Icicle river springers
When the air warms and the days get longer our most prized salmon work their way up the Columbia River. After swimming roughly 500 miles and surpassing seven dams they file into the Wenatchee River and finally the Icicle where I’ll be waiting for them. Thousands of 10-25 pound beauties are set to invade. And, I’m going to do everything I can to catch them.
Spring Chinook or“springers”are delicious fish to eat and spectacular fighters, but can be frustrating to catch sometimes. I’m going to share some of what I have learned in the 17 years I’ve fished the Icicle. I’ll focus on bait secrets, timing and general tackle setups so you can catch more fish next time you fish in the Eastern Washington sunshine. A tributary to the Wenatchee, the Icicle is a small river running through the Central Cascade Mountains in the Bavarian clad town of Leavenworth. The fish start showing mid May with the bulk arriving in June and early July. The best action is early in the morning. (There’s a night closure. Fishing starts an hour before official sunrise.) However, from the bank plunking 8-16 ounces of lead (depending on the current) with FireBrined Herring or FireCured eggs is standard (depending on clarity and flow).
While there is limited shoreline access at Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery the river is best approached from a drift boat. The Icicle is a scenic float through jagged snow covered Cascade peaks. The float is easy with no technical water. You put in at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery and take out at the Leavenworth City launch off East Leavenworth Road. The float consists of approximately two miles of the Icicle and a mile of the Wenatchee. The fishing boundary is 800 feet up from the mouth of the Wenatchee. There is a barely visible sign. It’s poorly marked, yet highly enforced.
The Wagner Brine
Early in the season my go-to bait is herring. Normally, I cut plug my herring, which means a quality brine is imperative. Pautzke’s new Fire Brine is the best herring brine I have used by far! I’m a huge believer of dying the bait different colors to trigger a response from fish that normally just swim by. In the past, it required several ingredients and steps, but Fire Brine has taken the science out of it. Now, I open the herring, poor the brine in, refrigerate and I’m ready to fish. Meanwhile, I will add a ½ bottle of Pautzke Nectar and oftentimes anise or garlic.
Here’s what I do:
Open bait package. Allow bait to thaw enough so when you separate the herring you don’t remove scales or damage the bait.
Put herring in container of choice. Cover with Fire Brine . Step 3:
Add scent of choice. I use a ½ bottle of Nectar for every dozen herring. Also, I add a few shakes of Fire Power and garlic or anise.
Let brine for 12 hours, or so. Then, cut plug the bait. I then brine for another 12 hours. When handling the bait I wear rubber gloves to not transfer human scent to the bait and to not stain my hands.
Step 5: Just prior to fishing take the herring out of the brine and put in a tray of rock salt. This firms the bait and doesn’t make as big of a mess as pulling herring from the brine in the boat could do. Time For Eggs
We also use lots of eggs. While there’s countless egg cures out there I use FireCure.
Here’s what I do:
Cut eggs the size you want for fishing.
Sprinkle FireCure liberally on eggs. I like red, orange, and pink, but always have more than one color with me. Step 3:
Flip the eggs over and coat with FireCure again.
Sprinkle Fire Power on eggs.
Place eggs in a jar and add a few good squirts of red Pautzke Nectar. Rotate often to allow all the juices to soak into eggs.
Refrigerate three days, rotating jars often. Either use in the next couple days or vacuum seal and freeze. When vacuum sealing put them in bags and freeze prior to sealing them. Otherwise, the vacuum might crush the eggs. Sardine Wraps, Too!
I also use sardine wrapped plugs marinated in Nectar. Depending on weather and water conditions I’ll use a variety of sizes and colors. At times, plugs are the difference between a good day and great one. Sometimes, especially later in the season, wrapped plugs work well. I soak sardine fillets in Pautzke Nectar for a few hours and then wrap the fillet on a MagLip or K13-14 QuickFish.
Armed with herring, eggs and sardine wrapped plugs look for the springers in deep slots and pools. Due to crowds the mornings are often spent anchored in traveling lanes while plunking or back-bouncing bait or plugs with 2-8 ounce droppers, depending on flow. Usually, I’ll start with green or blue Fire Brined herring and then switch at least one rod to eggs as the sun rises.
There’s so much more to talk about, but all this talking is making me want to hit the river. That’s where I am heading; to put all this talk to work. While your significant other shops and browses the many shops of Leavenworth you can be out catching springers! Good luck and see you on the water.