Five Insider Tips to Catch Salmon on the Columbia River

Columbia River SalmonThe 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.

Columbia River SalmonStack 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.

Columbia River SalmonAbove 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.