Columbia River Springer “Go to Baits”

Columbia River Springers are here.  So what baits and lures should you use to get into these spring time Chinook salmon? Well I can tell you what I will use.

As always, I make sure I have lots of gear and I am ready to switch gears at any time, however I have a few go to methods for fishing the Columbia River for springers. First and foremost, I will troll brined herring. Herring is a tried and true method for getting into springers. I will also troll Brad’s Super Bait Cut Plug.  And I will pull sardine wrapped Kwikfish when I am at anchor.

Many anglers who have been fishing cut plug herring for years have their own method to cutting their herring. If you are new to using herring I suggest using a jig for cutting you herring. You will get a more consistent cut, resulting in a more consistent rotation of the herring. You can get a cutting jig at Three Rivers Marine, or your favorite tackle retailer.

Brining recipes for herring are numerous.  Some anglers do not brine their herring at all, while others would not fish herring without it being brined. Brining your herring will toughen the herring, making it last longer. You can also add scents to the brine as well as brighteners and dyes.

Here are a couple of brining recipes you can use.  One uses Pautzke’s Nectar and the other is an old school recipe.
Pautzke’s Nectar recipe will brine up to 2 dozen green label herring.  The best thing is it can be done in the field or on the road.


  • Pautzke’s Nectar – Blue, purple, yellow, or orange
  • Gallon Ziploc Bags
  • 1 cup canning salt
  • 1 bottle water 16.9 ounces – (Kirkland)

Add one cup canning salt and one bottle water to gallon bag. Add ½ bottle Pautzke’s Blue Nectar. Add up to 2 dozen herring. Let sit 24 hours. After the herring has cured, cut plug all the herring and return to the bag. Add your favorite scent and let sit one more day and it is ready to fish. Keep it refrigerated if you are not fishing immediately

Old School recipe will brine 4-6 dozen green label herring.


  • 2-1/2 gallons of non-chlorinated water
  • 4 cups canning salt
  • 3 tablespoons Mrs. Stuart’s liquid bluing
  • 1 cup powdered milk

Leave some tap water sitting out overnight so the chlorine will evaporate. (I always leave four or five one gallon water jugs sitting so it is ready to go when I need to mix up a brine)  Add 4 cups canning salt. I use canning salt because it dissolves quickly and it is non-iodized. After the salt is dissolved, add 3 tablespoons Mrs. Stuart’s liquid bluing. This makes the scales and skin brighter. Add 1 cup powdered milk, which will firm up the herring without burning it.

Mix this solution and make sure the salt has dissolved.  If you want different colors and scents, you need to split up the solution before you add the herring. I use two more containers and divide the brine up equally.  For example, if I want one natural, one blue with anise scent, and one chartreuse with garlic and anise.

After you have split up your brine, add one tablespoon of your preferred color dye.  Add your scent. 2 tablespoons of oil is good; anise, herring, etc. Now add your herring. If you refrigerate this brine, it will keep for up to two weeks.

So if you do not have time to purchase and brine your green label herring, you can use Brad’s Super Bait Cut Plug.  The Brad’s Cut Plug bait-holding lure has great rotating action!  They have full or partial UV glow with a split cavity design for adding a herring or sardine fillet with scent.  These come in many colors and are easy to rig.  You will fish these lures the same way you would cut plug herring.  The best thing about this lure is you will not have to worry about changing the herring because it is getting beat up.

As far as sardine wrapped kwikfish.  This is just a staple of fishing in the Northwest.  I do not troll kwikfish, but instead use them when I am at anchor.  Depending on the tide and flow, I may even use herring or Brad’s Super bait Cut Plug at anchor.

There are so many ways to fish the Columbia River.  Do you use a fish flash when trolling herring or not?  Do you troll upriver or downriver?  You have to decide.  If you are not sure, split up your day and try several methods.  We could talk about the technique of fishing the Columbia all day.

If you have not been to a springer seminar, you need to attend one!  Three Rivers Marine is holding a Columbia River Springer Seminar on March 12th.  It is free and your opportunity to catch up on proven techniques.