Columbia River Summer Chinook Fishing
With the late reopening of Spring Chinook, this year’s Columbia River Summer Chinook fishery certainly won’t get all the hoopla it’s received in years past. With the early fishing also comes early indicators and folks looking to fish for Summer Chinook through the closure on June 30th are looking to have some fun.
So after the last few years of ocean opportunity, it would be irresponsible of me to not offer up the staging area just north of the mouth of the Columbia River as the first place that anglers can get on these fish. Granted this area has been open since June 8th and often times the early fishing is best. Of course your ability to get on these fish is largely dependent on whether or not you can get over the bar, but if you can, you’re very likely going to find fish. Ocean offerings of herring and anchovies are typical. Much of this fishery happens inside of 50 feet of water and therefore many choose to fish lead. An SAR 1265 from G. Loomis is my standard weapon of choice when fishing herring or anchovies and the only real variable with this fishery is weather or not you’ll need a flasher or not. Turbidity can fluctuate near shore and because of this, it’s always a game time decision for me. Watch your forecasts and make it happen, I think you’ll be happy with your effort.
The next section of river is massive, but the reason I’ve included so much river, is that it all fishes very similarly. From Skamokawa, Washington down in tidewater to Bonneville Dam, just East of Portland is 120 miles of river and every bit of it is affected by tide. The lower in the river you go, the greater the effect. The outgoing tide is most people’s favorite, but over the last couple years, many have learned to troll spinners and herring with success. While at anchor, bait wrapped K13-K15 Kwikfish are the ever constant standby. Sardine is a popular wrap, but over the last few years, tuna has also been really good at times. The tuna can be either canned or a fresh/frozen belly and while the belly stays together a little easier, the canned can be easily assembled with a little spawn sack netting.
Coon Shrimp are also a great bait and are quickly becoming a go-to for just about anything that swims in the lower Columbia from June through July. Summer Chinook will swallow them, but so will the sockeye and steelhead. Fish your Coonies with a Spin and Glo, Corky and Thin Twin or size 3.5 or 4 Colorado spinner blades. I’m sure other colors work, but I like fishing pink, orange and red during this time of year. These colors simply produce so I haven’t looked for other colors in many years.
A G. Loomis SAPR 982 is about the perfect rod for fishing Coonies or Kwikfish during the Summer Chinook season. It has a soft tip, with some bone in the lower two thirds. They were originally designed to fish plugs, but I even use this rod to bounce up to 6 oz. I’m a big fan of pyramid sinkers in this lower section of river and for more on that you might want to check out the video I did on the subject called Lead Selection for the Lower Columbia River. It goes into great detail on this subject.
Also, everyone knows that dropper lengths on anchor can really matter. Strength of tide can affect how your gear is working and how close to the bottom that fish are running. I did a video on this that goes into the adjustments that I make throughout the tide called Dropper Lengths while fishing for Big C Summers. Yes, the video was primarily referring to summer steelhead, but the concept applies while fishing for any Salmon or steelhead on anchor in the Columbia River.
No matter where you fish in the lower river, putting yourself into a position to succeed is the key to success. If everything is equal on the bait front, then boat positioning is very important. The very best spots in the lower river channel fish right into your baits. Rock outcroppings are the most obvious, but the river has subsurface walls that exist throughout. These walls and outcroppings can be the difference between a couple opportunities and a dozen or more. A few of the spots are well known, but believe me when I tell you that others exist that nobody is camping out on.
Besides this horizontal channeling, other places that everyone should be looking for are the pieces of river that vertically channel fish. This might be a seventeen foot high spot in an otherwise twenty-four foot flat. I’ve made my living on these humps and the key is to make sure that your gear is fishing on top of the hump. Now if you can find a mix of both, you’ve probably found a place that you’re not going to want to show many people since you’re going to be railing on anything that swims up the river. I’ve been fortunate to have found a few of these spots over the years, but unfortunately many of these spots will be gone by the following year. The sandy bottom of the lower Columbia River is made new every winter, but a little sniffing around will always yield a new honey hole.
About 73,000 Summer Chinook are expected to return over the next several weeks, but anglers will also be fishing on runs of steelhead that are projected to be over 400,000 fish and sockeye which managers are predict to be at 180,000. Fishing for Summer Chinook and sockeye will remain open through June 30, but steelhead will remain open through general rules thereafter.
Lance Fisher is a Columbia River Fishing Guide. Feel free to connect with him on facebook or on twitter you can find him @lancefisherpdx.