Look to the Upper Columbia For Summer Salmon Action

Shane Magnuson helps me show off a dandy king I landed fishing with him at Chelan Falls. (Dave Graybill Photo)

By Dave Graybill

No other season attracts more anglers to the upper Columbia River than when the summer-run and sockeye salmon seasons open on July 1st every year. While most salmon seasons are announced by Emergency Regulations on the upper Columbia, the summer-run salmon earned a permanent listing in the Washington Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet over a decade ago. This is the time of the year anglers can count on visiting Central Washington and expect to find excellent numbers of Chinook salmon to fill their coolers.

The first place that salmon anglers focus their attention is above Priest Rapids Dam. There are a couple of spots that some anglers will troll in the early season, such as right above the dam and off the mouth of Crab Creek near Schwana. The biggest crowd will be found right below Wanapum Dam. Here boats circle around in what is known as the “Toilet Bowl” where hordes of early-arriving kings stack up before entering the fish ladder and moving on up river. Anglers also encounter returning sockeye salmon, and they can be seen surfacing in waves along the face of the rip rap bank. It is not unusual for sockeye to be taken on gear intended for kings.

Most of the boats will be trolling Super Baits behind flashers below Wanapum. Some will fish lighter sockeye gear on a couple of rods after the morning bite has slowed. The fishing will be good here starting July 1st and for many weeks, until the bulk of the early-returning Chinook and sockeye have passed on to the upper river. There is a much-improved staging and parking area right below Wanapum. Still there can be a very long line of boats waiting to launch before daylight on opening day. There is also a very good launch on the opposite shore, on Huntzinger Road below the dam. When running up to Wanapum, take special care and watch for shallow, rocky reefs. There is a small area on the west side of the river where boats will troll for salmon just above Wanapum Dam, and a few will even fish the east side of the river below the Vantage Bridge. This is near the junction for the road to Mattawa. There is a launch in the town of Vantage, and at the State Park on the west side of the river below the Vantage Bridge.

The next major fishing locations for summer-runs and sockeye are on the Columbia at Wenatchee. There are good areas to find Chinook scattered “between the bridges” on either side of the river here. There is excellent access to the river via improved launches. One is at the base of Orondo Street, and is free of charge. Another is at Confluence State Park, where a Discovery Pass and launch fee is required. Walla Walla Point, below the mouth of the Wenatchee River, is one of the best-known fishing spots for Chinook. Sockeye and Chinook are also taken below Rocky Reach Dam. When the fish are really pouring through this area and over Rocky Reach Dam there are many kings and sockeye taken above Rocky Reach. Anglers launch at Lincoln Rock State Park (Discovery Pass and launch fee required), which is on the Douglas County or east side of the river, and run over to troll the west shore along the highway to Entiat and Chelan. In recent years the fishing for Chinook has been very good for summer-run salmon off the mouth of the Entiat River.

I struggle to hold up one of the two kings that Shane Magnuson and I landed at Chelan Falls. (Dave Graybill Photo)

Rapidly becoming a favorite of salmon anglers, particularly in the early season, is Chelan Falls. Located just below the Beebe Bridge, with PUD parks with free launches on both sides of the river, this spot is loaded with kings. Success has been very good here in recent years, and there is lots of good water for trolling Super Baits behind flashers on downriggers or with lead balls. One of the reasons that Chelan Falls has become popular is the high ratio of hatchery origin fish in catches. This is due to the net pen releases of smolt in the Chelan River channel. Another benefit of fishing this area is that it is about a 15- to 20-minute run up to Wells Dam. When sockeye are returning in good numbers, the fishing is very good, particularly in the big eddy on the north side of the river right below the dam.

Wells Dam is an excellent place to fish for kings. Anglers will troll off the bar below the dam and the big eddy on the opposite side of the river also produces very good catches of salmon. There is an excellent launch accessed from the highway that leads to Pateros. Some sockeye are taken above the dam and fishing for Chinook is very good when big numbers of fish are crossing over Wells Dam.

The crown jewel of salmon fishing on the upper river is the Brewster Pool, where the Okanogan River enters the Columbia. The Okanogan is a shallow, slow moving river and in the summer it gets very warm. When it enters the Columbia it creates a “thermal barrier” that keeps the salmon from moving up into the Okanogan. Kings continue to move up into the Brewster Pool from the lower river and stack up in the colder water of the Pool. Thousands of fish are milling around in this area, and are easy prey to anglers. Sockeye also prefer this colder water and join the kings in their wait for temperatures to drop in the Okanogan before they make their way up the river and on to their spawning grounds in British Columbia.

