It Takes Time, Patience to
by Mark Yuasa
Your chances of catching the prized chinook, known for their delectable red meat, go up if you stick with it when fishing seems slow.
VANCOUVER, Wash. -- There was a feeling of trepidation -- call it a "fisherman's intuition" -- on the day before our spring chinook fishing trek in the Lower Columbia River last week.
The fishing reports in the Vancouver area near the I-5 Bridge were dreadfully slow.
Add to it chilly water temperatures, plus mud and silt spewing out of Oregon's Willamette River into the Columbia, and you've got a severe roadblock in the fish migration path.
But it was hard to ignore a forecast of 314,200 upper-river spring chinook -- the fourth-largest return since 1980 -- plus another 83,400 destined for the Willamette, and thousands more heading to tributaries up and down the Columbia.
It was definitely cause to fire up the fishing frenzy on a cold March morning as we launched our boat under the glow of flashlights and headlamps and headed to a spot just above I-5.
Our first few drifts above the I-5 bridge on the Vancouver side didn't lure any fish toward our baits, so we decided to move over to the Oregon side near the Red Lion Hotel on Hayden Island.
About 9 a.m., we saw our first fish caught by another boat. Maybe this was the "moment" we had longed for all winter, but another hour passed and my "fisherman's intuition" kicked into high gear again.
We moved downstream to Davis Bar along the barges anchored on the Washington shore, and trolled down toward Frenchman's Bar Park off Vancouver with no luck.
Then we headed further downstream to Caterpillar Island, near the main channel of the Willamette, and saw one other fish caught by the hundreds of boats now gathered nearby.
We decided to go further upstream near the Portland airport, and saw another spring chinook hooked, which raised our hopes.
By early afternoon, I threw up the white flag and headed back to the launch site for the long drive to Seattle.
Little did I know that two hours after I left, my fishing companions finally hooked into a 20-plus pound hatchery spring chinook.
This simply means if you put in time on the big river, it will raise your chances to catch one of these prized chinook, known for their delectable, Omega 3-laced, red meat, rivaling Alaska's Copper River salmon.
To show how tough fishing has been, just look at last week on the Lower Columbia below Bonneville, where 13,000 angler trips resulted in 594 chinook kept and 99 released.
Through March 25, nearly 42,600 angler trips were made, with 1,176 chinook kept and 279 released, and 554 steelhead kept and 261 released. The sport catch allocation, including fish released mortality below Bonneville, is 12,700 upriver fish.
A total of 154,895 angler trips were taken on the Lower Columbia last year with 11,694 spring chinook kept.
For those planning to go soon, don't expect what we encountered to be the norm.
"There is still plenty of time to fish for spring chinook," said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist in Vancouver. "We had an extension in the fishery last year through mid-April, and the run actually came in late and turned out to be bigger than forecast."
Hymer pointed out that 277,400 of this spring's forecast are 4-year-old chinook, and they tend to return a little later than normal.
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