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

Let’s Go Ice Fishing!

Grandpa Al Brooks with Adam and Ryan enjoying a day ice fishing on Roses Lake-Jason Brooks

Let’s Go Ice Fishing!

by Jason Brooks

The recent cold temperatures have thickened the ice and a winter pastime is creating memories once again. Ice fishing is going strong in Eastern Washington with the trout bite being consistent on Roses Lake near the tiny town of Manson. Those that prefer to catch a mess of perch are doing really well on Moses Lake and don’t forget Fish Lake near Leavenworth.

Ryan Brooks waits for a bite through the ice-Jason Brooks

The fishing is fairly simple, just chop or auger a hole in the ice and drop your baits down towards the bottom where the water temperatures are a little warmer. Look for areas where other anglers have found previous success, as shown on the ice with places where fish have flopped around and froze, or by watching anglers on the ice.

A rainbow trout coming through the ice-Jason Brooks

Ice fishing is one of those activities that is more of a novelty than a “must catch a limit” fishery. Have fun out on the ice but realize that it is cold, windy, and if you take the kids along they might not want to sit out there for very long. To make it more comfortable I like to take a lawn chair and a piece of carpet. The carpet makes it so you won’t be sliding around all the time and it really helps keep your feet warm.

Just enough freshly frozen trout for dinner-Jason Brooks

For gear, a standard, light action Daiwa trout rod works well, but so do those tiny “ice fishing” rods you find in the mid-west. They are very sensitive as the bite is light with the cold waters. Spool the small reel with 6 pound Platinum Izorline monofilament. When trout fishing it is best to use a leader with the weight tied at the bottom and the hook tied off of the leader between the weight and the swivel. I prefer to use a 1/4 ounce bell weight and size 10 bait holder hooks. Common baits are powerbait, single salmon eggs, or my favorite-salad shrimp cured overnight in Pro-Cure’s “Shrimp and Prawn” cure. For perch, jigging is the way to go, and it also works great for trout fishing too. Use a small jig, like a 1/8 ounce or smaller Mack’s Lure Glo-Getter that is UV enhanced. Tip the jig with a piece of worm, shrimp, or maggots. I also use a lot of scent when ice fishing no matter the type of fish as this attracts the lethargic fish and turns on a bite. Try Anise and Garlic scents as they seem to work really well ice fishing.

Adam Brooks and our Vizsla Lucy use carpet to keep their feet warm on the ice-Jason Brooks

Jason Brooks – Outdoor Line Blogger

Tributary Springer’s

April and May means it's time to fish the tributaries for Spring Chinook-Jason Brooks

April and May means it’s time to fish the tributaries for Spring Chinook-Jason Brooks

By Jason Brooks

Spring Chinook are undoubtedly one of the most sought after fish for the barbecue. Here is a quick rundown of some of the best Washington river’s for April and May Chinook.

#1. The Mighty Cowlitz

With 25,100 Spring Chinook expected to return to the Cowlitz River as well as a chance to double up with some late winter or early summer steelhead, this is easily number one. Back troll wrapped plugs below the I-5 launch down to the confluence of the Toutle, boondog eggs and sand shrimp anywhere from Blue Creek to Toledo. And for the bank anglers, the combat zone at Barrier Dam floating Wizard Cured eggs.

Columbia River Gorge Tributaries are always productive-Jason Brooks

Columbia River Gorge Tributaries are always productive-Jason Brooks

#2. Drano Lake

This impoundment of the Columbia in the windy gorge along highway 14 is expected back 9,800 fish. Though that’s roughly half of last year’s run this is still a yearly top producer. Boat anglers who dare the combat conditions at the highway 14 bridge will hover cured prawns until pushed aside by other boats. The trollers in the lake pull wrapped Mag Lip 4.5 plugs and the “old school” bright orange Mag Wart still produced for the bank anglers that cast and retrieve from the shoreline.

Ted Schuman with a Springer! -Jason Brooks

Ted Schuman with a Springer! -Jason Brooks

#3. Wind River

A few miles from the Bridge of God’s the Wind River dumps into the Columbia. This deadline fishery targets both the 6,500 fish cruising towards the Wind itself as well as other fish heading up the Columbia and stop to rest in the calm waters. Just like the name suggest, this fishery can become Windy and watch the water conditions. Here pulling Mag Lip 4.5’s or Mag Warts on a dropper to keep them close to the boat is the most popular technique. There is some bank access for anglers who like to pitch spoons, spinners and Mag Warts.

