Lower Columbia River Spring Chinook Fishing

The Fishery Itself : The majority of the Spring Chinook will return to the upper Columbia River system. These will be headed for the upper Columbia tributaries and the Snake River systems. Below Bonneville Dam there is a small run that heads up the Sandy River. The Willamette has a decent run in it. Below that the Kalama, Lewis and Cowlitz also have small runs. The Willamette spring fish are of a early run strain and usually will be the first to show in the Columbia also partly because Oregon DFG releases their smolt a few weeks ahead of Washington DFW.

The bulk of these Spring Chinook will be 4 year old fish, (like about 80%). Since springer smolt do not out-migrate for about a year, they are spend less time in the saltwater. Therefore a “4 year” may only weigh in at between 9 to 14# while a “5 year” fish may go 15-25#.

The Oregon DFW and Washington DFW hold public meetings in February to try to establish guidelines for how many fish they estimate will be returning and how they will be split up between the Tribal Indians, commercial fishing and sport fishers with the target being the to be under Endangered Specie Act percentages for returning wild fish. This gets very complicated, since the departments appear to be throwing darts to come up with the estimated returns, usually the run will be lower than estimated then the sport fishers take it in the shorts as the gill-netters take their allocation at the start of the runs, based on a forecast. But if the run falls short and the season is closed, (based on catches and the count number over Bonneville dam) the sport group gets cut off before their preset season is over and their allocated quota is met. The sport season is set so that it usually runs the whole month of April. However on a low return year, the season has been shut down on the 14th.

One requirement established is this excerpt from WDFW regulations. “All salmon required to be released may not be totally removed from the water, except anglers fishing from boats 30 feet or longer as listed on either their state or Coast Guard registration are exempt” from this rule.

This fishery starts at Astoria when the run enters the river, and moves upriver as the majority of the fish then migrate upriver. Cathlamet will be the next spot to fish, with the Longview area being next. Then the mouth of the Lewis, and then on upstream to the Willamette, Cammas and the Sandy River areas. Water temperature may effect the run timing if its colder than normal.

You can check the Bonneville fish count at http://www.fpc.org/adult.html or http://www.cqs.washington.edu/dart/dart.html or http://www.fpc.org/CurrentDaily/7day-ytd_adults.htm

There are numbers thrown out along with lots of confusion. The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) issues numbers and at times these are for fish crossing the Columbia River bar. We as peons have to rely on numbers supplied to us or Bonneville fish counts, so possibly my chart below is screwed.

This table listed below was initially thought to be only for the numbers of Chinook OVER Bonneville Dam, which would not include the lower river fish. So maybe I am just confusing people, but that may be what WDFW wants.

Traditionally, the cut off for counting springers at Bonneville was May 31 however it has been slid back to June 15 because a 2005 study was done and it seems that they decided there was a overlap of spring fish and summer fish, so moving it 15 days gave them a larger timeframe for springers. Typically the old summer count used to be from June 1 to July 31. The fall Chinook counting date starts August 1.

Where it gets confusing to the average person and possibly on purpose, is for instance for 2011 the total Spring Chinook forecast numbers (at the Columbia River mouth) for the Columbia and all tributaries is 331,800 but is split between lower river numbers of 133,400 while the upriver (above Bonneville) is 198,400. So when you see or hear numbers, unless these are identified it means little. Also are these forecast estimates, revised estimates, 2nd revision forecasts or actual numbers?

Also you will notice some of the numbers are missing. The reason is that the below table has been compiled from different sources and at different dates, as WDFW data may be there, but hard to run down or even interpret if you can find it, so some of this may not be totally accurate as I doubt you will find it on WDFW info in one location.


Spring Chinook  (UPB) Summer Chinook  Fall Chinook (UPB)
Year pre-season  forecast Revised to actual run size % Predicted Predicted
Over Bonneville
pre-season  forecast Revised to actual run size % Predicted pre-season  forecast Revised to actual run size % Predicted
2014 227,000 308,000 227,000 67,500
2013 141,400 121,100 123,100* 73,500 119,283 678,000 1,064,242
2012 314,200 203,100 141,400 91,200 73,500 58,300 651,300 654,900 512,300
2011 198,400 198,400 91,400 760,600
2010 470,000 319,200* 315,345* 277,423* 88,000 82,000 72,346 664,800 652,700
2009 353,700 169,300 114,544* 32.3% 81,936 510,900 418,300
2008 326,300 223,330* 68.4% 269,300 178,800 376,800
2007 78,500 86,200* 110%
2006 88,400 132,100* 149%
2005 254,100  80,000 74,038* 29.2% 78,373 415,983
2004 360,700 193,400 54%
2003 145,400 208,900 144%
2002 333,700 295,100 88%
2001 364,600 416,500 114%
2000 134,000 178,000 133%
1999 24,600 38,700 157%
1998 36,200 38,300 106%
1997 67,800 114,000 168%
1996 37,200 51,500 138%
1995 12,000 9,800 82%

Final 2010 Bonneville count on June 15…. 277.4K
Plus 32K non-treaty take below Bonne…. 309.4K
Plus 5K treaty take below Bonne…. 314.4K
Plus 5% furbag take below Bonne…. 329.7K to the CR mouth.
About 30% short of pre-season forecast.





(*) In 2005 WDFW did some scale sampling and decided that the May 31 cut-off date between Spring and Summer Chinook really needed to be 2 weeks later. For years, there was no summer season, so it made little consequences by pushing the date back to June 15th. But what this did essentially was to artificially increase the number of spring fish, allowing an additional few days of netting for the commercials on supposedly spring fish.

(*) Revision by (TAC) Technical Advisory Committee 9-20-2010. Fall Chinook passage at Bonneville Dam during August 1 through September 19 totals 354,000 adults, including 243,100 bright stock and 110,900 Tule stock. Based on the recent 5-year average, adult Chinook passage is typically 81% complete by September 19.

Do not jump to conclusions after looking at this table, as it does not show drought years where the water flow or water temperature that may have effected outgoing smolts. Plus there are so many variables that it is about impossible to pinpoint any 1 or 2 prime causes.

