood, which was the case in the fishing trip I’m writing about.

Why they weren’t there 2 days later? Potentially because of the rain in between sucking more fish upriver, leaving only a single tide push of fish to hold in front of us on the ebb.

But before I bore you with how fishing slowed way down on the ebb compared to two days prior, the flood was the time to be there, but not a great setup to fish with float and eggs.

So what is my new favorite lure I used to cover water during the flood tide when fish were scattered but definitely passing us by? The wicked lure spinner!

The Wicked lure – my new favorite!

You should know I’m an Amazon affiliate, so I put links like the above out there to help you find fishing gear, and if you use it to buy, I get a small commission to support the blog. You pay the same price regardless!

I’m not new to the wicked lure..But, I am a recent convert. Let me explain: I LOVE fishing spinners. The take on a spinner is simply like no other. The tug is the drug and man oh man a violent spinner take is next level epic.

I consider myself pretty darn good at fishing spinners, in fact better than most. Before I decided to cure eggs for salmon, it’s what I used to catch most of my fish.

So when I saw people using the wicked lures spinner, my first honest reaction was “That’s cheating!”.

Look, one of the hardest things for anyone to master with spinner fishing is keeping the darn things down in the water column. Reeling slower, but not too slow. Choosing the right size, proper rod tip position, etc. I wrote a guide to spinner fishing for salmon here.

I’m about to release a video on the topic on my YouTube channel as well…

So why was that my reaction? Because there’s no freakin weight on this spinner, it’s just on your line and you can tie any size weight you want to get it down…

Look, us spinner fishing purists look down on people who put their spinners on a leader behind a weight…It’s like an admission that you don’t have the skill to fish properly with a spinner.

There you go, I’ve admitted my spinner fishing snobbery! How embarrassing…

Wicked lure close up

Sometimes, it’s okay to just throw all that snobbery away and embrace the simple beauty that is the Wicked lure spinner. It spins with the slightest movement, so anyone can slowly crank it in behind enough weight and catch all species of salmon! Lame right?!

I also like that the leaders are tied with a bait loop knot…so yeah. If you think I’m not sticking something stinky in that knot, you’re crazy, and yes it improves the hookup factor even more!

I could write a whole page on the things I’ve done with this lure already and another one on the things and places I’m going to try it. I’m in love!

My new fishing rod I think is perfect for tossing Wicked lures

Broken IMX rod

Sadly, one of my favorite rods, the G-Loomis IMX 9’0 ML spinning rod broke on one of my casts with the wicked lure with only a 3/8 oz inline weight…I’ve had this rod for years and is one of my absolute favorites. Super sensitive, but strong backbone, can handle a 20 lb chinook, but makes a 4 lb humpy tons of fun at the same time.

So, I had to replace it with a similar rod as this would be a missing piece to my rod arsenal. What did I go with?

The above rod ratings are nearly identical to my IMX except it’s about 9″ longer which I think I actually like. The feel, backbone and sensitivity are all what I’m looking for in a rod, and while Okuma lists this as a 200$ rod on their website, for some reason Amazon is selling it a discount as of this writing (who knows how long this will last!).

I really like the new finish of these latest Okuma’s, I don’t know what they were thinking with all the brown stuff, this charcoal grey / black look is way sexier.

I’m a huge fan of the quality for the price on Okuma rods, and I’ve been doing this long enough that I’m really picky about rod ratings and the feel matching what I expect with the rating.

Matching hook size and technique to your rod ratings is super important for salmon fishing and I’ve written extensively about it on my guide to salmon fishing rods here.

I can’t wait to get back out there and fish this setup with all the additional wicked lures I bought!

6 Replies to “Tidal River Chinook fishing and my new favorite lure – Sep 2023”

  1. Also pink on pink or pink and chartreuse blades are my go to, what did you use for the chinook? I’ve even had success on the black purple blade.

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