Lower Columbia River Hogline Fall Chinook Fishing

Since the river water is warmer this time of the year as compared to the Spring Chinook fishery, you will probably need to fish the deeper sections of the river. This however could put you in or near the shipping lanes where you will need to be ever vigilant of passing ships.

Commercial Vessel Traffic : One thing to keep in mind is that this whole river is a means of commercial water travel for many different types of vessels, including ocean going ships and tugs. The normal shipping lane depths are dredged and kept at a minimum of 40 ft. The one thing here is that the ships will be coming in many times at a high tide because of a lesser current so upriver and downriver traffic can increase during the high tide. It may be very advisable to NOT anchor in their shipping lanes. These shipping lanes are just like a highway with upriver designated for the Oregon side, and downriver traffic designated for the Washington side of the lane.

Normal Fall Chinook fishing will be in deeper water and in or near the shipping lanes. Therefore, you plan on fishing and anchoring near these shipping lanes, it may be a good idea to become familiar with the “Rules of the Road” as far as who has right of way along with the whistles connected to them. If the vessel blows whistles you need to understand what he is saying to you. When things get bad, a small fast Coast Guard boat may also sneak downriver right behind a loaded commercial vessel and will be issuing citations if you do not move.

In the lower river, expect to find commercial traffic on VHF channel 13. In the Bonneville Dam area, expect to hear traffic on VHF channel 14. The tugs communicate with the dams on 14, and you will have at least a one hour notice that a towboat is headed your way.



Big Boat & close Are these guys crazy, lazy, tranquilized or all the above?  And where is the PFD for the child?  This ship is going downstream off the mouth of the Cowlitz River with little steerage.
Thanks to Ken Lane for the use of these photos





Season Settings : For setting seasons for this fishing, the DFWs for both Oregon and Washington together, set an estimated quota based on the number of returning “Jacks” the previous year. The jacks that return, are male salmon that get the urge to return a year earlier than the mature fish. Therefore, using this data and using a multiplier factor, the DFWs can predict to some degree of inaccuracy the following years estimated runs. The quota setting also has to take into account the ESA listings of some salmon from particular rivers, (of which are mixed into the possible take) the sport %, commercial %, and the tribal legal take. So there are complicated legal matters involved here.

These fish come up the Columbia River system, many are bound for the their home tributaries, as the Cowlitz, Lewis, Kalama, Willamette, Sandy, Yakima, Snake, etc. The first dam on the Columbia is Bonneville, it has a fish ladder with people employed as fish counters. Also at the Willamette falls is a fish ladder with counters, so a somewhat accurate count can be established. One of the websites for Bonneville is, http://www.fpc.org/CurrentDaily/7day-ytd_adults.htm .

There may need some explanations to this fish count data. The counters do not start until Feb 1 and shut down November when there are a minimal number of fish going over the dam. The “Spring Chinook” are by definition are salmon counted between Feb 1 and May 31. Summer salmon are those counted between June 1 and July 31. Fall salmon are those counted between August 1 and when the count is shut down in November.

Basic Info : This fall salmon fishing can be in the whole river system, but this article will specifically cover fishing from about Kalama downriver where there is a substantial tidal influence on the river. Here you need to govern your fishing by the tides. These fish are usually on the move on the outgoing tide, it has been found best to anchor, allowing the water flow to work plugs or spoons, preferably in one of their travel lanes. At the tide change where the flow is not enough to work the lures properly, you may then have to change your tactics and troll.

Basically the Spring and Fall Chinook fishery will vary from the standpoint that the spring fish will normally be concentrated near the Oregon shore line, while the fall fish tend to follow the Washington shore. Spring fish tend to run from 15# to 20#. Fall fish usually go larger, up to 45#. Also the spring fishing seems to produce better if using Kwikfish in water shallower than 30’ deep.

The fall fishery seems to be better in water depths of 40’ – 50’, using Clancy, Alvin or FST type spoons or wobblers.

Water Temperature : This time of the year, the water temperature is high (65 to 70 degrees +) in the Columbia if the summer season has had little rain by the time the fish have the urge to move up the river. The fish are used to ocean water in the low to mid 50s. The water temperature recorded at Bonneville Dam this time of the year usually will be 70 to 72 degrees, on the incoming tide at the mouth of the river, the cooler ocean water (56 degree) will come in and back upriver on the high tide, cooling the river water to possibly below 60. At the mouth, (buoy 10), the tide turns and starts running back out the temperature will raise to about 62-65 degrees. Once the fish move above this cooler water where there isn’t the cooler salt mix, this is really warmer for them to comfortably stay in. So the early fall Chinook above this estuary will more than likely then be found in the deeper water or holes, or at the mouths of the rivers dumping into the Columbia.



Here is a small hogline, notice the dropped off float just off the
rod-tip.  Also notice the rod angle of mid fisherpersons rod in this  boat the photo was taken from
Here the guide boat is returning to his old position & retrieving his anchor float after dropping off & landing a fish.