Another thing to take into consideration is when are the commercial gill netters on the river? They usually are netting from 8 PM to 8 AM so will usually be off the river when the bulk of the sport fishermen arrive. But with the whole fleet netting all night, it usually would behoove you to spend that day & even the next doing something else, especially if the netting fleet was anywhere effective.

When : The season apparently is open Jan 1, but there are usually not any fish in the river until at least mid February. Ocean salmon like water at 52 degrees. But this does not usually happen for the springers as the real start will be when the water temperature reaches 45 degrees and the turbidity gets to above 1 1/2 feet. The bite increases with the water temperature, at 47 it picks up, but by 49 they get real aggressive. The sports season will usually run thru April. It may shut it down, DFW take a look at the sports and netters takes, then re-evaluate it to reopen for a period of time later until the quota is taken.

The Department of Fisheries initially sets the seasons during public preseason management meetings. The dates catches and seasons for both the commercial netters and recreational fishers are set using the preseason return estimates established by both Washington and Oregon. There seems to be some magical formula based on the number of returning jack Chinook from the previous year, and the outbound smolt trapping numbers, the moon phase, water temperature in the Great Lakes along with the traffic highway count northbound over the I-5 bridge across the Columbia River in Portland between midnight and 5 AM on the 2nd Tuesdays of each month. There however seems to be no collation in these calculations between the number of fish caught in Alaska or Canada or marine mammal predication before they reach our waters.

The commercial gill net fishers get their seasons set by what the “Depts.” calls “Front End Loading”. This means the commercials get their season set by the preseason estimates. And they usually get to fish before the recreational fishers when the traditional runs should be in the river. It is not necessarily the number of fish caught, but the number of ESA impacted protected fish that are taken. There have been times when the commercials took their share AND the recreational % as well and the season was shut down with little chance for the recreationals to have much time on the water.

The recreational seasons are usually negotiated and set so that the recreational fisherpersons get to fish through the month of April. However sometimes this does not work out if the run size happens to be late or overestimated. Usually when the run is late it will also be smaller. There is a Columbia River Compact Committee, which is made up of both Washington and Oregon fish managers, representatives of both the commercial and recreational interests. This committee is instrumental in setting the start dates, but more importantly the closing dates. If the run size is late or small as referenced to the fish count over Bonneville Dam, the compact will have phone conference calls once a week to decide if the season needs to be closed or on shortened on a short notice thereafter their calls.

Best fishing is usually going on for about 6 weeks in late March through April and into May if the season is allowed to continue that long. This time of the year is known for changing weather. Take your rain gear along. It can be totally different when you get to the launch than when you left home in the morning. Wind would be the crucial thing effecting boating safety or fishing conditions. Fishing methods and places may change from year to year depending the water flow. This flow then depends on the winter rain and snow-pack melt-off. Also in the mix is the water temperature, as the fish tend to not want to enter if the water is to cold. Fish have been pulled at a temperature of 42 degrees, but 56 or 58 is better. However if you wait for that temperature, the season may be over.

The year 2006 run was late. At the first of May the total over the dam was only about 2,500 fish. And 2011 was even later with just over 100 by the 1st of May.

Tides : Each fisherman will also have their favorite time of tide depending on the method of fishing used. The most commonly thought bite time is 2 hours before and thru 2 hours after tide change. But then there is usually a daylight bite also. So IF you happen to get a tide change at daylight, BE THERE. Then there are some fishermen that are there no matter what the tide. The methods used will also depend on the tidal effects on the river.

Most experienced boat fishermen will troll the low slack, incoming and high tide slack, and then anchor up on the faster moving outgoing tide. The reason appears to be that the slower slack and tide change water is more conducive to trolling, and also easier to operate the boat. And the fish tend to travel upstream into the current.

The faster outgoing water is running just too fast in places to troll, unless you troll downstream, make a pass and then run back upstream for another downstream troll. If the water is moving to fast for downstream trolling, then turn the boat around, attempt to troll upstream, but allow the boat to slip downstream, this is called back-trolling. The faster outgoing tide is needed to get action on Kwikfish anchored from a boat. However, depending on where you are in the river system and the season set by the WDFW, this time of the year the flow will also depend on the amount of water the dams are spilling. If the spill is great enough, the current may be going fast enough no matter where you are in the tide that a Kwikfish will function anytime.

Another thing to consider is that on these high runoff or combo of it and a large outgoing tide, the fish are lazy and tend to stay closer to shore in more protected water OR they will find a depression on the bottom then hold there.

I guess the pre-requisite is that you have to have your lure in the water before you can expect to catch fish.

The tide influence on The Columbia goes clear to Bonneville Dam and on the Willamette to Oregon City. At Longview it is about 2hrs, 25 min on high tide, with the low tide at about 4 hrs difference from Astoria tide tables. From Camas Launch and upstream you may have to watch really close, as in this area most part it is controlled by flow from Bonneville dam.

Normally on the outgoing tide you normally want to anchor up, use KwikFish, or a spinner. After the tide slows down enough to make it ineffective for these function, you may be able to find a spot where you may want to back troll. However if the wind is blowing enough (which happens often) this can be a problem controlling the boat. Usually by then, the tide has ebbed and the current flat enough that is is then better to troll.

Some say to fish the Oregon side of the river early in the season, they say because many of these fish are Willamette River fish and they can smell their home water. This may be somewhat true for the early part of the run, which are usually Willamette fish. I tend to think that the fish travel areas of the river that is easier for them to negotiate. This could be water from 6 feet to 50 feet. they will usually be on the bottom in the shallower water, but when they are crossing over a deeper slot they will be suspended and not on the bottom.

The saltwater influence may be up river to near Cathlamet. In the springer fishing, if you look for the breakline you can often see frothy water, when the wind is blowing. You may often see a line on your sonar the more dense water on the ebb tide.

