“Dark Chins” Starting To Show; Mainstem Season Still Set To Close On April 4th
Columbia River Fishing Report – Well, it’s underway. Although anglers can never expect limit results for Columbia River spring Chinook, reports of better fishing are happening through verbal reports, and scientific creel census too backs up the fact that the fish are coming.
Yea, it’s still early, but it’s cool that catch rates are improving and a bit surprising to me that more “dark chins” (Upper Columbia River bound: Idaho) fish are starting to show in the catches. ODF&W Columbia River manager Jimmy Watts summed up the creel check this way, “Last week on the lower Columbia, anglers made 3,332 trips and caught 73 adult spring Chinook (66 kept and seven released) and 66 winter steelhead (25 kept and 41 released). Based on preliminary VSI sampling, upriver spring Chinook comprised 48% of the retained catch.”
Well, catch rates are improving at least but one Chinook for every 45 rods still sounds like a daunting day. These Columbia River spring Chinook are something to behold however. Their deep red flesh and purple backs make for some memorable eating if you get lucky.
For Oregon boat and bank anglers, the lower reaches of the river keep proving to be the most productive. One boat, a proven avid angler reported a 5 springer day out of Cathlamet on Wednesday. That is by far an anomaly as most boats are struggling for just a single bite. That source has neither confirmed or denied that report… I simply got an “LOL” after asking directly. A 5-fish day this time of the season seems a bit April-foolish… This just in! I got a phone call from this un-named avid angler, confirming that they actually caught 4 keeper adult springers at Cathlamet, and released another two jacks to boot. He is a very skilled fisherman but this is an impressive catch for anyone, no matter how good they are. The angler mentioned with a grin, that’s his best day ever for Columbia River spring Chinook!
The tides this week weren’t all that conducive to bank fishing, but that will change this weekend. We’ll cover that in the forecast section. Herring is the tool of choice for trollers working this area and although some anglers found a stash of green labels or had some from last year, most trollers are having to work with orange label herring, yea, those are small.
Trollers are running the whole herring, mostly behind triangle flashers. It may be a bit early for Pro Trolls since those need to be trolled fast to be most effective. In the colder flows, slower is often better. It’s definitely a good idea to rig those baits whole, an orange label herring is pretty darned small to plug-cut.
With most of the action downstream of Longview, trollers working the airport reach or Davis or Frenchman’s Bar are far from impressed. These fish are slow moving in these temperatures so they’ll likely continue to migrate slowly over the next few weeks.
Anglers are also still dealing with high densities of smelt in the region. One angler reported 12 smelt in the stomach of one springer he caught, talk about unlucky number 13…
It’s all going to get better and counts at Bonneville are finally trending up. Thirty-six springers are now on the counting board at Bonneville, here we go!
Steelhead numbers are not all that bad either. In fact, they are keeping pace with the spring Chinook in the system although there are more wild fish than hatchery at this point. There’s a good chance that if you are catching a hatchery winter steelhead, it’s likely a summer-run, and they’re darn tasty this fresh from the salt. The wild fish are likely winter steelhead, destined for the Willamette, Clackamas or Sandy River systems.
Anglers got a bit of good news this week, about a retention season for sturgeon downstream of Wauna forthcoming around mid-May. The official press release is below, but in short, there’s a dozen days on the table, let’s hope we get through them all. Two September dates were adopted for the fishery upstream of Wauna as well.
Oregon Fish and Wildlife
John North (971) 673-6029
Adam Baylor (503) 930-7116
March 24, 2021
States approve 2021 sturgeon retention seasons below Bonneville Dam
CLACKAMAS, Ore. – Fishery managers from Oregon and Washington recently adopted two recreational white sturgeon retention fisheries for the lower Columbia River downstream of Bonneville Dam.