Fall Chinook:

Fish Size : These fish tend to run in the 20# – 45# size range.

Methods : Basically the methods for fall fishing is the same as for spring Chinook fishing listed under another heading, with these exceptions: The boat fishermen usually anchor up in a HogLine, while the bankies will cast out from shore and plunk fish.

The better locations will be this ledge in conjunction with a mouth of a river. The reason for this is that the water temperature will usually be cooler coming from these smaller rivers than the mainstem Columbia. The mouths usually have a deeper spot where they dump into the Columbia, this water will be cooler for two reasons. (1) that it is deeper and (2) it is from the side smaller river. The fish will tend to congregate in this cooler water before they continue on up the Columbia, or decide to go up their home side river.

Water Depth : The fall Chinook tend to favor deeper water, from 40’ to 50’ depth.

Lures : Here the use a Clancy or Alvin spoon/wobbler comes into play. These are rather large spoons. Their action is governed by the flow of the water and for these to function, they need to wobble from 3 to 9 o’clock, not rotate. If they rotate instead of wobble, the flow is too great and you need to possibly move over to spinners. These woblers may have to possibly be “tuned”. To do this place it in the water, it should not rotate, just a back and forth wobble. You may have to bend it in the middle for more of a bow to achieve this action.

To tune wobblers — The bend that you use to tune a wobbler is the one in the middle. Leave the wings alone. To slow the action you flatten the wobbler, to add action, you bend it more. Basically you do NOT want the wobbler to roll at all. Try and get a nice even swing from side to side and try varying the speed of that motion to find what is working that day. It doesn’t take much bending to change the action, so do little bends put it in the water and see what you get. Sometimes what works well today could possibly be off tomorrow.

Some years the fish may favor one brand lure over the other, or at the least color of the lure. It may be best to go to a model shop and purchase a few different colors, namely blue, green, and red. With these you can while on the water, paint stripes, dots, or combinations of these to try. You can also purchase a package of colored felt marker pens, that work quite well.

As with the Spring Chinook fishing, sometimes a Kwikfish could be a viable lure.

Shown below is a inexpensive method of adding scent to any lure. Just cut your leader, slide (2) 6mm beads on the lure end, add about 1/2″ of 1/4″ tubing, then tie it to a swivel between this now shorter leader with the longer leader to your mainline/keel/sinker. Slide the tubing onto the upper bead, inject the tubing cavity with liquid scent, slip the lower bead in place inside the lower end of the tubing. And hold the lower bead in place by a bobber stop knot made of Dacron or rubber band.



Here is a inexpensive scent dispenser




Sinker : Usually you will need a heavier weight than for the spring fishery, up to a 20 oz. round cannonball sinker off a 48” to 72″ dropper will be enough to keep the lure down. This dropper will be monofilament attached to a slider of some kind on the mainline.

Leader : Use a 48” to 72″ (depending on how far back and the weight you are using) of mono leader of 30-40# to your lure. Look at your line angle when you are fishing. If you are those that use a lighter sinker, then you may need the 72″ as the longer line you have out the lesser of a angle so you will need a longer leader since you want the lure near the bottom or say within 18″ or so. On the other hand if you simply throw over a 16 oz. sinker, let the river take it as it may, you may get along with a 48″ leader.

Line : Most fishermen seem to prefer the spectra type lines, or at least the first 50′- 60′ tied to a dacron backing.

Rods : Boat size and the number of fisherpersons determine many things. Rods may vary depending on the method and number of bodies in the boat. A stiff rod my hinder you, as will a limber or a to light a rod will also. For the novice, a rod that has a medium action, but yet allows movement clear to almost the reel base will catch more fish. By this is meant that when a fish takes the lure, the rod, being in a holder may move even enough to slap the tip into the water. What is happening is that the fish on a takedown will pick up the lure, not feel a lot of resistance, then turn to move away. The rod will bend enough to allow them to not realize there is something attached to the other end and by the time they do the hook has done it’s job. If you on the other hand are using a heavy action rod, the takedown will be a lesser movement before the resistance is felt and the fish can drop the lure before she is really hooked.

For the occasional fisherman, your normal 8′ 6″salmon rod will suffice. The same applies to just having 2 in the boat. However if you happen to have a larger boat and have many friends, things are changed. Lets say you have a large enough boat and have invited out 4 of your friends to go along to share the high fuel prices.

Since tangled lines are a dreaded, unwanted situation, you will anchored and the fisherpersons will normally be setting along the sides of the boat in close proximity of each other with 2 on each side with you probably in the stern in the middle. The 2 forward fishers may require a longer rod in a rod holder mounted so that the rod is pointing straight out, possibly with a 10’/10’6″er rod and start out as the tide starts to change by using a 8 oz sinker. The next set of fishers could use a 8’6″ or 9′ with the rod holders set to angling out at possibly 45 degrees or less to the rear of the boat and be using a 6 oz sinker. Your other rod will be straight off the stern and using possibly a 4 oz sinker.

The whole idea is to spread your gear out so it will not tangle, plus at the same time your boat is fishing a wider water column.