Not in Deep Water : These Chinook will NOT normally be found in deep water. Do not think like a Blackmouth fisherman in this fishery. They will travel in what appears to them the shortest route. So you need to think like a fish then try to intercept them as they go around a point, a wing jetty or an island. This means that they will not normally be found in a deep, slack water hole. You will have to read the water, as they will not normally be in the swifter water, or on the outside bends of the river. They will cut corners and follow the underwater seams. The migration routes will usually be the same from year to year if the water flow is about the same. The normal target depths would be from 17′ to 20′ range, however do not pass up a good looking shelf with water of 6′. They travel in small schools, so if you catch one, and are trolling, go back and cover the same basic area again.

Funny thing about it, is that the fish have to swim up the whole river, not just sections that ‘look’ fishy or have boats all over them. Lots of people swear by certain depths, my opinion is that it depends on where you are fishing. Look for the streams within the river. Like in smaller rivers, there are typical locations to catch fish, but those may vary between 8-30 feet deep. If you just insist on fishing water that is 18 feet deep, you could be missing out.

These fish may be in shallower water early in the mornings and as the day brightens, or if there is a lot of boat traffic, they tend to slip into deeper water.

Spend some time on the river and do some homework, use some of the old charts that show the river bottom which is something you can take time to look at instead of relying on a GPS plotter screen while on the water. Take notes as to water temperature. Watch who catches fish in a given location. Look at a topographical map of the river. When the tide is flooding (and no one is anchor fishing), go over that spot with your sonar. Both parallel to the bank and perpendicular to it. Not where the boats were anchored, but where the baits were sitting. Look at your map, and try to see if there is some contour or structure the fish are keying in on. Are the fish cutting a corner? Are they running a “ditch” in the bottom that may only be 1′ deeper than the water around it? Is there a rise or drop off they are working around or over? Sometimes its just a big “flat” and the fish work across the whole thing.

With a good chart and some time on the water, you will begin to see that depth is less important than knowing where to fish in a given area. Think about it. Some folks catch fish in less than 20′. Some in 30′ and still others in over 40′ (all on the bottom). Why is this? Because they have a spot located where the fish have to swim through.

Also, instead of “spot hopping”, try to learn one spot at a time. Fish it for several days, adjusting your technique or position with the new things you have learned. Try to learn something new every time you go out. The season and catchable fish will vary from year to year depending on the projected run, along with the percentage of allowable endangered fish that can be harvested and yet remain within the Federal guidelines. This salmon run is early enough in the year that it may not show in the fish regulation pamphlet.

If they do open a season, don’t wait around until 1,000 fish go over Bonneville each day, get out on the water and fish it, because it will close when the WDFW and ODFG see it nearing the quota. Some years see no open season due to a very low estimate, which equates to not enough escapement for natural spawning, while other years may see a short season depending on the forecast.

The year 2001 saw a large number of returning fish with 2002 predicted to be right behind with a slightly less number. The first part of the 2001 season you could keep any Chinook. Later it was changed to only one adipose fin clipped Chinook. The fish caught were mostly in the 12-15# size with a few approaching 30#. Some years they may allow you 2 fin clipped Chinook. Do not be wooed into thinking that since they print in the regs that the limit is 6 Chinook, of which only 1 or 2 may be an adult, that OH BOY, I have a chance at 6 fish. Hogwash,– if you look at the numbers going over Bonneville dam at any given day, the number of Jacks, (these are male fish that get the urge to return a year early) are way low in comparison to the adults. Your chances to catch 4 Jacks a day are so slim that if you even catch one, you had better go out and buy a lottery ticket.

You Will be Counted Even if No One Contacts You : The fish and game departments may not check your fish, yet you will be counted. They will fly over the river, count boats and bank fishermen. Other fish checkers may check the boaters at SOME launches and Some of the bankies. Their percentage of success per rod is then factored into a formula of total fisherpersons counted and averaged out. What number of bodies do they use per boat in this equation?

Depending on the water color, you might also take into consideration whether the sun is out or not as to exactly where you fish. It is very likely that they will tend to be a little deeper water on a bright day.

Methods : There are many ways to fish for these salmon, but normally they are (1) anchoring, (2) trolling, (3) back-trolling, (4) plunking, (5) Casting from shore, or a combination of these. For a link to an anchoring article on the Columbia River, CLICK HERE. Every fisherperson seems to have their own personal favorite gear. All of these methods seem to catch fish.

On the outgoing tide the normal method is to anchor up and use KwikFish, or a spinner, even a herring. After the tide slows down enough to make it ineffective for these function, you may be able to find a spot where you may want to back troll. However if the wind is blowing enough this can be a problem controlling the boat. Usually by then, the tide has ebbed and the current flat enough that is is then better to troll.

The WDFW regulations for this fishery as of 2002 do not stipulate “barbless hooks only”, therefore, the use of BARBED HOOKS appear to be legal. But somewhere in the regs it says barbless hooks required on non-floating devices, so ???. In 2013, Oregon went to barbless because of the Governors intervention in changing the gill-netting on the river, so one concession for the recreationals was to go to barbless for conservations sake. With Oregon going barbless, Washington followed as this river has shared jurisdiction between the states, so for enforcement clarity, both are now the same. And it also seems that all tributaries are included in this IF you are fishing for salmon. Steelhead are exempted.



Big Ship & close.   After this incident, law enforcement did a few citations during the next week Are these guys in their anchored boats crazy, lazy, tranquilized or all the above?  And where is the PFD for the child?  This ship is going downstream with very little steerage.
Thanks to Ken Lane for the use of this photo that was taken on the Columbia River at the mouth of the Cowlitz during a fall Chinook outing in late October 2006


(1) Anchor & Use Plugs or Spinners : The tidal exchange is the greatest on the Lower Columbia, subsiding as you move upriver, and you will see some tidal movement all the way up to Portland. There however will not be an exchange in the tide there, but just the river raising or lowering, with a slightly slower current at the high end of the tide. Anchoring and fishing from a boat with bait-wrapped salmon plugs behind a boat is effective if the current is enough to work these plugs. This is especially popular at the mouths of the Cowlitz, Lewis, Kalama, and Sandy Rivers. It can also be done below Bonneville Dam, but depending on the water flow can get dangerous for the inexperienced.