I love this shot of an angler scooping a nice king from the water at Chelan Falls. (Dave Graybill Photo)

This thermal barrier is one of the reasons that the Brewster Salmon Derby, which takes place the first weekend in August every year, is so popular. The success rate for anglers that participate in this derby is the best for salmon derbies anywhere. To learn all about the derby, visit www.brewstersalmonderby.com.

Something that salmon anglers should know that makes this particular season special on the upper Columbia is that it is the first return of four-year old Chinook salmon that were released from the Colville Tribal Fish Hatchery at Bridgeport. These will add to the numbers of fish available to anglers in the Brewster Pool and on up the river where they meet their final barrier on the Columbia River, Chief Joseph Dam. Summer-run Chinook season is a selective fishery, with barbless hooks required and wild fish must be released. Not only will the fish returning to the Colville Hatchery add to the numbers of fish in the Brewster Pool, they are all adipose fin clipped, keepers. The opportunity for catching a king and keeping it is significantly higher this year in the Brewster Pool and the river up to Chief Joseph Dam. There is the potential for a rule change affecting the Brewster Pool that may make fishing here even more attractive to anglers. Watch the department’s web site for this change.

The techniques that are used throughout the Columbia River, in all of the locations I have mentioned don’t vary much. There are some that stick to the tried and true plug cut herring, and those that really know how to properly cut and prepare herring have success. By far the most popular method being used at this time for catching kings is with the Super Bait. Some use the old, banana-shaped style and more and more anglers are using the newer plug cut version. Super Baits come in wide variety of colors, but some of the more popular are the Hot Tamale, Lemon Lime and Rotten Banana. There are others that work very well, so have a good selection when you hit the water. The advent of the Super Bait made it possible for anglers that had no experience with herring to become successful salmon anglers, and has increased the sport catch on the upper Columbia considerably.

Super Baits are designed to open on a hinge and are stuffed with tuna fish. The lure has vents on the sides to allow the scent of the tuna to leech out. Anglers prefer oil-packed tuna and then apply scent and mix it. There are a variety of scents available and one of the most popular in our area is made by Northwest Bait and Scent. These are based on the formula originally developed by my brother Rick Graybill many years ago. There are a number of scents that can be mixed, even in combination with others to create an irresistible attractant to salmon.

These are trolled behind a flasher, and most anglers are using the ones made by Pro-Toll. The fin on the bottom end of the flasher allows the flasher to turn at even an slow speed and it also gives a consistent action to the flasher. It is recommended that at least a 42-inch leader be used from the flasher to the bait. This set up can be trolled on downriggers or with lead balls. When trolling with flashers behind downriggers, put the flasher 12 to 15 feet behind the ball. Trolling speed will vary with river current, but flashers with Super Baits can be trolled over 2.0 mph. Many anglers like to see a one second throb on the rod when trolling flashers. Most anglers prefer rods of 10 ½ feet with large capacity-line, counter reels for consistent placement of baits behind the boat.

When targeting sockeye, anglers scale down their tackle. Lighter rods and reels and lines are all used. A typical sockeye set up is a small dodger and short leader to double hooks which are closely tied together. Bait is allowed on the Columbia and jarred shrimp are very popular. On the Brewster Pool it is typical to start the day at 20 feet deep and drop down as the day brightens. Many place their dodgers just 10 to 20 feet behind the downrigger ball. Trolling sockeye set ups on lead balls is becoming popular, too.

I have produced several videos on both Chinook and sockeye fishing on the upper Columbia. I would suggest that you visit my web site at www.fishingmagician.com and go to the Fishing TV Page. By going to the archives and looking for videos posted in June and July you will find many devoted to salmon fishing. You can also do a search at www.youtubedavegraybill and find all the videos I have produced.

I am really looking forward to this year’s salmon season on the upper Columbia. Although other seasons have been disappointing on the river, this one could be outstanding for those who fish above Priest Rapids Dam.

Dave Graybill
Outdoor Line Blogger – North Central Washington
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

Catch More Springers in High Water!

Spring Chinook are highly prized no matter how hard it is to catch them-Jason Brooks

by Jason Brooks

With record high water and water clarity the color of mud it’s been hard to get excited about spring Chinook fishing. That is until you realize that it’s already mid-April and the fish are in the river. Regardless of the water conditions this is our chance to catch the worlds best eating salmon before they head to their natal streams. The main Columbia and most of its tributaries are flowing high this spring but here are some tips on how to fish for Springers while we can.

