Trolling For Fall Chinook

A Very Nice Buck Caught with Plug-Cut Herring on the Coos River.  Fall 2010.Overview

Chinook salmon enter into and stage in the lower Coos River until the first rains of the season. The rains drive the salmon up into the river beyond tidal influence. Salmon start entering the system from mid-August to late August and will continue to enter the river as late as mid-November.  That doesn’t mean you can’t catch them later than that too, just unlikely.

Some key factors to consider that will increase your hook-up rates are timing, location, bait quality, scents, and spin (or roll) on the bait.  There are several techniques for trolling in the estuary. Plug-cut herring is by far the most popular technique followed closely by spinners and other lure systems.  Weight systems range from divers to spreader bars, and everything in-between.

Plug-Cut Herring

Plug-cut herring is the deadliest technique for catching Chinook Salmon in the estuary.  The bait smells good and rolls like a wounded fish.  Good bait will make a HUGE difference in your catch rates. We like to prepare our baits the night before you go fishing. Thaw out the bait the evening before and use a guide to cut the bait at the right angle.  The guides can be purchased at most tackle stores in the area.

Once the baits have been cut, place them guts, heads, and all in a ziploc gallon bag along with plenty of rock salt.  The blood and guts from the pieces of the bait-fish will create an irresistible scent trail for the salmon to follow.

Check out the Team aFISHionados video on How-To plug-cut, rig, and tune a herring for Fall Chinook Salmon trolling.


Spinners like Blue-Fox, Kingfisher Lures, and Worden's, etc. are trolled often in the upper estuaries.  The fresh ocean Chinook seem to consistently prefer fresh bait over spinners in the lower estuary.  Coho Salmon love spinners trolled wherever they are at.  If you see schools of Coho jumping then switch to spinners and troll where they are jumping for some fantastic take-downs and aggressive fights.

If you are fishing the upper estuary then Chinook will quite often take spinners trolled near the surface.


The most important thing that can be said about timing is; fish all the time, that way you do not miss 'the bite.'  Fall Chinook go, 'on the bite,' a couple of times a day and if you are fishing during these times, with good bait that is spinning properly, you will dramatically increase your hook-up potential.  If you can't fish all the time then try focusing your efforts around daylight, nightfall, and slack tides.  If possible, intensify your efforts around high slack tides near daylight.

Incoming (Flood) Tide

  • Start at least 4 hours before slack high tide.
  • Troll through high slack tide and the first 1 hour of outgoing tide.
  • Best 'bite' conditions.  With Fall Chinook Salmon there will always be an incoming tide 'bite.'  It may be a small 'bite' and only in key locations, but there will be a high tide 'bite' on every incoming tide.

Outgoing (Ebb) Tide

  • Start about 2 hours before low slack tide.
  • Troll through low slack tide and all the way into high slack tide (see above).
  • Poor 'bite' conditions.  However, some key locations, especially on the Coos River, have excellent outgoing tide 'bites.'


  • Start as soon as it is light enough to see where you are going.
  • Get to the boat launch early enough to launch the boat, run to the trolling zone, and rig the gear, all before the sun comes up.
  • Best 'bite' conditions.  Chinook Salmon in general will always have a good to great 'bite' at or near daylight.  Combining daylight 'bites' with other slack tide 'bites' can produce some of the best fishing days of the season.


  • Start at least 2 hours prior to nightfall.
  • Fish past nightfall, until it is too dark to see your bait without a flashlight.
  • Decent 'bite' conditions.  Nightfall can produce a 'bite' during the lowlight conditions.
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