When choosing a spinner, #3 or 4’s are normal springer spinner blades….cooler water, smaller profile. Larger blades would normally be used for fall Chinook # 5, 6, 7’s are for summer/fall fish, …warm water, larger profile. Herring are also used for springers when water is cold. However NEVER be afraid to break from the crowd or the rule book to search for a better producing pattern. Fish don’t read rule books or always follow them. The best fishermen are not clones, they are innovators that are not afraid to use creative intuition and break from the crowd or conventional wisdom.

Those of you interested in this method may be advised in purchasing Bob Toman’s underwater DVDs giving a good showing of what and how things happen for under water fish bite.


Here is the Columbia River looking North up the mouth of the Cowlitz River when the Springers are running.


(a) Anchor and use plunking gear with bait as the current is now running enough for the bait to move or “work” in the current. Here the use of a Spin-N-Glos and eggs or shrimp or prawns may be used. Spin-N-Glo color can be egg orange, pink or red, even the Clown. Use a 54′ – 60″ leader with 3/0 hooks and a 3 way swivel or a sturgeon slider with 18″ to a 12 ounce sinker if anchored, less if trolling.

(b) Hog-lining is another method which is another name for anchoring, but every boat is anchored in a line across a section or strung out up and down the river. You will usually not use an anchor buoy puller system, because you are not in that deep of water. Most fishermen do have a fender tied to the end of their anchor line and the anchor line not permanently tied to the boat. This is so that if you get a large fish on, you can disconnect the anchor line from your boat and drift downstream to fight it away from the other boats. Then you can return to you spot, re-tie to your anchor line and resume fishing.

(c) Anchoring, but in a cluster strung out along a potential “HOT” location. This is basically the same as Hog-Lining, except all the boats may be in a group 60 yards wide by 500 yards long strung out, maybe 3 wide by however many boats there is in the cluster. The one thing here is to remember to give yourself enough room when you drop anchor so that if you do hook a nice fish, that you do have enough space (50 yards), so that if it does run downstream that it does not get tangled in the boats anchor rope that is below and or to the side of you. Remember that the other boat below you has his anchor considerably farther upstream that you can see. In this circumstance you will probably not be able to do as (b) detach your anchor and float away, since you will float into the other boats if you are not the last one in line.

When anchoring, most fishermen in the lower river will be using a rocker type anchor, 8’ of 3/8″chain, 150’ of 3/8” anchor rope, and a 15” dia. or so, anchor float attached to a AnchorLift type retrieval system. Also one thing to consider is after you have dropped your anchor and have drifted back into position, placed the rope in a chock, (do not tie it off to a mooring cleat) is to tie a loop in the anchor rope that is extra at the bow. Attach a boat bumper, (float) to this loop and tie the excess rope together with a small bungie cord, and or stuff it all in a small laundry bag. This is in case you have to disconnect and chase a fish, you can come back, pick up your floating anchor rope, re-anchor in your established spot. The reason for disconnecting and floating away from your location is out of courtesy to the other fishermen, in that you don’t want your fish to tangle in their gear. These fish tend to run in small schools, so if you catch one, the rest of the school may be there also and your neighbor would be rather irritated if he lost his chance to catch a fish, while untangling from your fish.

Here is a small Hog-Line on the lower Columbia River out of Kalama



The one time that might be better to NOT DISCONNECT, would be when the seals/sea lions start gathering in wait for a fish to be caught that they can steal. If you leave the clicker on initially, these seals seem to use this sound as a dinner bell. If you drift away from the hogline, then the seal has you more at his mercy, compared to if you stayed in place. With many boats concentrated in one area, sometimes Mr. seal tends to not want to come in that close. If you do disconnect and drift away from the line and a seal targets you, your best hope is to maneuver the boat so it is always between the fish and the seal. Also, do not stand up to fight a fish if the seals/sea lions are around as they soon learn that you may have a fish on the line.

As of spring of 2005 the Feds have approved fishermen to harass these marine mammals using any non lethal method to chase them away from taking fish from your line. This is a complete change from previous years. But it has been contested by the fur loving organizations and stalling of any solution has been the result.

Boat Positioning : On these fisheries, it is sometimes a chore is to maintain your position. 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.

Or your boat may not position itself exactly as you wish in relationship to other boats or your intended slot. In case of this turn your motor to act as a rudder in the current. If this is not enough, slightly change the position of the anchor rope off your mooring cleat. These methods can change your position up to 20’. Or put out one drift sock (mentioned below) off a stern corner which will shift your boat one way or the other. Then when more control is needed add the 2nd drift sock.

There are a couple of other methods or a combination of all that may improve your odds. Use 2 drift socks, not totally unlike small sea anchors. These do not need to be large for a small boat, a 12″ dia. upper hoop may be all that is necessary, while 16″ + may be right for a larger boat. These socks are usually made from nylon and are normally about 12″ on the large end about 24″ long with a 4″ hole on the bottom. They act just like you had a 5 gallon bucket in the water. Place these socks 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. 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 somewhat you can backtroll using slight amount of current to your advantage. When the tide goes flat, then pull your gear and troll. It works best to zig-zag on these flat tides if you are in a location where it is possible, however this may be impossible depending non the concentration of other fishermen. You can use herring or a spoon as if trolling in the ocean or use your same KwikFish gear with a dropper sinker or a JetDiver, & troll it.

Rods / Reels : For this type of fishing you need a rod that will have a “Heavy Action”. The length can vary from 7′ 9″ to 10′ 6″, but the 8′ 6″ seems to be the most common boat rod. If you are fishing from a boat the most used reel is a levelwind, with the line-counter style becoming very popular. The bankies tend to use longer rods and will have large spinning reels.

Lines can vary between Mono or Braid. The size of mono will usually be about 25#, while the braid will be upped to about double that. The novice will land more fish using mono because it stretches a bit and therefore being a lot more forgiving.

