Columbia River Spring Chinook Fishing- Government Island, The Airport, I-5 Bridge
As we roll into the middle of March, Spring Chinook fishing on the Columbia River is beginning to take shape. What was just a shot in the dark, is now becoming real opportunity as the dates quickly progress towards critical mass. The Portland/Vancouver area will be ground zero for many PNW Salmon fishermen not just because of it’s close proximity to Portland, but because there’s simply a lot of Salmon that get caught in the section of the Columbia River that flows through the Vancouver/PDX area.
After last weeks focus on fishing Davis Bar, we’re going to move up the river a bit to look at the section of river between the railroad trestle just west of the I5 Bridge and Government Island which is located slightly east of the Airport.
The trolling references in this article always refers to the downstream trolling of herring. Although you will find Prawn Spinners in the game, most troll herring. A typical set up includes a soft herring rod like an SAPR or SAR 1265 from G. Loomis paired with a Shimano, 500 Tekota Line Counter. If you’re new to the game, I’d strongly encourage you to purchase the right rod and reel the first time around. This G. Loomis/Shimano combination that I’ve described will be the last rod
and reel combination of this type that you will ever need to buy. Notice I didn’t say “want” 😉 Run a sliding sinker set up with an 18″ dropper. If you prefer to run a flasher, run 18″ of leader material from your main line swivel to the flasher and then 4 1/2′ of leader to the hooks. The Gamakatsu Finesse Wide Gap hook is a great herring hook and will prove very valuable with it’s straight point and deep belly countering the lack of barbs that anglers now have to fish.
Anchor fishing set ups consist 18-36″ droppers and a 5′ section of leader to the plug or spinner. The very best anchor fishermen run multiple dropper lengths and adjust with the tide. To learn more about this, I did a “dropper length” video on this concept for the lower Columbia that may offer some helpful suggestions on this subject. I’m a soft rod and soft drag guy and believe the G. Loomis SAR and SAPR 1265 that I referenced on the herring fishing can double very well to be used when running plugs. Additionally, if you want to get really technique specific, you might want to look at the SAPR 982 or obtain a bit more power by going to the SAPR 983 for plug and spinner fishing at anchor. These rods run plugs real well, but many pros also use them to back bounce as well. Pair these rods with a Tekota or Calcutta series reel and you can eliminate any concern you may have about your gear.
So for the sake of the ambiguity of many of my suggestions in this article, I should probably explain the “some years”, “can be” and “might” expressions in this article by saying, “Every year is different!”. What fished last year, may not fish as well this year and vice versa. The suggestions in this article are to provide you with a map of possibilities and who knows, you may find other areas that I haven’t mentioned. Snow pack, water temperature and I’m sure, a few things that we don’t have measurements for will all effect travel lanes from year to year. As a result, many of my early trips, coupled with a constant checking of reports allows me to, year on year, figure out the areas that this years fish are frequenting.
Government Island is also a very productive trolling area during years with lighter flows. The bottom is characterized like much of the lower Columbia as washboard like, but I think the peaks and valleys of the Government Island area are even more pronounced that many of the other areas. Your trolling lane will be dependent on where anchor boats are lined up, but also flows. Productive depths are just the same as for the anchor guys which is between 15 and 32 feet, but occassionally you will see fish caught on the bottom of the channel. As you arrive at the 205 bridge many will begin to transition river right, but productive fishing remains to the bottom of the sand. The area just below the bridge can also be productive anchor water as the sandbar at the bottom end of Governemnt Island will channel fish to it’s north.Government Island is the easterly most point that we’ll cover in this article and lies directly west of the Chinook Landing boat ramp operated by METRO. The island has a south side that can produce during high water, but most of the pressure is to the north of the island. The area is frequented by both anchor boats and trollers and it’s a debate as to which is most productive. Both have days and years that they shine. Anchor fishermen will anchor in anywhere between 15 and 32 feet of water depending on flows. The greater the flow, the shallower you’ll want to anchor. The lighter the flows, the deeper. I use this only as a rule of thumb as anyone who has Springer fished will remember many of these “rules of thumb” that don’t hold water on occassion. Most use sardine or tuna wrapped plugs, but some will run spinners with success.
The area in front of the airport offers fishing both north and south. The lane along the Washington shore is the most popular side of the river providing a straight shot to the “red line”. The river will neck down slightly at the condominiums at the bottom and many will interupt the pass here to run back up to an area just below the 205 bridge. Trolling depths between 17 and 30 feet of water exist in this area depending on the year. The “red line” located on the Washington shore just above the I-5 Bridge is a popular pass. You can run this pass tight to the shore or right on the can.
To the south you’ll see a variety of docks and although not as popular, the docks can fish great. There has been past years that this area has been really productive with a fraction of the pressure as the Washington side. You can actually continue on past the docks and move towards the I-5 Bridge without ever pulling the rods. You’ll want to cut a slight angle to the north and into the middle of the river as you leave the docks, but it will be easy enough to see the river come up on your graph as you move to the west. With this route you’ve got the option of running right at the middle of the I-5 Bridge or running back along the Oregon shore on your approach.
The I5 Bridge
As you approach the bridge, understand that there are some nasty snags around the bridge. I actually reel up and then redrop once I confirm on my graph that I’m clear of these piles of gear grabbing rubble. No matter which shore you came from the best trolling lane between the I-5 Bridge and the railroad trestle is on the Oregon half of the river. If you trolled down the “red line” you’ll want to move over to the south somewhere in the immediate vicinity of I-5. The shelf that sits on the Oregon half of the river kicks out lots of fish and will fish between 30-35 feet. The pass is complete about 50 yards past the railroad trestel and from their, most either head back up to whatever starting point might be the most productive, or one can move on down the river towards Davis Bar.
The area is serviced by several boat ramps which leads to much of the areas popularity. On the Washington Shore you can launch just slightly east of the “red line” at PortCo. On the Oregon side the Gleason/42nd Street/Marine Drive boat ramp puts you just below the airport and right in the middle of Government Island and I-5. You can also reach the Government Island area in particular from the Chinook Landing ramp just to the east of Government Island.
Lance Fisher is a NW fishing guide and radio host in the NW. To connect with Lance you can find him on his facebook page or at lancefisherfishing.com.