This summer, there are hard to resist summer fishing opportunities that center on really big runs of really big silver-sided salmon and steelhead.
Don’t pass this summer by – head outdoors and go fishing in Oregon’s rivers and estuaries where the cry is often heard: “Let’s Go Fishing.”
Oregon fishing guide Bob Rees (Bob Rees Fishing) said he often feels like a modern day version of the Lewis and Clark Expedition when he leads his angling crews across the broad shouldered Columbia River.
He loves to explore the river for new places to catch salmon and steelhead; especially in the lower river – just upstream from Astoria – a stretch of water that’s marked by islands, sloughs and backwater channels.
“There are scores of islands in the lower river and their beaches provide good places to target for fishing. We discover new areas all of the time and virtually have an entire island all to ourselves. It’s a pretty cool situation.”
Rees dropped his anchor in just eight feet of water near the shoreline of Rice Island about 20 miles upriver from Astoria.
“On most beaches, you don’t have to worry about logs and rocks,” noted Rees. “Find a gently sloping beach and you’ll be fishing pretty effectively from your boat.”
Rees likes to “throw everything at ‘em!” He uses a variety of lures in different colors until he finds the colors that fish will strike and then he shifts all of the rods to that one color combination that works:
“Quikfish, Flatfish and Spin ‘n Glos are popular lures and the hot colors that seem to work best for the steelhead are the pinks and oranges and the reds.”
Fishing partner Trey Carskadon added that the Columbia River offers plenty of angling elbowroom and the promise of a remarkable salmon turnaround this summer.
“It’s not just summer steelhead run, but our spring-summer chinook runs and even our sockeye salmon runs; all are productive this year and a tremendous success story.”
He’s right! Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife Biologist, Jimmy Watts, said that abundant fresh water and a productive ocean have made all the difference:
“The river flows are really beneficial to fish and recent court ordered spill has been helpful to get the fish out of the Snake River and past the main stem dams,” noted Watts. “The other part of the equation is how well the fish have done in the ocean. Marine survival has generally improved over the last 10 years as well.”
The Columbia River summer steelhead is fabulous with a forecast run size of nearly 400,000 fish and the run doesn’t begin until early July.
Bank anglers have done really well this summer fishing season too.
In fact, if you’re interested in taking some time out from the hurry and hustle-bustle of daily life, find a stretch of sand at places like Dibblee Beach on the Columbia River near Rainier, Oregon.
You may cross paths with Andrea Johnson too. She is an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife salmon checker who walks miles of sand each day, checking and tallying the shore side catch.
“So far, the runs have stayed close to shore,” noted Johnson. “So, the bank guys do a little better than the boat fishermen. There has been so much water that they’re not casting far from the shore either. Keep it close to the bank and you’ll do better.”
Johnson will check each hatchery salmon or steelhead because a percentage of them have a microscopic chip planted in the nose. That “tag” was placed there when the fish was a baby at the hatchery.
“It has a six digit code on it,” explained Johnson. “And it tells us what hatchery it came from, what year the fish was raised and when it was released into the river.”
Back on Rees’ boat, Carskadon, who is also the Chairman of the Oregon State Marine Board, advised that boating newcomers take the river in small pieces.
“I would take small sections of the river, maybe 5-7 mile increments just to get the lay of the riverscape. There are so many islands and access points for more than a hundred miles between Astoria and Portland, so I’d also do a bit of homework. The Oregon State Marine Board offers a free Columbia and Willamette River Boating Facilities Guide that you can download from our website. It’s a valuable resource that will be a good starting point for the newcomer.”
Rees was quick to add: “This Columbia River fishing is an expanding fishery and there will be more opportunities that people don’t even know about yet – one way to learn is to check out the new Summer Steelhead website – it offers a ton of useful information. It’s just about getting out and doing some experimenting and this is the year to do it because of the larger number of fish coming back.”
It is an exciting summer to try Columbia River fishing that’s for sure, but it’s not the only game in town.
There’s a surprising summer salmon return that’s bringing mile-wide smiles to anglers who venture across Tillamook Bay.
Longtime fisherman John Krauthoefer (Firefighter’s Guide Service/503-812-1414) recently guided a crew of eager anglers across Tillamook Bay and said that the local salmon fishery is a quiet backwater compared to the popular and much larger Columbia River.
He likes it that way and trolls the incoming tide with plug cut herring or spinners for bait.
“It has been phenomenal – it really has,” noted the longtime guide. “I think it’s been one of the best years we’ve had in a long time.”
Krauthoefer noted that there are three things anglers should remember when they troll for salmon on Tillamook Bay: “Keep it in the zone where the fish are – that’ above the bottom and keep the bait relatively clean, so if there’s a weed hanging on it, get it off because a salmon won’t bite weed covered bait. Finally, change your bait so it’s fresh.”
“Our springers or summers are the premier salmon. These are fish that were in the ocean less than 6 hours ago.”
Todd Davidson, a longtime Oregon angler who has caught his share of big fish across the state, soon learned first hand what Krauthoefer meant by “premier.”
No sooner had John completed his lessons on trolling techniques when Davidson’s fishing rod doubled down. A mint bright salmon had grabbed the bait.
“Nice and easy Todd,” coached Krauthoefer. “Lower the rod slower than you are reeling - that way you will always keep the line tight – that’s it! Good Job!”
The gorgeous 18-pound Chinook splashed and rolled multiple times on the surface, kicking up frothy, whirling pools of whitewater before it dove deep and the line spooled off Todd’s reel.
John smiled and said, “Isn’t this fun?”
Todd wasn’t so sure how to answer – he had his hands full and wasn’t certain who was in charge of this battle: the angler or the hard charging salmon.
“Lift again Todd, just a little closer to the boat. There you go.”
And with that, the basket of the large net closed tight!
“Oh, son of a gun,” noted the experienced guide – who added with a knowing wink of the eye, “I have to clean another one – is that gorgeous or what?
Davidson smiled and said, “Thanks coach! She’s a beaut!”
“Just a beauty!” noted the excited guide. “Gorgeous fish! Tillamook spring salmon and they don’t get any better than that.”
“That is a beautiful big fish that didn’t tire easily,” admitted Davidson. “It just wanted to run and run and run – away from the boat too. It was just a beautiful dance and back she came into the net – eventually. This is why we love living in Oregon isn’t it?"