Lures : Herring seem to be the preferred bait early on when the water temperature is below 46 degrees. Blue label is usually the size and cut plug it. Or use green label and use a herring helmet/bonnet. Keep your bait cold (on ice and rock salt). If it warms up the scales start falling off, it gets mushy and becomes hard to stay on the hooks.

As the water temperature rises, lures start becoming more popular which will mostly be Luhr Jensen’s KwikFish in sizes from K-13 to K-16, with the K-14 and K-15 being the most popular sizes. Flatfish in size T-50 to T-55 are also used. The larger sizes are used when the current slows down, as the K-13 & K-14 will work better in faster water, where the K-15 will be the normal one used, while the K-16 performs better in slower water. If the fish tend to be smaller, say 10# or under you may consider going to the next smaller size. The K14’s and even K13’s, you can pick up the occasional steelhead.

Choose the colors and sizes depending on water visibility and this time of the year water turbidity is considerable. Generally choose bigger and brighter lures if the water is murky and downsize from a K-15 to a K-13 or K-14 if the water is clearer. A lot of people advocate silver/chartreuse tails or a silver/blue for murky water, while others stay with this regardless of conditions, while others prefer gold and red. The rumor is that the larger the KwikFish, the easier it is for the fish to see. It also elicits more of a threat and thus more strikes. The drawback is that the smaller KwikFish seem to get more hookups. This color preference can change from year to year, or even week to week. Usually this will relate to the color or turbidity of the water, which can also relate to the water depth. Change lure colors to blue or greens as the water clears. So have in your tackle box at least a variety of colors.

Many fishermen will remove the original triple hooks, replace one or both with single Siwash hooks. If replacing one only they do this on the belly hook. The theory here is that one good hook prong will allow it to bury into the fish’s jaw deeper, while a triple restricts how deep each barb can go in, plus it gives the fish an advantage if more than one barb is stuck to use it’s jaw to pull the others loose. You might hook more fish on a triple, but you will land more on a single.

As of 2011, many fishermen have began to replace their hooks with Sickle style hooks. They are made and patented by Matzuo. They are made using both the Octopus or Siwash style eyes. These are single hooks using a deep “Vee” instead of the normal rounded part below the barb. It has a much better hook retention once the fish is on especially when using barbless hooks.

The hook size depends on the plug size, use 3/0 on K14’s, 4/0 on K15’s, 5/0 on K16’s. You can open the screw eye, insert a 3/0 McMahon type barrel swivel and close the eye, then attach the Siwash hook to the other end of the swivel, crimp the hook eye closed. This swivel also takes away leverage of the fish be able to not twist out using the lure as leverage. In the LH photo below, the top plug is using the original split ring the screw eyes. The ones below that have been altered by removing the center triple hook, replacing it with a swivel and a Siwash hook. The rear triple was cut at the side of the eye, this eye opened and a swivel inserted, then crimped back closed, along with spreading the screw eye to add the other end of the swivel.

One proven improvement also is to offset the hook point of the Siwash hook from the shank a little to the left or right, preferably right on one and left on the other if doing both Siwash hooks.


All  K15s with the top one right out of the box with original treble hooks.  The others altered using 3/0 swivels & a 5/0 Siwash belly hook Brads Super Bait cut plugs on top, Spi-N-Glo in the middle & a spinner on the bottom, all with longer trailing hooks


On the belly of your plug place a sardine fillet and attach it using stretchy thread. The use of sardines is recommended because they seem to have more oil and therefore leave more of a scent trail longer. If sardines are not available, then herring can be used, however you may have to change the strip more often.

Some fishermen instead of using a sardine fillet on the bottom of the plug is to place a small 1/2″ x 1″ strip of adhesive backed Velcro wool attached to the top rear of the plug. Their reasoning for the top is that the fish will usually be approaching the lure from behind or underneath and the nose of the lure is digging in a downward fashion, raising the rear. They think that any blockage of the lure color may be detrimental. On this Velcro place any of the well known liquid scent of your choice. My experience is that the scent stays on at least as well as the sardine wrap, it is faster and easier to deal with. Some scent may effect the Velcro adhesive, but you can usually get a full day’s use out it. You can also get a self adhesive backed foam patch from Pro Cure. This is designed to be soaked in scent. You however need to wash it with Joy soap at the end of the day to remove any leftover residue and help keep your tackle box cleaner.


If it smells bad to you, what does it do for the fish?


Or if you prefer, as many do simply smear plenty of Smelly Jelly on the plug. I tend to go this route, as it seems if you put sardines or the Velcro on the bottom that you are covering up the one area that the fish can see. These plugs dive with the nose down, leaving the tail higher. The fish will probably not move down to strike a lure, but will move up. If the color you are trying to use as an attractant is covered up, you may be loosing part of the effectiveness of the plug.

Before you cast a KwikFish out and settle down in your seat, you really need to place your gear in the water, let it out enough to test the action of this plug. It needs to run true, not run to one side or the other. To adjust this, slightly twist the screw eye that your line is attached onto. Try it again. If it is really bad I have seen them turn upside down.

54″ leaders and 18″ to 24″ lead lines are a standard starting place. Remember its a balance between leader and dropper length. If you are using a short leader, you can get by with a much shorter dropper. Also if you are marking fish 2-4′ off the bottom, lengthen your dropper as you may be underneath them. (or vice versa) A 2 to 8 ounce round sinker is the usual weight required depending on the depth & current. If you walk the gear back with the current, the farther back you get the lesser angle the line has, hence the lower to the bottom the lure is, as compared to just dropping it over the side of the boat. This can be a decision maker for using different length sinker droppers.

When you get your gear out where you think it is about right, the rod tip will do a steady throb. If your dropper is too short and the lure is hitting the bottom occasionally, it will throb, then hesitate, then throb again. If this happens reel in slightly to steepen the angle or lengthen you sinker dropper.

Fish the seams where you try to put the lure in front of them as they migrate upstream. These fish seem to be on the move when the tide is going out and the river is running faster. However don’t try to fish the real fast water, which the fish ignore. You might also look for a breakwater or piling that the fish have go around and anchor just below the outside end, which forces them to you.

