Jack Etling

Super Baits for Fall Chinook 2.0


Super Baits for Fall Chinook 2.0

Earlier this summer, I touched on some of the basics of trolling with Super Baits and Pro-Troll Flashers.  Since then, I’ve had a chance to learn more from those that are developing the technique as well as refine it for myself.  Let’s talk about a few of those items that we can hone our Super Bait game with.

Speed control is an important factor, but it’s not ‘speed over ground’ that matters.  In fact it’s not always about your speed against the current either.  Rather what‘s important is line angle, and the speed at which your flasher is turning.  What makes this technique effective is the action imparted to your lure of choice by the flasher.  Too slow, and the flasher won’t produce the solid thumping action that entices Salmon, too fast and it will spin out of control.  I like to keep that rod tip thumping at a rhythm of just over one beat per second but don’t hesitate to play around with your speed and see what the fish like that day.

Rod length should be 9’6” or greater, but a 10’6” rod with a strong backbone and soft tip and mid section really shines here.  A short ‘pool cue’ rod doesn’t have the give that is needed to allow the flasher to work properly.

In my last blog on this I mentioned that the length of the leader from the swivel to flasher should be around 24”.  This still definitely works, but some of the noted guides refining this tactic such as TJ Hester and Cameron Black have shown that these intermediate leaders can be as short as 16 or even 12 inches.  The reasoning is that the shorter bumper will produce a quicker ‘snap’ than a longer one will.  It seems that 20” makes for a good starting point and one can play with different lengths from there.

For packing your Super Baits its seems that Tuna is the undisputed champion.  But keep on hand some additives such as Sardine, Anise, Krill, or other scents that can set you apart from the fleet and trigger a bite.  Garlic is popular for the upper Columbia, but tends not to work as well in the lower river.

When it comes to locating fish, covering ground is the name of the game.  Since Salmon are on the move through the lower river any stretch of the Columbia can produce at a given time.  Find a water depth that you feel will have Salmon in it given the tide and time of day then fish it.  It also never hurts to have several buddies along with in order to stagger your lines and find the depth that is producing.   When in doubt, troll the channel. 

Having good electronics will pay big dividends when tracking down your quarry.   This will help you dial in not only how deep you should fishing but more importantly whether or not there are fish in the area.  As thick as the fish seem to be this time of year one often doesn’t have to travel far between schools of fish.  As a result it isn’t out of the question to simply choose a starting point and make one continuous pass for the duration of the day.  That said if you have a stretch where you’re getting bit consistently then it goes dead, it stands to reason that the smart move is to run back up and make another pass through the water that produced. 

I want to thank everyone that has read and shared my blog over the past two-plus years, along with Kevin and the team at CSNNW.  The time has come for me to move on to other pursuits.  It has been a lot of fun to share whatever knowledge I may have soaked up from people in the industry such as Jack and Brandon Glass, Rob Brown, and countless other outdoor writers and fisherman who I share this passion with.  Good luck, be safe, and tight lines everyone.

Mid-August Buoy 10 update: Go with whatever you have confidence in

Paul Fisher hoists a 31 pound Upriver Bright Chinook caught at Hammond

Mid-August Buoy 10 update: Go with whatever you have confidence in

What a ride it’s been the first two weeks of the Buoy 10 season.  Depending on whom you ask, the bite has been either gangbusters, or the sky is falling and the Columbia fall Salmon run has totally collapsed.  As with most things in life, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. 

The downside to last year’s spectacular opening weekend is that all of the sudden the masses seem to think they can expect that on an annual basis.  Reality is, that may have been a once or twice in a lifetime occurrence, and even on a good year the bite will be inconsistent for the first half of August.  Thus far, getting on a good bite has simply been a matter of being at the right place at the right time.  Red hot but short-lived flurries of action have been the story this year.

One of the indicators I look at when tracking the Astoria fishery is to keep an eye on reports from Westport, WA.  Those are Columbia River fish making their way down the coastline that get intercepted at the last major port in Washington before turning the corner at Ilwaco. Once the fishing gets good there, Buoy 10 is about a week away from good consistent fishing.  At last glance, the creel survey at Westport was yielding close to 1 King per rod, which should translate to a solid bite at the red can in the coming week or so.

