The Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River is one of the world’s greatest rivers known for generating power and producing storied salmon. Once teaming with salmon so thick “you could walk across the water on their backs,” the Columbia River doesn’t quite give up its prized fish so easily these days.
Partly because of competition from sea lions, commercial fisheries, and dam impediments, catching one takes a bit more skill and time, or patience and insider tricks and tips.
Use a 360 flasher
Introduced a couple years ago, the 360 flasher is much different than classic flashers in that, as its name suggests, the lure rotates in a circle. The purpose is to increase the area the bait or lure is presented while also being a standard flasher with different color options that catch the available light to attract fish. Use the 360 flashers while trolling only.
Stack those wobblers
A classic lure for fall salmon, try using two or three on the line, instead of just one. A common technique for bank anglers, in-the-know boat fishers also use two or three different colors or styles of “wobblers” to increase your odds. Keep the distance between the lures at least 2 feet and lower the line slowly. Some boat anglers use floats during slower currents.
Below the Bonneville Dam, focus your efforts on the tide turns in the river
The Columbia River is affected by the great Pacific Ocean. When the tides rise and fall, so does the river all the way up to the Bonneville Dam. The change in current agitates or informs the salmon, causing them to become more aggressive. When the tide rises, the salmon ride the incoming water or slowing current to make their way upriver. When the tide falls, the fish either hunker down near the bottom or head back to sea. So get a tide chart and pay attention to tide changes. When it does, the fish need to make decisions and the “slack” or “change” tide are often more productive fishing hours.
Above Bonneville Dam, try dead drifting near the river mouths
Above Bonneville Dam, the tides don’t affect the river but this is also where you’ll find the vast majority of fishing opportunities. From Cascade Locks and above, the river has been “tamed” to become a series of lakes, and the key is to fish the river or creek mouths. During the spring run, the fish pause near river mouths to confirm which is their home stream. During the summer and fall run, these areas are havens from the warm water created by the dam. Here, anglers use cured salmon eggs dead drifted near the bottom. But don’t take your eyes to far off the river; the bites are subtle. But once hooked, the bent rod and screaming reel is a sure indication you are onto a salmon.
Use tuna fish in Brad’s Baits
Brad’s Superbaits are a regional favorite from a Pacific Northwest company. Fill the molded plastic “lures” with scent or bait; a local favorite is canned tuna. Strangely, salmon key in on this scent and strike hard. The baits are trolled behind regular or 360 flashers. The most productive time to fish these is in the fall but they are also effective for the summer and spring runs.