It occurred to me recently that most Pacific Northwest salmon anglers are expected to be walking the streets like zombies by the end of this month thanks to a short two-month king salmon season. As most of us recognize, the shortened summer fishing opportunity is driven by record setting poor coho salmon forecasts this year, thanks to Mother Nature’s survival whack on last year’s pasturing coho salmon. Sorry Vern, it is what it is.
Don’t look for me in zombie land as I detect great Chinook fishing this month with a few cards up my sleeve for September. Yes sir, I will respond to a radio call looking for the Sly Dog.
While July took this angler to Port Angeles on the chinook salmon opener (July 1) followed by an awesome annual trip to Tahsis for kings, lings, and flatties, it was Neah Bay that reminded me how much I love salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest. I believe it’s the gin clear shallow water around Cape Flattery, with the surge of the surf washing over intimidating rock outcroppings that give me goose bumps. Big fat king salmon live in this environment during the weeks of July too, cruising the shallow water in and out of the kelp beds and inhaling baitfish like a commercial vacuum cleaner.
I don’t get to my fishing rod as quickly as I did nearly 40 years ago, but for a relic, I can still get there as fast as you can say king salmon!
Returning from my king salmon Mecca better known as Neah Bay within the last 10 days, I’ve got my sights now set on a couple of big time Chinook fisheries this month: the lower Columbia River and Willapa Bay. These two fisheries, at least for this salmon fishing junkie, represent the king salmon world series for 2016.
Much has been written and spoken about the Buoy 10 fishery, which encompasses Columbia River waters a few miles above the Megler-Astoria Bridge down to the river’s mouth. For example, if you want an in-depth analysis of how to be successful in this fishery, find a June/July edition of the Salmon-Steelhead Journal which dedicates significant detail providing the formula to catch king salmon.
I like the run-timing of mid-August in the Buoy 10 region and my preference is to fish in the ocean north, in front of Long Beach in 25-40 feet of water. It’s a no brainer fishery, especially if the ocean is friendly and massive schools of anchovy are present. Big Chinook salmon plow through these schools of baitfish like a four-lane road grader on I-5. Got a visual? Feel free to scoop up a few crippled anchovies while you’re there as it really works great for the final topping on a combo pizza.
The technique to be successful can be provided in a fishing seminar by a third grader. Pick your favorite diver, attach a 6’ to 7’ tandem hook leader and thread on an anchovy or herring, plug or whole and you are in business. If it spins (versus rolls), stand by for a take down. Trolling speed does not matter, in fact, the faster (three to four knots) the better. Tight drag, boat in gear, 13-15 pulls (two feet per pull) and slamaramma! Wow, you’re an expert!
In the Columbia, it’s not quite that easy, but relative to most other Chinook fisheries in this region of the country, it’s simplistic.
Fundamentally, I like the “wing walls” on the Washington side of the river early in the flood tide which begins about two hours after low water. Green navigational markers are attached to the southern-most pilings and are numbered 1-7. I prefer trolling upstream, riding this early flood tide, using a diver and a chrome Kone Zone at 17 pulls. Some anglers prefer to hold their position, facing downstream into the oncoming current. The king salmon are at mid-depth, having entered the Columbia about one mile downstream and are migrating upriver.
Once the tide has completed about half of its incoming cycle, I’ll move upstream to the Desdemona flats, immediately below the Megler-Astoria Bridge or continue above the bridge to the Blind Channel. The Blind Channel is simply a term applied to several underwater channels where Chinook frequent migrating upstream.
This part of the fishery transfers to sliding heavy drop sinkers, anywhere from eight to 16 ounces, and for some anglers upwards of 24 ounces. Yep, heavy artillery and I hope you’ve been working out with weights for the last six months. It is just like fishing with a car bumper on the end of your string.
Remember, the Columbia River king salmon forecast is pushing a million fish this summer, for the fourth year in a row so come on down, and bring plenty of boat fenders!
From the Columbia, think about high-tailing it this summer to Willapa Bay, one of the great shallow water king salmon fisheries. About 40,000 kings are expected to return to Willapa Bay and salmon management biologists say the peak entry occurs around Labor Day. My counsel is to not wait until Labor Day as the fishery has gone to rock and roll status starting in early/mid-August the last few years.
Drop sinkers, Kone Zone flashers, and a plug-cut or whole herring works great in Willapa Bay. If you’re trolling more than a foot off the bottom, you’ll have a wonderful fishing day but lousy catching day. Hug the bottom where the kings are milling, waiting for a late summer or early fall rain before entering one of three major rivers of their destination.
Try to stay away from big tides as the presence of grasses will turn your fishing gear more green than the White House Christmas tree. Keep your terminal tackle clean and fish the flood tides between markers 2 and 26. That’s about three miles of real estate. I like fishing depths between 15 and 25 feet of water, again, hugging the bottom. From my corner, Willapa Bay is the place to be until the gillnet fishery begins around mid-September.
See you on the water and good luck with the king salmon shuffle in August. I think I have one circling right now!