Rod Holders : Use a rod holder that has rod removal VERY READILY achieved. Position the holder with the angle lower than normal. One well known guide uses 2 forked uprights on each side of the stern, with a PVC crossbar pipe that has sponge pipe insulation around it, with this bar dropped in to the forks on each side of the boat. The rods are just laid over this foam and the rod butts are on the boat’s floor. The thought here appears to be to insulate all vibrations of the boat to the rod and hence on to the line.

More fish are lost by the fisherperson trying to set the hooks too soon. Let the fish pull the lure until the rod tip get buried in the water. This means you wait for the fish to turn and swim off, which will allow the hooks to get buried in the corner of the mouth before you pickup the rod.

If you Hook a Fish While in a Hogline :

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 buoy

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, after a short period of time with the fish on, 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 their reel.

(2) Trolling : In trolling here you will be using basic estuary gear, using 8’6″ or 9′ rods with a 15# to 25# rating. Line can be your choice, but there has to something said for the colored lines, with lime green appears to be the preferred monofilament color in size 25#. Others swear by the braided line in 50# size. Leaders can be heavier like from 40# to 50# as these fish are not leader shy and the heavier leader can be a benefit for abrasion or nicked leader by the fish’s teeth.

Trolling will usually be done at slack flood tide and on the start of the outgoing tide. Do a DOWNSTEAM troll because the fish will always face into the current. During the flood slack, which is one of the best times to be there, the fish change from facing downstream to milling around. After the flow starts out, they turn & face upstream. You want to present your lure to as many possible fish as possible so you want to allow them to see it ahead of them instead of having it sneak up & pass them. Kind of like Buzz Ramsey has explained during his seminars, kind of like driving a car the wrong way on the freeway, you see a lot more cars than if you are all going the same way.

It usually will mean using herring in the green label (5″-6″) size. If green label are not available then go down to the red label (4″-5″) before going up to the blue labels (6″-7″). It seems more fish are caught in 12-25’ of water.

Now (2009-2010) the advent of Brads Super Bait cut plug will surely make a showing for the trollers. This is essentially a offshoot of the old Les Davis Cut Plug, but this one is made in a multitude of colors, of 2 piece plastic, that the bottom can be hinged open exposing a scent pocket. Inside is a section of foam that you can squirt any liquid scent onto and it should retain the scent for a time. However possibly the best would be to stuff this cavity with canned oil pack Tuna fish. This oil will lay a very good scent trail as has been proven in the past for plunkers using it in a cheesecloth bag attached to the end of the mainline above the sinker dropper.

One rule that a well known guide gave at a recent seminar was if the water is murky, move shallower, if it is green or clearer move to deeper water. And remember the inside corners. He also recommends use of swivel protectors to keep weeds from contaminating the swivels.

If you are on the water, keep your eyes and binoculars working, you will observe just about any type of gear. Many do not use rod holders, but hold onto their rod. The method is drag the lure just off the bottom, with have your reel drag set lighter than normal, with the clicker on. Let the fish take the lure & pull line out before you set the hook. Constantly watch the rod tip for the tell-tale tap-tap of the sinker on the bottom. Adjust you line either in or out to keep the lure on the bottom. When using bait, you should consider injecting it with either anchovy or herring scent.

Cleanliness is a VERY IMPORTANT issue. Wear the latex gloves when baiting or changing the lures to keep your human scent off the lure, leader, line etc. Wash the lures, and leaders with Lemon Joy. One guide also has found that if he scrubs each lure with Crest tooth paste “regular” flavor immediately before he places it in the water, which ups his hookup/catch ratio considerably. This is especially true after he catches a fish, in that he says that fish secrete a frightening smell that gets on the lure, leader, swivels etc. that alert other fish to danger.

Listed below are some methods that you may see.

(a) Trolling a mooching leader and either a cut-plug or whole herring or KwikFish using a 3 way swivel or a slider with 12” of a lighter leader as a dropper attached to a sinker of from 2 to 6 oz depending on the depth and tide. If using a mooching leader tied with 3 hooks, let the bottom hook trail at the bait’s tail. Length of leader seems to vary from 24” to 60″ depending on water color.

(b) Trolling the same as (a) except using a diver instead of the sinker. This diver would usually be a JetDiver.

c) Trolling the same as (a), but using a small or medium Fish Flash behind the sinker. Do not use a large Fish Flash, as in this shallow water it may spook the fish more than attract it. The one drawback here is that is it more difficult to tell if the lure is on the bottom, as the slow rotation of this flasher somewhat duplicates the sinker tap-tap. Color of the Fish Flash used by most fishermen seems to be, red, lime green, blue, or the plain plaid, in that order.

(d) Trolling the same as (a), but using a small or medium Fish Flash behind the dropper sinker and using a Brad’s Super Cut Plug for a lure.

(e) Trolling similar to (a) except using a Coyote 3.5” spoon in army truck or glo green / white colors.

(f) Trolling with the “Bait Buster”, a imitation vinyl/Velcro herring that is adjustable for bending by using the Velcro fastener, has proved to be a salmon getter. The one thing with this lure, is you can place the scent in the Velcro, which allows for a longer exposure time before refreshing it. One report is to use oil off cheap canned tuna, as the scent.

(g) Trolling spinners with prawn is another method. This consists of using a pre-tied Eric’s prawn rig made especially for this type fishery. It consists of beads and a spinner blade on the leader above the hook. Color usually will be gold, half & half or chartreuse and yellow blades. Blade size will be around a #4 or #5 with up to #7 if the water is dark. Prawn is the most popular bait, but sand shrimp will work also. Soak your prawn for a couple of hours in last years egg cure juice. Run a 36″ to 48″ leader on a 3 way swivel or slider and a 24″ to 36″ lead line dropper to a 6 ounce sinker. Blue Fox spinners in size #5 are also used.

(h) Trolling Storm’s Magnum Wriggle Wart in fluorescent red, gold or hot pink. Here you want to troll them about 60′ behind the boat & keep the line angle at about 45 degrees. Run a 48″ leader and a 3 way swivel with 18″ lead line to a 1 to 2 ounce sinker.

