Tackle and Technique
The consensus among guides and experienced Chinook fly fishers is that rods should be short and stout. A guide-endorsed rig might consist of a 13 – 14 foot double-handed rod for a 9- or 10-weight line. A high quality reel capable of holding over 200 yards of 30-pound backing, 100 feet of 30-pound-test (minimum) running line, a 650- to 750-grain Skagit head, and a sinking tip made of 10 to 20 feet of T-14, T-17, or T-20, if you really want to get down and dirty.
High quality machined aluminum reels with a smooth drag and a rim control feature are highly recommended. You will want to make sure your reel’s drag system will operate well when wet and in cold conditions. Note: A proper Chinook fly reel should be able to stop a speeding truck. In Chinook fly fishing, more so than in any other fresh water fly fishing, your reel’s braking capability can play a huge role in whether or not you ever see the fish you’ve hooked.
The most common and useful line system for Chinook fly fishing with a double-handed rod is composed of a running line and Skagit-style shooting head. Skagit heads are designed to aid in casting sink tips and large (2–6 inches), weighted flies. RIO, Airflo and Scientific Angler are the most popular and established brands in North America, but several other brands have recently begun offering shooting heads with Skagit-style tapers. Sinking tips of various lengths and densities can be attached to the front of the Skagit head. Popular and effective sink tips are Rio’s 10’ and 15’ tips (intermediate, type 3, type 6, type 8) or MOW tips in T-7 (Light), T-11 (Medium), T-14 (Heavy), T-17 (Extra Heavy). Note: When selecting a Skagit head and sink tip combination for best casting performance, the accepted rule of thumb is that the Skagit head length plus sink tip length should equal 3 to 3.5 times rod length.
The leader is the final connection between you and the fish. Therefore, it must be strong enough to land the fish in a reasonable amount of time but subtle enough to avoid alerting the fish that the fly is not natural. In general, sink tip leaders should be 2.5 to 5 feet long — longer in that range if your fly is heavily weighted and shorter in that range if your fly is unweighted or lightly weighted. Breaking strain for Chinook leaders should be 20–35 pounds. Going heavier than 35 pounds risks breaking your shooting head or running line on a snag. The reason for a short leader is to get the fly down with the sink tip as quickly as possible and keep it in the fish’s strike zone as long as possible. However, in very clear water conditions, if fish are unresponsive, it may be necessary to extend leaders to 10 feet or more and use significantly smaller flies.