Chasing Chinook Salmon on the Dean River is not for everyone. If you’re like most anglers out there in the world, you’re just not up for it.
We know of no greater challenge in fresh water than to land one of these beasts. There’s also no greater accomplishment – but it’s critical to understand the fishery and be up for the challenge before you decide to try.
As an angler chasing bright Dean Chinooks, the odds are stacked against you. Here’s why.
The Fish Are Too Strong
Well this, of course, is reason #1 – these fish are incredible brutes.
Here’s a quick Dean River geography primer…1 1/2 miles from the mouth of the Dean, there’s a very steep canyon section that’s roughly a half mile long. Any anadromous fish that spawns above the canyon has what seems like an impossible challenge – ascending the canyon during summer flows. Looking down on the canyon from above, you would not believe that any fish could make it through that stuff – much less a fish that weighs 30, 40 or 50+ pounds.
Dean Chinooks, like their steelhead cousins, have evolved to make it up that canyon, and that gives them power that has to be felt to be believed. Add to that power their very hefty size, and the result is an angler-defeating menace to the river. We’ll cover this a bit more below, but landing rates on these critters are well below 50%. Anglers lucky enough to land them get to handle fish that look like chrome but feel like granite.
The River Is Too Fast
We target chinooks from the middle of June through early July, when they’re just entering the lower river and are at their best. This is typically just past the peak of spring runoff – an already fast river is ripping at this time of year.
Heavy flows make wading a challenge. In some runs you’re up in the willows. In others you’re up against the rocks, with limited backcast room.
When you hook up, all that current pushing against a very large, strong fish makes a difficult situation seem ridiculous – your fish and all your gear tend to head downriver very, very quickly. It’s high, fast water.
The Fishing Is Too Hard
Big fish and big water mean big gear. 9 and 10 weight spey rods are the most popular tools, with 10 and 12 weight single handers in play as well. 15 to 18 feet of T-14 is a pretty typical tip setup. Most of the time you want to fish flies that are, frankly, as big as you can practically cast. This is not delicate fishing, and you need to be fit to fish these rigs all week.
Any drag that is not a modern disk drag, in good working order, is going to get torched. Lots and lots of line is going to come off your reel at a high rate of speed. A large, high quality reel is an absolute must.
Your attitude in rigging for this game should be that of a tournament tarpon angler. Fresh leader spools (20 pound Maxima, thank you very much) are a must. Any knot that doesn’t have 100% of your confidence gets cut out and tied again. Even with proper rigging, we lose tips and heads and running lines to these beasts every year, so spares…spares of pretty much everything…are a great idea.
If you are not able to put maximum heat on Dean Chinooks, you’re not going to land any. You need to know how to pull hard. You need to know when to stand your ground. You also need to know when to call for the boat!
It helps to be physically strong, but most anglers actually do have the strength – they just need to know how to fight fish.
The Attitude Is Very Unusual
If you need big numbers of fish to have a fun trip, you shouldn’t come. If your ego is not up to going 0 for 9, you shouldn’t come. If going a day without a grab would ruin your trip, you shouldn’t come. If you can’t wade well and swing a fly well with a heavy rod all week, you shouldn’t come.
Most days you’re not going to land a fish. Most of the fish you hook you’re not going to land.
If, however, you get excited at the thought of swinging flies in one of the most beautiful places in the world, smelling the drag on your reel for the first time, feeling the electricity of mind-blowing runs downriver, experiencing the state of having no control of your fish whatsoever, and then maybe, just maybe having the privilege to tail and release the giant chrome steamroller-cum-jet fighter that is a Dean River chinook…well, if you’re up for it, you should drop us a line.