(i) Slow trolling with Luhr Jensen’s KwikFish in sizes from K-14 or K-15, with the same color, sardine wrap or scent and weight as mentioned below.

(j) Troll with a GPS Speed Over Ground of between 2.5 to 3 mph almost exclusively downstream, only changing to go upstream if the tide is coming in or not moving.

(3) Back-trolling Plugs behind Divers : Depending on water levels, you can also back-troll bait. Here you rig up with a Jumbo Jet Diver and bait wrapped plugs. If water conditions are low, you can simply flat line them, but normally you will need the diver. Use a 5′ leader and about 8″ leader to the Jet Diver off a slider or 3 way swivel at the lines end. Use the same Kwikfish plugs and bait wrap described in “Anchoring with Plugs” above. In using this method you will be essentially trolling against the current, but with your kicker motor slow enough to allow the boat to back down with the current. This can be effective if you can back down thru the slot the fish are holding in. The one criteria here is to do it in an area that you do not have a lot of other boats anchored, as things could get hectic otherwise.

Now a word of caution, if you are trolling or back-trolling, and have more than 2 fisherpersons in the boat, be sure to keep the lures separated. By this meaning those fishing near each other need to use different length rods, heavier sinkers in the front & farther away from the boat on the rear or you WILL have tangles as seen below. Sometimes even if you think you are OK, well things happen.



Time to cut leaders, remove sinkers & unravel


(4) Plunking : This type of fishing can either be done from the bank or from an anchored boat. The bank fishermen may tend to concentrate in an area that has been known to produce fish, and at the same time be accessible. The boat fishermen have a lot more options, they can move into the area they have picked out, either anchor or tie up to piling and begin to plunk.

The use of multiple baits are common. Gear used here will normally be a sinker slider on the mainline, with the lower Spin-N-Glo attached to a leader of about 30”. On the mainline, up about 36” put a 3 way swivel. On the dropper side of the swivel push a short (3”) piece of plastic tubing, (this helps eliminate tangles when casting). Now attach another leader to another Spin-N-Glo, but use a slightly shorter leader of about 24”. These Spin-N-Glos should be a different color to give the fish a choice, usually the egg orange for one and chartreuse for the other. The law says you can use 3 hooks per line, so some fishermen then tie a swivel up the mainline another couple of feet, and after the gear is in the water snap a Flatfish or KwikFish on the line. It then will bite into the current and work it’s way down to the upper swivel.

If plunking from the bank, pick a beach, any beach. Water temp seems to be a critical thing in bankie fishing here, if it is early the water is colder and the fish prefer large gobs of salmon eggs. Later in the season the when the water warms up to the mid 40 degree slot, Spin-glo’s with sand shrimp, prawn, eggs, yarn, etc will catch a Springer. Fish from high tide to low tide for best action on the Spin-glo’s, but by then the quota is so that we’re nearly off the river. for plunking, the fishing is better on the Oregon side (a one day license is cheap). And yes, you can go for days, weeks, seasons before you catch one.

(5) Side-Drifting : Another method not normally used but can be productive, if you are not catching any fish, you might try to side-drift with egg/Spi-N-Glows if you can find a shallow section of the river that is not full of anchored boats.

(6) Casting & Retrieving From Shore : At the Wind River many bank anglers will cast and retrieve plugs from the Hiway 14 bridge downstream. Normally used will be Magnum Wriggle Warts in fluorescent red or gold.

 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 may be 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 designated for the Washington side of the lane.

Normal “Springer” fishing will be in shallower water and not in the shipping lanes. If however, 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.


Here is a tug boat towing a barge of wood chips upstream above Stella


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. VHF channel 16 is the emergency channel in all situations.

Releasing Wild Fish : In releasing a “wild” or unclipped fish and the fish is hooked in the mouth, you should extract the hook as carefully as possible. The preferable situation (and now legally required) is to leave the fish in the water, as it will usually tend to be calmer and will struggle less. Others say if you roll the fish upside down while he is in the water, that this calms them down. The next ideal situation would be to remove the hook while the fish is still in the net, but also still in the water with the net pinning the fish to the side of the boat. Try to push the hook back the way it came and try not to tear the mouth. Hook removers or long-nosed pliers can help greatly to get a secure grip on the hook. If the fish has swallowed the hooks, then it is preferable to cut the leader as close to the hooks as possible.

In this equation, if you get a chance early on to see if the fish has a adipose fin, (meaning it is wild) bring it in as fast as possible, do not “PLAY” it. The reason here is that if you tire the fish out, AND there are seals and sea lions in the area, you just may well have helped provide an easier meal for them. CLICK HERE for a method of releasing fish while still in the water.

Observations : To keep yourself on the good side of the law if you are on the river between sunset and sunrise is that you navigation lights must be on. If you are trolling, then all your lights, (the red/green sidelights AND the white all around light). If you are anchored the red/green lights go off with just the white all around light staying on. Note that the book says “between sunset & sunrise”, this does not mean you can turn off the lights if you can see well, but only after the published sunset & sunrise timetables. The rules also say they have to be on during times of “restricted visibility”. The term “restricted visibility” means any condition in which visibility is restricted by fog, mist, falling snow, heavy rainstorms, sandstorms or any other similar causes. This determination is up to the boarding officer. Also remember that the bulk of the Columbia River is actually owned by Oregon, so you may see their officers more than Washington’s or the Coast Guard. AND Oregon has slightly different regulations than Washington.

There is no harm in running your navigation lights while you’re underway at times other than between sunset and sunrise. If you’re not sure whether conditions require their use, flip them on for safety. Navigation lights, unlike vehicle lights, are not intended to help you see, but help you be seen. They also indicate direction and rate of travel.

If you happen to be the recipient of a Pinniped’s (Seals or Sea Lions) attentions when you hook a fish, you may not know it until it happens. Or you may see them swimming close-by and head for your newly hooked fish. There may be a couple of things you could do to increase your chances of fish recovery. If the fish really wants to run just before the sea lion grabs it, let it run, maybe the fish could outrun the furry critter, you can position the boat so that the sea lion would have a hard time getting it.



