There are more close-to-home fishing opportunities now than at any time earlier this year. While fisheries for trout, shad, sturgeon (mostly catch amd release) and the warm-water clan consisting of bass, crappie, bluegill and perch have been going on for several weeks, other major fisheries are now open. For example, as of May 31 the Columbia opened for fin-clipped spring chinook. Regulations for these fish can change so check out the WDFW web site for updates: wdfw.wa.gov.
Columbia River Summer Steelhead
Anglers are catching summer steelhead from the lower Columbia and the fishing will only improve as the 281,000 summer steelhead move upriver. Realize that high river flows and lower-than-normal water temperature could cause Summer Steelhead numbers to build in the lower Columbia prior to crossing Bonneville. During high flows these fish will migrate close to shore, in sometimes surprisingly shallow water of about four to six feet. The numbers passing Bonneville Dam will increase dramatically during late June, which will signal the beginning of action on the lower Deschutes River and other Mid-Columbia tributaries open to the taking of fin-clipped steelhead.
If you try your luck for Summer Steelhead, keep in mind that ocean tides affect the lower Columbia and can influence the bite. For example, when tides are running (causing current) still fishing from shore or boat may be the most productive fishing method. When ocean tides cause the current to slow or stop, you should consider trolling a spinner or plug near bottom.
A size 4 Spin-N-Glo tipped with sand or coon shrimp threaded on the hook is what many bank and boat anglers rely on when targeting Summer Steelhead along the lower Columbia. High action plugs like a medium size FlatFish, Kwikfish or Mag Lip is what many boat anglers employ. Most rig their mid-size plug on a 48-inch leader combined with a 24-to-30 inch weight dropper line – try a longer weight dropper line when currents are fast moving.
If you haven’t tried this close-to-home fishery, you should. Summer Chinook were once the most plentiful of the chinook clan returning to the Columbia River system but habitat loss, due mostly to dams, cut their numbers to such low levels that the big river was closed to commercial and sport harvest for 29 years. Increased flow (to move young, out-migrating fish between the dams) and increase spill (to move smolt over the top of Federal dams and not through dam turbines) by a Federal Judge is what finally allowed the fish numbers to strengthen enough for managers to re-open the river to sport fishing in 2002 and every year since.
The year’s forecast for Summer Chinook is predicted to be 67,500 fish. The season is currently open west of Bonneville Dam and will remain so until the end of June.
In past years, I’ve had excellent success for Summer Chinook anchor fishing between Bonneville Dam and Beacon Rock. With the water temperature in late June averaging in the mid 60 degree range, we’ve had the best success anchoring in water depths ranging from 12-to-25 feet. How deep these fish might run is really dependent upon water temperature. For example, if the flows are high and cold, say in the low 60’s, you might find them migrating closer to shore.
Spinners have been our top producer when rigged on a 50-inch leader and 18-inch weight-dropper line. Since line twist can be an issue, we always rig a swivel half way down our leader. The best spinner colors have been metal finishes (when the sun is bright): copper, fluorescent red, flo green, chartreuse and rainbow colors produce better early in the day or when it’s overcast.
Columbia River Summer Chinooks represent a real prize when it comes to size, with many fish in the 25-to-35 pound range. Every year some lucky angler, perhaps your neighbor, lands a fish weighing in at 40-pounds or more.