As the current may increase, everyone my have to increase the sinker weight in order to keep the gear on or near the bottom. The reverse is in order when the tide starts to slow down,

Rod Holders : Adjustable rod holders are a necessity.

Attractant : Here is a chance to use your WD-40 as a scent and preserve the spoons coloration. Many dedicated fishermen use “Lemon Joy” to wash the human scent off their hands when handling the tackle. You will find most fisherpersons prefer some scent, however sardine seems to be an all around favorite with many.

Things to Consider : If you like to fish close to your boat instead of allowing your lure to work back farther, you may consider to NOT anchor next to a guide who has a lots of lines out, covering lots of water with some farther back than yours may be.

Other Things to Consider : The fish tend to run in travel lanes, which may change with each hour of the tide. On a slack tide, they may move closer to shore, while as the tide starts to run, they may move out more into the river. If you are anchored nearer shore or a wing dam and the tide has dwindled enough that your lures are not working, you may consider moving more toward the center of the river to possibly pick up more of a flow, which may extend your fishing for another hour or so.

You may also be fishing in an area where there may be bankies casting far out, do not crowd them, give them enough room. You may encounter many bankies on the Kalama bar using a small aluminum boat ferrying lines and sinkers out 100 yards from shore. They get a bit irritated if you move near their fishing area, showing intentions of anchoring up.

Boat Positioning : On both of these fisheries, it is sometimes a chore is to maintain your position. One of the hardest appears to be on a outgoing tide with a wind blowing upriver. Having a cabin boat also can be a detriment in that your cabin acts as a sail. One note is that if your boat has an openable center window, open the window to allow the wind to go thru the boat instead of being caught by it. If the boat swings back and forth when the wind is blowing, or the tide gets closer to slack tide, it may be harder to tell when a fish hits the lure.

There are a couple of methods or a combination that may improve your odds. Number 1 would be to invest in a TR-1 Auto Pilot. Other than that use 2 drift socks, sometimes known as sea anchors. These do not need to be large for a small boat (18’er), a 12″ dia. upper hoop may be all that is necessary, while 16″ + may be right for a larger boat. Place these over the side on the rear corners of the boat. They do not need to be back more than 4″ to 6′. Keep in mind that the farther back they are the more chance of interfering with a possible fish is possible. All you want to do is keep the boat from swinging in the wind or slowing tide. As the tide approaches slack, you might consider removing the sock from the side your kicker motor is mounted on and then running the kicker in reverse, pulling the boat against the anchor to hold it straight.

Once the tide has slacked, then pull your gear and troll. You can use herring as if trolling in the ocean or use the same Kwikfish gear as spring chinook fishing, but troll it.

When you Hook a Fish While in a Hogline Situation :

When you hook a fish, here is one sequence of procedure that seems to work.

(1) reel in extra lines

(2) start kicker motor, ready to put in gear

(3) pull in socks

(4) throw out your excess anchor line and it’s buoy. Some stuff the excess line and a crab float or boat bumper into a mesh laundry bag.

(5) Have one person in the boat stand up holding the net upright. This tells others in the area that you are fighting a fish where they will hopefully react accordingly if they are near and it may appear that there could be a conflict (however it also tells the seals the same thing).

The other rods should be reeled in first thing. It’s easy to get tangled with your own crew while you do everything else. It may be also prudent to fire up the kicker AS SOON AS YOU CAN, just in case you need it to steer around boats, lines, etc. You never know when the current’s will throw you one way or the other. You could leave the sea anchors out until you get the other lines in as if you have to throw the anchor line over, they will help you drift back out of the line better.

Now, while you are getting the other lines in, and after a short period of time, you should be able to determine if the fish is a size, or hooked in a manner that it can be fought while still anchored. But that is one of the last decisions to be made before you decide to throw off the anchor line or not.

If the hogline is close, then hopefully the guys next to you will reel in too. Then soon as you drop and drift out of the way, they can start bouncing back and often get another fish out of that same school that is still moving upstream.

If the fish happens to tangle up with the extra rod or your neighbors line before you get it out of the water, so be it. THEY CAN then FREE SPOOL the reel. If your fish runs sideways and tangles your neighbors line, don’t get mad at him, your fish is the one you need to be disgusted with not the neighbor. Maybe you should have dropped off your anchor buoy sooner.

Be observant of a hogline below you. If you drop off to fight a fish, do not let your boat, or the fish get close enough to the lower hogline anchor lines, otherwise it or your boat may get tangled if you are not being observant. The best thing may be to if this is the case is to motor out into the shipping lane, pulling the fish with you. Then fight there out of the way of other fishing boats. All the more reason to use a substantial weight of mainline/leader.

It does get hectic when in a hogline, especially if there are sea lions in the area. If there are sea lions in the area then you will have to horse the fish to the boat as fast as possible, because they will be on the fish in a hurry. However one fisherman told me that if you use the Freon powered horn, place it underwater when you touch it off, the the pinepods don’t like that noise.


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