Sea Lion having lunch



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 your fish in a hurry. However I have seen them become VERY AGGRESSIVE and take fish right out of fishermen’s nets at the side of the boat. Since they are Federally protected, you can not harm them. However, you may take actions to frighten them off by not using lethal force, IF they are looting your fish. I have been told by one seasoned fisherman that he uses a flare pistol, pushes it into the water, fires the flare. He says there is no explosion at the pistol because the flare does not explode because of the delayed explosion when it is away from the barrel. Another method using the same principal is to use a Freon horn, place it under the water when blowing it. Reports of these last 2 methods are that they are VERY effective.

Sonar will be your best ally here, however in this shallow water, you will find it best to lower the sensitivity on your unit as fish have the ability to feel this in the shallow water and shy away. Or if you are anchored turn it off.

One thing that has always perplexed the fisherman in a small boat that has limited room, is where do I put the net that is out of the way yet ready for action? If your top is high enough to walk under, you can simply slide the net bow under the rear of the top & OVER the center bow. This puts enough tension on the net to hold it in place as shown in the photo below.



One method of securing the net on a small boat,  out of the way but yet close when needed




     You will notice that many of the guides will be using 12′ G Loomis rods, these are not noodle rods, but have a decent action and a medium tip. Most of them also will be using spectra type mainlines, in that these longer rods are more forgiving to inexperienced fishermen. They tell their clients not to set the hooks, but allow the fish to hook himself. Possibly this is to keep from breaking the rods from an over-zealous hook-set. One day the boat next to us landed 1 fish, but broke the leader off on 3 other fish. My guess is that he was using the spectra type mainline, and a stouter rod than needed, and when they had a takedown, the fisherman grabbed the rod, set the hook, breaking the leader at the knot. For a look at knot strength article, CLICK HERE.

When using KwikFish, and you get a fish that has taken the lure, but not solid yet, pick the rod up, hold the tip up at a medium height, DO NOT set the hook, as you will pull it out of the fish’s mouth. What is happening is if the fish has decided it is not what he thought it was, opened it’s mouth, trying to back down river to spit the lure out. When you just pick the rod up and hold it up, if the fish is hooked enough, you will have it on. If however the lure is not hooked solid and the fish is trying to get rid of it, in a very short time the fish will turn trying to get rid of it. This is when you will feel the fish and then give the rod a slight twitch to set the hook, but not a normal hard hook set. Mind you that the hooks have to be VERY SHARP.

One thing to add, is to pay attention also to time of day and water conditions. Fish will use different routes when the water is clearer or when the angle of the sun is different.

At times there may be debris floating in the water, this can get caught onto your line/leader, raise the lure up from your intended position, or stop the swivels action. There are a couple methods to help counteract this situation. (1) place a golf tee on your mainline as your uppermost part at your sinker 3 way swivel or slider unit. (2) there is now a swivel guard made by Oregon Tackle, that is simply a hollow one ended plastic tube that has a small hole in the closed end that you run your leader thru. It is attached to a 6 bead, bead-chain swivel. This guard simply gives the swivel a outer protection to keep it free from debris. Most fishermen place this unit about midpoint in their leader to the lure.

One fisherman’s advise is, if you’re fishing the Columbia or Willamette, you should also consider what the tide is doing when deciding where to fish when trolling. When the tide is coming in, some put their bait between 12-17 feet deep in the “deeper” sections of the river. When the tide is running out they fish just off the bottom next to a ledge or drop off and in shallower water (6′-15′).

It may not be one or two things that the guides do differently, but when you add up all the little things, then the odds start stacking up for them. Plus, they are on the water all the time, will have observed the spots that the fish are being pulled. And they have a communication system not available to the average fisherman.

I believe that these guides will not deliberately lie to you if you ask them a question or two. But, they may not open up and tell you all there is as if you were a long lost friend. So, it is recommended that you book with one or more of them, keep your eyes open, remember what you see that is different. Make notes as soon as possible so you do not forget. It is my firm belief that you can learn from these experts. Attend seminars at Sportsman shows or at some of the major retailers. I will guarantee that you will pick up something that can be added to your arsenal of tricks.

I myself can not live long enough to learn by my own mistakes to become even somewhat proficient in a different game. You have to pay your dues one way or the other. Sure, I know (or think I do) how to salmon fish in the ocean, but this is a different situation. Once you have gained some insight, then you can take your boat out and try what you have learned.

One word of caution for you Washington fisherpersons, is that yes the Columbia River is a shared jurisdiction where a Washington OR a Oregon fishing license is adequate. HOWEVER the Multnoma Channel on the Oregon side from just upstream of Rainier OR. up to where it enters the Willamette is not considered the Columbia River shared jourisdiction, but Oregon water, (probably considered an extension of the Willamette). So you need a Oregon license to fish it just as you would the Willamette. Also probably because of this, the season on this channel is the same as the Willamette and not to the Columbia.


Copyright © 2003 – 2013 All Rights Reserved



Originated 14-19-2003 Last Updated 09-09-2013 ***

to contact the author click here

TAC Sept 26th 2011 revision Fall Chinook at river mouth

URB = 331,900. Pre-season – 399,600 (Upriver Brights)

BPH = 68,100. Pre-season – 116,400 (Bonneville Pool Hatchery)

Run Size Update 2012

· The U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) met May 29 and downgraded the upriver run from 216,500 adults to 209,400 fish at the mouth of the Columbia River. TAC is scheduled to meet again Monday June 4.

· The pre-season run size forecast was 314,200.

· Through May 29, there have been 7,341 jacks counted at Bonneville Dam. Last year by the same date there were 47,928. The recent 10 year average is 19,450.

2012 Fall Chinook – Returns to river mouth

Stock Update Pre-season

Upriver Brights (URBs) 308,300 353,000

Bonneville Upriver Brights(BUBs) 23,000 23,900

Pool Upriver Brights (PUBs) 58,500 66,100

Bonneville Pool Hatchery (BPH) 63,500 60,000


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