Fresh Spring Chinook-Jason Brooks

Fresh Spring Chinook-Jason Brooks

#4. The Quaint Kalama

A smaller river in Southwest Washington that is hoping to get back the predicted 4,900 fish, which is an improvement over the 3,100 predicted last year. This river is for the drift boat and pontoon angler and offers solitude compared to the previous three mentioned fisheries. Blue Fox Vibrax spinners in sizes 4 and 5 as well as float fishing big gobs of eggs are popular.

Wrapped Plugs are a top producer for tributary Springer's -Jason Brooks

Wrapped Plugs are a top producer for tributary Springer’s -Jason Brooks

#5. Icicle River at Leavenworth

This river is not open yet, and we really won’t know much about the season, if or when it will open until WDFW makes its decision later this month or even early May. This is typically a May fishery and with the snow runoff the river isn’t usually in shape until then anyway. But when this river opens this is a “must do” trip just for the scenery and for the warm eastern Washington sunshine while fighting a Springer. Back bouncing eggs or wrapped K-14 plugs in the few deep holes of this very short float is what catches fish.

Northwest Outdoor Report

Sea Run Cutties Smashing Chum Fry on South Sound Beaches
Anil Sravastava at Puget Sound Fly Company in Tacoma says it’s the best spring searun cutthroat fishing he’s seen in at least a half a dozen years in the south Puget Sound. Anil says the searun cutties are keying in on chum salmon fry dumping out of the creeks in the south sound and really anywhere south of the Narrows has been fishing good. He pointed to both Carr Inlet and Colvos Passage as areas to hit, however, and he recommends fishing small baitfish patterns in the one and a half to two inch range that mimic the chum fry for the best results.

Alger Likes Cottage and Margaret Lakes on Trout Opener
Kent Alger at Three Rivers Marine in Woodinville gave a nod towards Cottage Lake and Lake Margaret near Woodinville as his top picks for trout on the opener next Saturday. Kent’s favorite setup is a white micro jig under a pencil float and he says to run 4 pound test leader to get more bites. He says to set the float anywhere from 3 to as much as ten feet deep and twitch the jig occasionally to give it some action. Alger says the large holdover trout are particularly fond of this setup and expect freshly stocked trout to hit the jigs too. Three Rivers Marine will be opening the store at 6:00 a.m. for the opener next Saturday and they are offering 20% off on all of their trout gear including Daiwa D Shock and D Turbo trout combos.

Bill’s Boathouse to Release 6,000 Trout
If you’re looking to get a jump on opening day of trout season Bill’s Boathouse on American Lake will be releasing six thousand rainbow trout today. The trout all weigh nearly one pound and they will be released at 8:00 a.m. today. Mike Barr at Bill’s Boathouse says the fishing is outstanding off the dock at the boathouse this weekend and for several more weeks to come. Bill’s Boathouse is located near the community of Tillicum in Tacoma and they have a private fishing dock that costs between $3 and $5 per day to fish off of.

Razor Clam Dig Approved for Washington Coast
WDFW shellfish managers just approved a morning razor clam dig that will run April 24th thru the 30th at Twin Harbors beach. Two beaches, Long Beach and Mocrocks, will be open to morning digging for four days and Copalis will be open for three of the seven days. Full details of the beach openings for this razor clam dig are posted on the WDFW website.

Spring Days at Defiance Marine
April 27th is the Defiance Marine annual Spring Event featuring halibut and albacore seminars with familiar names like Todd Schwartz, Tommy Donlin, and Rob Endsley. Rob Endsley will be on hand in the afternoon to demonstrate rigging techniques for fishing both cut plug and whole herring. Defiance will have tackle on sale and a free hamburger and hot dog barbecue for lunch. There’s also a fishing gear swap meet at the event, so bring your old fishing gear and unload it at Defiance Marine on April 27th.

Wolf Attacks Deer on the Edge of Wenatchee City Limits
Northwest Sportsman – Wolves are making their presence known near Wenatchee, as a wolf took down a wounded deer just a mile out of town near the Wenatchee Rifle and Revolver Club earlier this week. The wolf was attacking a wounded deer near a residence in the Number 2 Canyon when the homeowner called authorities to let them know what was going on. While the sight might have been somewhat shocking, authorities say the wolf was just doing “what wolves do” by removing a sick or wounded animal from the herd. Wolves have been seen in the same general area on two elk kills in the last month. The wolves have been hunting deer and elk that are on their winter range in the lowlands, which also happens to be where the most houses are located.

