Report- Sockeye Fishing on the Columbia River – Kid Friendly and Fun!- James Harper

columbia river sockeye fishingThe opportunity to catch Sockeye on the lower Columbia River is fast approaching and with almost half a million Sockeye moving up the Columbia, June is the month to catch these small, but feisty salmon.

Sockeye fishing is a great fishery for children, as these fish are great biters as long as the water temperature is just right – 56 degrees to about 65 degrees.  My daughter has been fishing with me since she was four months old, but the stroller limited us to well-traveled areas.  As she got older, a backpack allowed us to access more areas, and she was able to enjoy the outings more and more.  Her favorite place to fish by far is the Columbia River, where I am able to fish and she is able to play in the sand to her heart’s content.

When Aiden was three, I started fishing a rod for her, and she quickly learned to reel it in. The first fish she landed was a three pound sockeye and from then on, she was hooked.  Every night thereafter, she would ask, “Are we going fishing tomorrow, Daddy”?  And so we began targeting one of the smallest of salmon-  and have I mentioned that they taste good?

Sockeye are not that difficult to catch as long as you can locate the zone in which they are swimming.  I have concluded that sockeye swim in schools of five or six wide. If I find the spot where I have caught one already and stay in that zone, it’s a “fish on” kind of day.  As easy as this may sound, if I cast two feet over or under, I simply do not get any take downs.

Sockeye usually can be found in eight to fourteen feet of water, which tends to be rather close to the shoreline.  We fish from the shore with a 12’ medium action bar rod, using 20 pound test line and 6 to 10 ounces of lead.  It may sound like overkill for such a small fish, but sockeye fight hard for their size and you must also remember that summer Chinook and steelhead are also present in the Columbia during the sockeye run.  Who knows, something with a bit more girth might find your offering enticing.  It also takes a good fishing rod to handle throwing up to 10 ounces of lead, which is what it takes to hold in the high spring water we seem to get around here.

The lures we use are the same as that for steelhead: Spin n Glo and prawn.  Sockeye are krill eaters, so when I first started fishing for them, I downsized my bait to a coon stripe shrimp and size 6 Spin n Glo and couldn’t get them to bite.  I went back to a size 4 UV green/chrome  Spin n Glo with a whole cured pink prawn and the rod started to drop.  Couple this combination with an 18-inch lead line tied on a slider, and a 36 inch leader with two single hooks tied about 1 ½ inches apart.

For those who wish to troll for sockeye, I suggest using a small dodger, such as a Shasta Tackle sling blade in hot pink, with a 1 ½ to 2 inch pink hoochie with a piece of prawn. Troll at ¾-1 ½ miles per hour in roughly 15 feet of water, and your rod to should go down!

Take the kids out and have fun.  My daughter is so into this fishery that when my wife and I were picking names for our baby boy, we asked her for suggestions. Aiden’s top
choice? “Sockeye.”  Now, on the river, little Owen is known only as Sockeye.

Columbia River Sockeye Seasons:

  • May 16 – June 15, 2012 (or until guideline) from Tongue Point/Rocky Point line upstream to the I-5 Bridge.
  • June 16 – July 1, 2012 (or until guideline) from Astoria-Megler Bridge upstream to Bonneville Dam.
  • June 16 – July 31, 2012 from Bonneville Dam upstream to the OR/WA border.
  • All sockeye count towards the adult salmonid daily limit regardless of size.



James Harper is the owner of Harper’s Tackle and Outdoor on the shores of the Lewis River in Woodland, Washington.  To contact Harper’s you can reach them at (360) 841-8292, or