The first fishery will occur from the Wauna powerlines (at river mile 40) downstream to Buoy 10 at the Columbia River mouth, including Youngs Bay and adjacent Washington tributaries. During this fishery, anglers will be allowed to harvest legal-sized white sturgeon three days a week: Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, from May 10 through June 5. On all days open to sturgeon retention, fishing (including catch and release) is prohibited after 2 p.m.
The season will be managed to a harvest guideline of 2,960 fish, which could require in-season fishery modifications if catches are higher than anticipated.
The second fishery will occur from the Wauna powerlines upstream to Bonneville Dam, including the Cowlitz River in Washington. During this fishery, sturgeon retention will be allowed on September 11 and 18 (both Saturdays) with no additional time restrictions. The fishery will be managed to a harvest guideline of 1,230 fish.
For both fisheries, the daily bag limit is one legal-sized white sturgeon, with a statewide annual bag limit of two fish. Legal-size white sturgeon are those measuring a minimum of 44 inches and a maximum of 50 inches fork length, which is measured in a straight line under the fish from the tip of the nose to the fork in the caudal (tail) fin with the fish laying on a flat surface. Retention of green sturgeon is prohibited and single point barbless hooks are required when angling for sturgeon. All other permanent regulations remain in effect.
ODFW fishery managers did not recommend a sturgeon season for the lower Willamette River at this time but indicated a mid-June fishery as occurred in 2020 is being considered.
Catch and release fishing is open year-round except as noted above and during specific spawning sanctuary timeframes. Current regulations are available at: https://myodfw.com/recreation-report/fishing-report/columbia-zone
The Guide’s Forecast – Afternoon tides will improve for bank anglers working the lower Columbia for spring Chinook and steelhead, and the corresponding strong incoming tide will bolster catches for spring Chinook anglers as well from Tongue Point to Longview. Anglers have some advantages on their side.
Besides the tide, we’re moving more into the migration season, anglers will only have until April 4th to strike chrome on the mainstem Columbia, even though peak passage happens closer to mid-May.
This week anglers will be working with a stronger tide series so if you’re fishing the mainstem, it would be wise to consider anchor fishing with plugs or a rolling herring to entice biters. Herring, if properly worked where it spins in the outgoing tide, can be quite effective. Of course plugs remain a favorite too and if you happen to have some smelt from the recent season, why wouldn’t you wrap a fillet of smelt on the underside of a plug anyway? Just sayin…
Although the lower river, downstream of Longview will likely remain one of the better bets for anglers, those fishing upstream to the airport or even in the gorge, should start to realize improving odds in the coming weeks. It may still be a bit too early to consider your odds high, but there should be some biters available, especially if you fish that reach with more confidence than say, Westport in Clifton Channel or Tenasillahe Island.
In short, troll whole herring behind triangle flashers on the flood tide, anchor fish with plugs or herring on the outgoing tide.
Bank anglers should stand a fair chance in the ripping afternoon outgoing tide, using green, purple, pink or orange for both spring Chinook and steelhead, which should be fairly responsive this weekend and into next week. Don’t overlook the value of scent for this fishery. Plunking is the only technique where fish have to come to you, so scent can play a key role in success.
And just because the better tide is in the afternoon, doesn’t mean the fishing won’t be productive. The early “morning bite” is far from consistent so treat it that way.
If you’re going to fish the airport reach, anchor fishing will be the best option, especially with a strong outgoing tide and the spring flows starting to show. The water will likely be moving too fast to have a high degree of confidence trolling downstream, like we always do in this reach. Save this section for when the incoming tides are stronger, but maybe more importantly, when there’s more fish around.
As we’ve indicated before, the gorge is an option, but not maybe your best one. Flows will be running hard here too, but there seems to be some slower lanes where trollers can be more successful too, around Multnomah to Horsetail Falls. It’s important to reiterate however, there aren’t an abundance of fish around, there’s only been 36 cross Bonneville Dam to date.
It really comes down to where you have the highest degree of confidence, but look at it this way, what do you have to lose in learning a new spot if yours isn’t going to produce all that well anyway?