Hybrid Rattlesnake Seized from Olympia Apartment
Thurston County animal control officers seized an illegal hybrid diamondback rattlesnake from an apartment in Olympia last Sunday. The hybrid rattler was a cross between a diamondback rattlesnake and some other kind of pit viper. A neighbor tipped off authorities that the man had the snake after he told the neighbor that he had been bitten by one of his other pet rattlesnakes years earlier and had to be airlifted to Harborview. The shelter that was holding the snake said it was repeated snapping it’s head in its glass cage and squirting vemon from its teeth. It was not a happy snake. The man faces a fine of up to $2,000 for harboring a dangerous wild animal.

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

Northwest Outdoor Report

Bogachiel Best Bet in Forks Area
Bill Myer from Anglers Guide Service (206-697-2055) in Forks said the Bogachiel River is currently fishing the best of all the rivers in the area. Myers said fishing has slowed down quite a bit with the low and clear water, but he’s still getting a few fish a day out of the Bogey fishing 1/8th ounce Beau Mac jigs. He said that decent numbers of wild steelhead have pushed all the way into the upper Bogey already and that there’s been fishable numbers of hatchery steelhead stacked up around the hatchery. He’s just waiting for rain to jump back over to the Sol Duc, which has been really slow the last few days because of the low water.

San Juans Still Hot for Blackmouth
Kevin John at Holiday Sports in Burlington (360-757-4361) says the blackmouth fishing in the San Juan Islands is still rock solid. He says Tide Point and Eagle Bluff are still producing good numbers of blackmouth and anglers should also take a look at Lopez Flats and Fidalgo Head in front of Washington Park. He’s getting reports of really small bait in the islands and anglers should match-the-hatch by trolling Coho Killer’s and 3 inch Kingfisher Lite spoons. The go to color lately has been any spoon with purple in it. Kevin says that anchovies are also catching a lot of blackmouth and he’s having to continually order more anchovies into the shop on a regular basis. He recommends trolling the anchovies in a JDS or Bullet Roll hood 6 feet behind an 11 inch purple or green UV flasher.  If the weather holds for the big Roche Salmon Derby in a couple weeks we could record numbers of fish caught in the derby.

Seattle Boat Show Open Now
The largest boat show on the West Coast opened at CenturyLink Field yesterday and runs thru February 3rd. The doors open at 10:00 a.m. on the weekends and 11:00 on weekdays and tickets are $12 for adults, $5 for kids between the age of 11 and 17, and free for kids 10 and under. The show features more than 1,000 watercraft, boating and fishing seminars, and the latest in boating accessories and it’s all indoors at CenturyLink field in Seattle.

Puyallup Sportsman’s Show Closes Tomorrow
You’ve got today and tomorrow to attend the Washington Sportsman’s Show at the Puyallup Fairgrounds. The show boasts a one-of-a-kind indoor “Steelhead River,” over 150 hours of free “how to” seminars, camp cooking demonstrations, the Kid’s Free Trout Pond, the “Head & Horns” competition and much more. You’ll find plenty of fishing lodges, river guides, hunting outfitters, and the latest and greatest tackle and hunting products at the show. Tickets are $12 for adults, $5 for kids under 16, and free for kids under 5 years of age. Save some money by clicking on the Washington Sportsman’s Show banner on the OutdoorLine.com to print a coupon worth $2 off on your entry ticket.

Harrisburg Sportsman’s Show Postponed After Vendors Pull Out
Reed Exhibitions, who operates the Eastern Sports Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, has decided to postpone the popular sportsman’s show after a decision to limit the display or sale of “assault rifles” caused hundreds of vendors to pull out. The show was originally supposed to be held February 2nd thru the 10th, but there was enough controversy surrounding the show that Reed has decided to postpone it for now. While Reed Exhibitions has always kept attendance figures confidential it’s estimated that as many as 1 million people attend the show every year pumping approximately $80 million into the local economy. They will announce a new date for the show soon, but for now the largest sportsman’s in American is shrouded in controversy.

The Outdoor Line
710 ESPN Seattle
www.theoutdoorline.com