Lower Columbia Chinook Fishery
by Michael Teague
With ODFW reports recently of 1,000 fish days from Bonneville to the mouth of the Columbia, anglers are approaching quota guidelines for ESA-listed upriver bright chinook. In a teleconference on the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 13, it was decided to close the Columbia for the retention of chinook at 12:01 a.m. on September 15 from Tongue Point to Bonneville Dam and 12:01 on September 16h from Bonneville Dam to Pasco, Wash.
While not able to confirm any thousand-fish days, chinook catches are improving in the lower Columbia, particularly in the stretch from the Sandy River to the Kalama with most fish falling for Alvins or knockoff wobblers. Some limits were taken on Friday, Sept. 9, although catches slowed over the weekend.
In the first couple of weeks in September, considered to be the peak of the coho season, fewer anglers are making the effort at Buoy 10 in light of lackluster results. When bar crossing has been possible, ocean fishing has been rewarding but with a forecast of an early coho run this year, offshore catch rates are expected to decline.
Tuna fishing out of the Columbia has been fair to good. The distance traveled varies with nebulous warm water but rough seas have been the main deterrent to reaching prime fishing grounds.
Counts at Bonneville Dam indicate steady passage of chinook and a larger than expected steelhead run.
As of Sept. 11, 358,257 chinook have crossed, far exceeding the 10-year average of 226,854. Steelhead counts of 266,486 also better the decade-long average of 260,748.
Steelhead are rushing upriver, mostly ignoring angler's offerings until they reach the Deschutes where plug pullers are entering the peak of their season.
Hopes are high that the precipitation in weather forecasts will be sufficient to positively effect coho runs in tributaries. The mouth of the Sandy holds a decent number although catches in that area are light. A few have been taken by spinner flingers in the lowermost stretch. With the first decent rainfall, this fishery will take off.
Coho are crossing Willamette Falls in single digits bringing the total as of Sept. 6 to 34. Water temperature at the falls as of Sept. 12 was 69 degrees but is expected to change with rain this week.
At times, many coho can be seen rolling in the lower Clackamas, but most seem to have lockjaw. Only a few have been taken in the lower river at first light.
Steelhead are thick on the upper North Santiam with Packsaddle Park holding some of the best numbers if not always offering the best bite on the river. Fishermen's Bend has been productive recently. Flows are higher than normal and will be increased by the Army Corps of Engineers again this week. While not ideal water conditions for fishing, it will remain a worthwhile destination for steelheaders.
Astoria and Winchester Bay experienced about equal effort for salmon with well over 900 boats launching at each port in the week ending Sept. 3. Chinook results were similar but northern ports are outperforming those further south many times over for coho.
Nehalem Bay has been slow for chinook around Wheeler with weeds becoming problematic. A few have been taken in the jaws. Crabbing is poor here.
Boaters launching out of Garibaldi are scoring limits of bottomfish along with a decent number of good-sized lings. While salmon limits are rare, the majority of boats are getting at least one fish to take home.
Coho are being caught and usually released as non-hatchery. Many of these are 18- to 20-pounders.
A few chinook were taken over the weekend on Tillamook Bay, both in the upper bay and the ocean. With the warm summer temperatures, seaweed growth has exploded on the estuary and the vegetation only allows for a short period of effective fishing before gear fouls.
Although coho should be present in Tillamook, the catch is comprised mostly of jack and adult chinook.
Weak tides will favor lower bay and ocean trollers but seaweed in the estuary will motivate most for a bar crossing, assuming the bar is open for safe passage. A large swell is in the ocean forecast.
The Memaloose Boat Ramp in the upper bay, currently closed for a dredging operation, is scheduled to re-open on Sept. 15.
The Nestucca and Salmon rivers both have chinook present although weak tides haven't stimulated a strong bite. Nestucca anglers are having the best success downstream of the Woods Bridge with bank anglers using bobbers and bait and trollers working the mouth with herring.
Salmon River anglers are crowding the limited bank space to pitch bobbers and eggs near the Highway 101 Bridge. Results are spotty with catches coming as pods of chinook move through.
The Alsea River has good numbers of fish present but the bite has been slow. Spinner and herring trollers working the lower tidewater stretches and the bay entrance are producing the best results. Weaker tides won't help bobber anglers.
Siletz anglers continue to take a few chinook daily, but it's darned few compared to the effort of up to 100 boats on the river. This is the time of year when this fishery will start seeing some improvement and should continue to deliver into October.
All depth halibut remains open every Friday through Saturday from Cape Falcon to Humbug Mountain through September with a limit of two per day. While halibut fishing is open seven days a week inside the 40-fathom line, the limit is one per day Sundays through Thursdays in September.
Halibut fishing has been rewarding out of Newport with the frequent openings and relaxed limits. Tuna fishing has been tough for boats launching out of Newport or Depoe Bay.
Chinook fishing is fair but improving on the Siuslaw River with large salmon being caught.
Limits of chinook were taken over the weekend out of Winchester Bay at 150 to 180 foot depths over 350 feet of water. Chinook are being taken on the Umpqua above the Highway 101 Bridge. Anglers are casting pink spinners for coho from the bank at Osprey Point. Smallmouth bass catches remain strong with fish hitting all manner of lures and larger specimens coming from deeper haunts.
Limits of rockfish are common off the south coast with catches of ling cod remaining good.
The 7th Annual Coos Basin Amateur Salmon Derby will be held Saturday and Sunday, Sept 16 and 17, on the Coos River. Tickets are $20 and cash prizes will be awarded. Proceeds help fish restoration projects in the local community. Contact Valerie at 1-503-759-2709 for information.
Action in the Rogue estuary has further improved for chinook with coho now in the mix although most are unclipped. A green spinner blade in front of a whole or plug-cut herring is the standard fare here. Use a pink blade for targeting hatchery coho.
Chetco anglers are starting to pick up chinook on the lower river and a few have caught from the jetty. In the last scheduled trout planting of the year for the Northwest Zone, Cape Mears Lake, Coffenbury Lake, Lost Lake (in Clatsop County), Sunset Lake and Town Lake will receive rainbows measuring 16 inches or better.
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