Technique- Springer Kayak Attack- Ron Sauber

For kayakers seeking an encounter with a Willamette River Spring Chinook, a plug cut herring pulled behind a rotating flasher can be your best bet for putting fish both in the net and on the barbeque.

Kayaks excel at trolling slowly and silently, both critical components in solving the Willamette salmon equation.  There are tons of kayak friendly launches and miles of prime kayak trolling water from the Sellwood Bridge, just south of Portland, downriver to the mouth of the Willamette including the entire length of Multnomah channel.  So, it’s no surprise that local kayak fishermen who have mastered the art of spinning a herring have been consistently putting fish on the deck within sight of Oregon’s largest metropolitan area.

The list of necessary tackle is small, which is a real bonus for kayak fishermen as deck and storage space is always at a premium.  All that is required are few pre-tied 3/0 or 4/0 mooching rigs, enough lead to keep your gear in the strike zone (generally 4-8 oz.), a tray or two of brined “green“ label herring and of course, a flasher or two of your choosing.  I prefer locally made, Shortbus Flashers,  in “chartreuse hunter” or “springer ringer.” Both of which are proven producers from the kayak in the Willamette’s often off color waters.

Kayak fishing, particularly for salmon often reminds me of juggling.  To appear competent and find success it requires concentration, attention to detail and practice in order to keep all the balls in the air (or in our case, put fish in the net on a regular basis).  It’s a collection of details that makes the whole thing work and ultimately puts fish in the Kayak.

Speed control 

It’s not an Olympic race. Find a comfortable pace, generally slow and even, that just keeps your herring spinning and work to maintain it. Small fluctuations aren’t a big deal, but if you find yourself breaking a sweat you’re probably paddling too fast.


Due to the nature of fishing from the deck of a kayak, super long leaders can lead to heartbreak when landing energetic Spring Chinook.  Shorten leader lengths down (compared to what many powerboaters traditionally run) to match the length of your rod and the reach of your net.  I have found it doesn’t negatively affect my hookup ratio and my landing success rate skyrocketed.  Also, keeping a fresh bait in the water is critical.  I make it a point to re-bait about every half hour.  Simply put, when it doubt, re-bait!

Have a plan

When it all comes together and you finally hook up, the last thing you want to do is stop paddling and wonder what to do next. Put some thought into your battle plan before it actually happens. Experienced kayak fishermen avoid the temptation to grab the rod out of the holder at the initial strike.  Instead they continue paddling until the fish has folded the rod over and is pulling line off the reel.  Having your net handy and ready to go is also a critical detail.  Once you have a fish on, it is no time to try to untangle or deploy a stowed net one handed.

More awareness of Kayak Fishing as an alternative to expensive boat payments and ever increasing costs at the gas pumps, may see significant growth in the numbers of Salmon fishermen deciding to give a kayak a serious effort.  It’s hard to argue with low  overhead and high success rates. So grab your yak, a herring or two and get fishing.


-Ron Sauber is a Willamette River Spring Chinook kayak guide.  For more visit him at his Groundswell Kayak Fishing homepage.