Double up on in-line flasher’s like Big Al’s from YBC attracts fish in muddy water-Jason Brooks

Double up! Its no secret that trolling Big Al’s Fish Flash with a trailing herring is a top producer for springers. With low visibility use two of the in-line flashers to create even more flash. Buzz Ramsey of Yakima Bait Company explained that the fish are attracted to the flashing of the rotating flashers so in very low visibility waters he will put two of them end to end to create even more flash.

Brined and Dyed baits with UV finish on a shorter leader will catch more fish-Jason Brooks

In low visibility water the double flashers draw the fish and if you use the standard 48 inch leader the fish simply won’t see the bait. Instead shorten the leaders to 24-30 inches.

Ultraviolet light is radiated from the “electromagnetic spectrum” of light that “glows”. You and I can’t see it but the fish can. Many lures come with UV enhancements and on dark days using lures, flashers, and bait dyes with UV can attract fish. In high water this can make a bite turn on. Use cures such as Pro-Cure’s Brine-n-Bite Complete with UV on your herring and UV dyes such as Bad Azz bait dye don’t hurt either.

High water means fish will be on the move so trolling can be more productive for suspended fish-Jason Brooks

Trolling in high water can put you in front of more fish, as the fish are on the move and can be scattered. During normal flows it’s common to sit on anchor for the outgoing tide and on smaller rivers anchoring on seams and current breaks can work well. With the extreme high water we have right now, however, the fish are on the move and trolling can produce more fish than “sitting on the hook”. Keep in mind that the fish are not always right on the bottom and in slack waters they’ll suspend so it’s a good idea to stagger the rods at different depths while trolling.

Regardless if a storm is coming or a sunny day is forecasts, get out and fish!-Jason Brooks

Get out and fish! Regardless of tides, high water, rain, wind, or any other excuse that you’re using to stay home, the Spring Chinook season is very short so get out and wet a line!

Buzz Ramsey is no stranger to springer fishing on the Columbia River and regardless of the conditions you’ll find him out there on the river on a daily basis trying new color patterns and techniques. All the hard work paid off with this nice springer for Shirley Sanchotena on a recent outing.

Shirley Sanchotena and Buzz Ramsey are all smiles with Shirley’s Springer caught during high water that bit a herring on a short leader trailing two Big Al’s Fish Flash-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks
The Outdoor Line Blogger
710 ESPN Seattle

www.jasonbrooksphotography.com

Sea Lion’s Invade Lower Columbia

On the heels of a record smelt run in the Columbia River there’s a new record, of sorts, being set by California Sea Lions on the lower Columbia River. Yesterday there was an astonishing 1420 sea lions hauled out on the floats of the East Mooring Basin in Astoria, Oregon. It’s the highest number of the furry pinniped’s ever encountered in the marina and biologists, as well as anglers, are hopeful the sea lions are heading downstream instead of upstream.

Here’s a shot from Q float in the East Mooring Basin. There’s 529 sea lions on this float alone. I’m not certain how these folks plan on getting to their boats…yikes!

Astoria - California Sea LionsRob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle

 

Springer School!

Just as every northwesterner counts down the waning days of winter looking forward to spring, salmon anglers eagerly await the arrival of our earliest running chinook affectionately known as “springers”.

Trying to fit the four-hour springer sojurn to the Columbia into a busy schedule is challenging enough. Add to that the inconsistent, early season springer fishing reports and the term “forcing the issue” comes to mind.

After Saturday morning’s weekly installment of The Outdoor Line Radio Show and then the annual Master Marine Spring Seminar in Mt Vernon, “The Commish” Larry Carpenter and I hooked up to Big Red and did some I-5 time, launching in the Columbia just before dark.

A Columbia River Sunday morning sunrise greets us. We had great baits -and great attitudes- working early and late…

 

Unfortunately for us, despite great bait and a long effort, we would not get a single bite on Sunday. Mark Coleman of All Rivers Guide Service was the only guide boat we saw land a fish. Here is Mark and his happy clients with a springer right under the I-5 Bridge.

 

Enter my ol’ buddy Eric Linde for a little technique refresher… “springer school” if you will… Eric and his clients had a tough day on Sunday as well and since he didn’t have clients on Monday, he agreed to jump onboard Big Red for the Monday morning bite.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And yes,… true to form, on the second drag of the day Eric’s rod lit up and no matter how hard he tried to pass off the rod, no one would accept it! We “made” him play the fish!

 

I’m pretty sure there was no more experienced net man on the entire Columbia River that day than Larry Carpenter. Here he checks traffic ahead while he waits for Eric to get control of a hot springer.

 

Just one more run alongside the boat….

 

…and our first Columbia River springer of the season is in the bag!

