Columbia River Spring Chinook Fishing- Davis Bar to Collins Beach
Columbia River Spring Chinook fishing is a big deal for people of the Northwest. From Tri-Cities to Astoria, anglers with “Springer Fever” will take their brief shots at one of natures finest tasting fish. Of course there are lots of places to get after these fish, but one of the more popular areas the area just in front of the mouth of the Willamette River known as Davis Bar.
Davis Bar is known by many, but the name represents a gateway to a variety of places that anglers can find success. Continue reading and I’ll take you on a nice long troll that will provide you with additional trolling options that could bring you Spring Chinook success.
Davis Bar is located directly across from the mouth of the Willamette River along the Washington shore and extends from the barges downstream to Marker 39. During normal water years, this bar is typified by 25-30 foot depths on the mid river side, and is 15-20 feet deep on the inside. Davis features a fairly static bottom with only 1-2 foot depth changes as you troll downstream. This spot is not an anchor fishery, and is typically a trolling show through its entire length.
The troll usually begins at the top of the bar, along the outside edge of the barges. The further up you go, the deeper the water gets. It’s also deeper the further you get from the barges. You’ll see most people staying fairly tight to the barges for the first part of the troll.
The closer you get to the barges, the shallower it is, but it is always in the ballpark of 30-35 feet for the first part of the troll. As you get to the bottom of the barges, the troll begins to be a consistent 25 feet, with some slight changes depending on the angle of your troll. If you point your bow into the dolphin at the bottom, or even more towards the bank you will slowly loose a bit of depth, but if you head just outside the dolphin you’ll maintain 25 feet, and if you meander more towards the middle of the river you can occasionally find water closer to 30 feet.
When you reach the dolphin marker at the bottom of Davis bar, you can continue the troll, but the depths get considerably deeper. You have to really swing into the bank to try to maintain anything close to 35 feet. The bank here is a slow bend to the right along a sandy beach, and as you round the corner heading down stream you run right into a very popular bank fishing area called Frenchman’s Bar.
Plunkers do fairly well at Frenchman’s Bar and because of this, you’ll see lot’s of bankies doing their best to put ‘ol shiney eye on their own barbecue. If you’re in a boat make sure to give them a wide birth as tangling up a bank fisherman rarely makes for a happy encounter!
Right below Frenchman’s Bar is the beginning of the Caterpillar Island troll. This is a fantastic piece of water that hosts both anchor fisherman and trollers. You’ll even see a few plunkers who’ve walked down from Frenchman’s to fish the top part of the flat right below the channel marker at the top.
During a busy day at Caterpillar, the inside portion of the flat is usually tied up by anchor fisherman, and the outside is where the trollers make their passes. If it’s not to busy you can make trolling passes on the inside, but you have to pay attention for anchored boats to make sure and not troll up an unwanted anchor line!
The inside portion of Caterpillar Island is typified by 12-18 feet of water, and the outside of the bar is 18-25 feet. This section of river has more rolling humps than Davis Bar above. You’ll notice these humps as you troll downstream. I generally like my gear to be dragging over the shallow spots and then just ticking along as it gets deeper. You’ll often notice you mark fish in the deep spots just behind the little ledges and humps.Caterpillar seems to go on forever, but is, in my opinion, one of the nicest trolls below I5.
At the bottom end of Caterpillar if you look across the river, you’ll be looking at Willow Bar on the Oregon side. Bank plunkers typify this bar, but you can make passes on the outside of this bar if you keep to the outside. This is a deeper water troll, and will generally fish between 30-45 feet deep depending on how close you can get to the bar itself.
As you troll downstream around the corner (Willow Point) from Willow Bar you come to Social Security or Walton Beach. This is another very popular plunking spot, but can also be a decent troll when you stat to the outside of the plunkers. At Social Security Beach it’s much easier to stay closer to the 25-35 foot depth as you troll your way downstream.
At the bottom of Walton Beach, Collins Beach begins, but is more often referred to as the Naked Beach. This beach is a clothing optional beach, so be prepared if you troll through this section. This beach is typified by 12-18 foot depths on the inside, and 18-25 foot depths on the mid river side. This is another very nice piece of water, and it seems the fish sometimes sit up on the shelf on the inside corner between the bottom of Social Security Beach and the top end of Collins beach.
When trolling downstream on the Columbia, it’s most common to use 8-10 ounces of lead to keep your gear bouncing on the bottom. It’s important to troll downstream just slightly faster than the current, with just enough speed to get your herring spinning, but that’s all. You also really want your lead bouncing or dragging along the bottom. You will hook far more fish when you keep your offering kissing the dirt. Lead dropper lines of 12-18 inches are perfect, with 6-7 foot leaders. Flashers are a popular addition, but you can omit them if you desire. If the water is up, a flasher can be useful, but in the clearer tail water, it’s not usually necessary. Good soft herring rods are also a must with a G. Loomis SAMR 1265c and the GL2 version, the SAR 1265c being the gold standards with this technique. Pair these rods with a Tekota 300 Line Counter and you’re fishing the very best herring rod and reel combination made.
Boat ramps to access this section of river are at Portco and Caterpillar Island ramps in Washington. On the Oregon side, you’ll find launch locations at Cathedral Park, Scappoose Bay and Fred’s Marina.
Good luck out there, and I hope you find some spring chrome to brighten your day!
John Childs is a Columbia River Fishing Guide. For fishing reports and conversation be sure to follow him on his facebook page.