This week the tides are transitioning from a classic ‘holdover’ series to big tide sets by next weekend.  Though these aren’t typically thought of as traditional Chinook tides, sometimes it helps to have a bunch of water pumping fish into the river to spark a bite.  This could also trigger the first meaningful slug of Coho into the river which would help liven things up a bit.

The first few days of the week will feature a morning incoming tide.  This is a good time to work the lower sections of the river, trying to intercept fresh arrivals from the ocean.  I would start out either around Social Security Beach, or ‘A Jetty’ near Ilwaco then work my way up with the tide on the red line or at the checkerboard.  The one trend I have noticed in a season that has lacked trends is above the bridge on the Oregon side near the ship anchorage has been productive around high tide, so keep that in mind.

There hasn’t been much consistency in regards to what is catching fish, either.  Herring, Anchovies, Spinners, they’re all catching fish when the bite happens.  Frankly, right now what works is whatever you have confidence in.  The same goes whether you prefer divers or lead.  Pay attention to those electronics and locate the fish.  If you’re in a crowd not getting bit, you might as well leave the crowd and search for virgin waters.  Sometimes these fish don’t swim where they are supposed to and you have to go find them in unusual areas.

The coming week will say a lot about what to make of this season.  The 3rd week of August is a good indicator as to the overall size of the fall run so time will tell.   This is also the time of the season when the masses show up, so if you don’t want to wait at the ramp for an hour, either get there ridiculously early (4:00 AM) or sleep in and go mid-morning.  Otherwise, have patience with each other and keep in mind that we’re all here to have a good time.  Good luck and be safe out there!

Ten rules for Buoy 10


Ten rules for Buoy 10

1. Be safe.

This is number one for a reason.  Having a vessel that is well prepared for the conditions it could face out here is a life or death matter.  Inflatable life jackets should be checked and recharged if outdated.  Flares, fire extinguishers, electronics, and motors should all be gone over to help minimize risk.

2. Dress for the weather

One rainy day a few years back I learned the hard way that it’s up to the Captain to make sure the crew is properly dressed.  I was faced with dropping off my crew at West Basin so they could walk up to Englunds to get rain coats and bibs.  I made a couple fruitless passes on the Green Line while my phone blew up with tales of a wide open bite at the church hole.  I reconnected with my crew and made it across the sands just in time to watch the last remnants of action dissipate.

3. No tying knots on the boat

Knot tying is done in your garage, or at camp.  Everything should be pre-tied and connected via duo-lock snaps.  Even if you somehow break off at your mainline you need to have at least one extra rod set up and ready to go.

4. Know the tides and how to fish them

I could write and entire blog on this one alone.  In fact, I have.  Any attempt at this topic in the short form would be woefully inadequate so hopefully you’ve caught some of our past blogs one this subject.  If not, find a seminar at a local tackle shop, or hire a guide and bludgeon him with questions.  In regards to catching fish this is easily the most important facet to learn about this fishery.

5. Know your weather

If you don’t already have it on your phone download ‘Fish Weather’ right away.  This will give pinpoint wind forecasts at several weather stations in the area and across the region as well.  Having this information as well as how the tides and wind react to each other will also affect safety.  For example, an outgoing tide couple with a West or Northwest wind spells trouble.

6. Bring good bait

Whether it’s fresh or frozen doesn’t really matter as long as it’s quality. I brine everything be it Herring or Anchovies just to help toughen them up a bit. Keep them cold throughout the day too.  Mushy bait won’t hold up here.

7. Plan your day, but be willing to adjust.

My first day out last year I made a fool proof plan for success based on research and intelligence. We left Hammond Marina and put our lines in at the Jetty Lagoon.  By the time we hit marker 20 we had 2 fish in the box on 5 hookups.  A wiser Captain would have turned around to make another pass through that group of biters but not me.  I stuck to the plan which was to troll all the way to Marker 10 and wait for the tide change.  It took 4 hours and about 8 river miles until the next fish would hit the deck.  The following day I learned from my mistake and changed my plan once we found the bite.  We returned with our 8 fish boat limit at 11:30 that morning.