 

Nothing quite says “chrome” like a St. Patty’s Day springer. Eric Linde’s smile says it all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are springers a lot bigger than this one, but what he lacks in size, he will more than make up in taste on the table tonight!!!

 

This year’s springer season is just getting cranked up. We’re guarenteed a season in the main stem of the Columbia through April 5th. After that, we’re at the mercy of an in-season update which may result in more days on the Columbia, but probably not until May. The Willamette, Wind and Drano Lake will remain open through April but keep in mind that until we see springer numbers over Bonneville in excess of 2000/day, the Bonne pool “bubble” fisheries will not be worth the drive.

Now, if you’ll excuse me… I have to put a springer on the “Bar-bie”

Tom Nelson

TheOutdoorLine.com

710 ESPN Seattle

 

Northwest Outdoor Report

Humptulips and Satsop Kicking out Coho
Patient anglers that waited until the end of the season to fill their freezers with coho were rewarded with great fishing this past week on the Humptulips and Satsop Rivers. Scott Sypher from Canyon Man’s Guide Service (206-518-4982) and Phil Stephens from Mystical Legends Guide Service (206-940-0052) both reported excellent silver fishing on both rivers. They both got quick limits on the Humptulips fishing eggs under a float two days ago and the fish have been big…running between 10 and 15 pounds. Over on the Satsop several fish in the 18 to 20 pound range have been reported the last couple of days, as well. These fish are often called the Christmas coho because the fishing usually remains good right up until Santa Claus rolls into town. The only problem is that the Northwest River Forecast Center is predicting that these rivers will be well out of fishable shape until as late as next weekend.

Cowlitz Slow for Steelhead
Outside of just a few winter steelhead being caught on the Cowlitz River fishing has been really slow there this past week. Derek Anderson from Screamin’ Reels Guide Service (206-849-2574) thinks the next high water should bring some fish into the system in the next week or so. The Northwest River Forecast Center is calling for the Cowlitz to ramp up to over 16,000 cfs by mid next week after a series of wet weather systems hits Western Washington, which is much too high to effectively fish for steelhead.

Blackmouth Still Holding off South Whidbey
When the weather allows for it Derek Floyd from Angler’s Choice Charters (425-239-5740) has been stroking the blackmouth at Possession Bar off the South end of Whidbey Island. Derek said he landed 13 legal blackmouth last Saturday on the bar and released another 5 wild fish before calling it a day. Floyd said it’s been tough to fish lately with all the wind, but when it lay’s he thinks the fishing will remain good. The Floyd fishing team will be heading to Friday Harbor the middle of this next week to compete with 70 other fishing teams and $15,000 in cash prizes in the Resurrection Salmon Derby.

Gillnet Removal on Tap for Columbia River
Sportsman may soon get their wish to have non-tribal gillnets removed entirely from the lower Columbia River. The Oregon and Washington Fish and Wildlife Commissions will meet at the Holiday Inn in Portland on December 7th and on January 11th and 12th in Olympia to vote on a plan to push gillnets off the mainstem of the lower Columbia and into designated off-channel netting areas. If the plan goes thru the sportfishing quota on runs like summer Chinook would be increase to 100% of the non-tribal catch. Sportsman would also see an increase in spring Chinook, fall Chinook, coho, and sockeye quota if the plan is approved. While the plan is very complicated many are hopeful that the gillnets will be removed and that a new era in sportfishing will dawn on the Columbia River.

Resurrection and Roche Harbor Derby Tickets on Sale
Tickets are still on sale for the Resurrection Blackmouth Derby in Friday Harbor next weekend. The Outdoor Line crew will be fishing in this derby and broadcasting live from the derby on Saturday. The derby is December 7th and 8th and boasts $15,000 in cash with $10,000 for 1st place. Log on to www.resurrectionderby.com for more information about this event. The next  big derby in the series is the Roche Harbor Derby held February 7th thru the 9th at Roche Harbor on San Juan Island. The Roche boasts $25,000 in guaranteed cash prizes and this year the resort will kick in an additional $30,000 for a winning blackmouth over 30 pounds. Tickets are $700 per boat for the Roche and registration forms can be found at www.rocheharbor.com.

Arizona Fish and Game Corrects False Press Release
Television, radio, newspaper and online news outlets carried a story this past week that elk hunters who hadn’t filled their bull elk tag at the end of the season would get a weeklong extension to their season. The Associated Press released the article without checking credentials and now Arizona Fish and Game officials are scurrying to clarify the situation. Officials aren’t quite sure where the press release came from, but suspect that an elk hunter with media access is behind the hoax.

Rob Endsley
The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com