8. Tackle prep.

Remember that lucky spinner you whacked fish on all season last year?  Chances are it’s been sitting in your spinner box, not seeing the light of day since September 1st and now the hooks are dull and rusted.  Take the time to go through and rebuild those killer blades.  Lubricate reels and make sure they are filled with fresh line.  Re-stock on hooks, leader, flashers, duo-locks, bead chains, divers and whatever else you might use.

9. Fish ID

This is one that I can’t stress enough.  Sport impact on wild Tule Chinook is the number one limiting factor on our season each year.  Learn to identify these fish so they can be released unharmed and make it to the spawning grounds.  With record or near record Chinook returns over the last 5 years there is no reason to think we shouldn’t have a 2 Chinook daily limit through September.

10. Bonk ‘em, bleed ‘em, get ‘em on ice. 

Don’t let your hard earned bounty spoil in the sun.  The river is 65-70 degrees so hosing them down periodically won’t help.  Fisherman’s regularly has great deals on kill bags so pick up a couple before you go.  Even the small cheap ones will hold two Chinook and two Coho plus ice.

There was a good bite above the bridge this week so expect a decent opener.  I’ll have plenty of updates and info coming so stay tuned and be safe out there.

'No Tuna for you'-Plan B means Salmon on the Pacific

'No Tuna for you'-Plan B means Salmon on the Pacific

Thursday night I received a text from Brandon Glass that I’d been expecting, but not hoping for.  “Winds 15-20 knots offshore, Tuna is a no-go.”  For the time being, my bucket list item of heading out to the blue water to chase Albacore Tuna would have to wait.  A few minutes later, my phone buzzed again with the promise of rather exciting plan B. “Near shore looks good.  We’ll fish Salmon and Sturgeon instead.”  My spirits quickly lifted in anticipation of aggressive Chinook and Coho in the not-so distant waters of the Pacific. 

The next morning I would join my good friends Tracy, and Chris along with a couple fellas from Wisconsin named Mike and Dave.  As luck would have it, Mike and Dave’s previously scheduled guide had to cancel due to illness.  Fortunately for them, Brandon happened to have a couple open seats.

We crossed the bar Friday morning in comfort as Brandon’s 28’ Alumaweld effortlessly made short work of 6-8’ swells as we rounded Peacock Spit and headed toward Long Beach. 

Our rig for the day was whole Anchovies behind a Yakima Bait Fish Flash.  One trick Brandon likes to add is to slide a Hoochie skirt over the nose of the Anchovy.  This adds color and can help direct the bite toward the front of the bait and reduce short-strikes.  Most anglers use divers to get their gear down but we used lead.  His reasoning behind this is that lead allows you to feed line to a fish after it strikes if need be, this often results in another opportunity.  In the same scenario, a diver will simply trip and come to the surface.  That’s not to say that divers don’t have their place out on the pond, but they do have their short comings. 

We began our first pass along a rip line in about 60’ of water straight out from the condos.  A quick flurry of bites within the first few minutes resulted in a hatchery Coho, a native Coho, and one that spit the hook.  After that, things slowed down a bit as we searched for a new pod of fish.  After receiving some intel, we made the move out to deeper water to begin our third pass.  This time, as soon as the first two baits hit the water we had a double, then a triple.  It was at this point that things got out of hand.  The incoming tide kept pushing us toward the beach, so as soon as the bite tapered off, we picked up and ran back out and got right back on the fish again. 

I don’t recall a quad, but I counted at least three triples, and too many doubles to count.  The grade of Coho is very good for this early on.  Ours averaged about 6-7 pounds which is great since most of these fish will spend another month in the fertile pastures of the Pacific before hitting freshwater.  We also landed three Chinook and had a couple others spit the hook.  I can say with confidence that this is shaping up to be another outstanding Chinook year for Buoy 10.  The reports from the ocean outside of Illwaco have indicated that there are a lot of adult Kings out there right now, so get ready.

Though my bucket list item will have to wait until next year, by 11:00, we had rounded out our limits of bright Salmon and were headed back to the sheltered waters of the estuary for some catch and release Sturgeon.  Hard to argue with a day like that.

Did someone say Buoy 10?  Yeah, it’s already the most wonderful time of the year again and I’ll have a run down for you next week.  Stay safe out there and have fun!

4th of July Weekend fishing opportunities


4th of July Weekend fishing opportunities

For the active outdoorsmen, the 4th of July weekend offers a nearly unlimited opportunity.  There are literally (figuratively) a thousand different places to be fishing right now and we have plenty of great weather to enjoy it in.  Let’s take a look at the plethora of opportunity available right now in our region.

Summer Chinook is always a headliner this time of year.  The Columbia River ‘June Hog’ as some folks still call it, basically equates to a bigger, meaner, version of a Springer. Though they don’t currently return in the numbers that their spring arriving cousins do, they tend to fall prey to an anglers offering more easily since water conditions are generally better.  They can be caught on pretty much anything you would normally use for a Springer.  Trolled Herring or spinners, Wobblers, Kwikfish, and Maglips will all work.

Summer Steelhead are pouring into the lower Columbia (think below Kalama) and this stretch is littered with beaches that these little fighters travel along. Either by shore or boat, they will fall victim to a prawn spinner or U20 flatfish rather easily.  What’s even better is that these shallow lanes are often occupied by Sockeye, and Summer Chinook as well.  The tributaries are loading up with Steelhead too.  Savvy anglers will downsize their offering to compensate for low, warm, clear water conditions.

Speaking of Sockeye Salmon, the little guys are inundating the Columbia right now as they head upriver.   Counts at Bonneville have soared past well beyond expectations to this point.  The only problem is that they can be a bit finicky when it comes to getting them to bite in the lower river, however Coonstripe Shrimp and small spinners will get them on occasion.  Your best bet to get into large numbers of these tasty critters is to plan a trip to the upper river in mid to late summer.  Some years the daily bag limit will go to 6 fish per angler at Brewster pool and the Hanford area.

Perhaps you’ve had your fill of the big river and want to hit the beach for some salt therapy.  Bottom fishing for Rockfish and Lingcod remains good, and Cabezon retention opens July 1st.  The ocean appears it will cooperate over the long weekend too.  Always check with the Coast Guard before you head across the bar no matter what port you depart from.  It’s also a good idea to allow time at the boat ramp for a voluntary safety check from the CG as well.  This is a good way to help hedge your bet against trouble on the sea without finding out the hard way.

In addition to Cabezon opening July 1st, so does the Cape Falcon Salmon season.  The Chinook prospects certainly look promising this year, but catch rates aren’t usually that high on Kings for sport anglers at sea.  Most of these fish stay deep and can be tricky to locate but some are successful and occasionally adult Chinook will hit a shallow line targeting Coho.  Though the same can’t be said about the promise of the Coho forecast, it should be noted that even last year when the run came in at a fraction of pre-season expectations we still saw pretty solid Coho fishing in the ocean and at Buoy 10.

TUNA!! Now that I have your attention, it’s time to go chase them out in the big blue.   Albacore started biting back in mid June and the action has only picked up since then.  As usual with the early part of the season, most fish are being taken on trolled plugs, but live bait should begin to produce in a few weeks.

If you plan on trying any of the fisheries off the North coast, make sure to bring 6/0 barbless hooks and Dacron leaders.  The Sturgeon bite in Astoria is absolutely insane right now.  Guides are often boating 40 or more gators in a day using Sand Shrimp and Anchovies.  Though retention is closed, most of these fish are in or around the “keeper” range so be prepared for a sore back and arms.  If you’ve never caught a sturgeon down here I can tell you they are fresh from the sea and fight like a fish twice their size.

All that and I didn’t even get to Trout, Kokanee, Bass, or Walleye.  The opportunities this weekend are limitless so don’t miss out on the great outdoors that this amazing country of ours has to offer.  Have a safe 4th and God bless America!

Using rotating flashers for Chinook


Using rotating flashers for Chinook

By the time the Columbia River Fall Chinook run had reached its peak last year, the rumor finally got out to the masses.  A number of guides and a select group of private captains that were in the know had been slaying the Upriver Brights on a method developed and employed for years by Tri-cities anglers.  No longer must one rot on the hook just outside of the slot and go 0 for 1 because he didn’t get on the river at 3AM.  Or worse yet decide not to fish at all because “the tides aren’t right this weekend.”  The success we saw on the lower river last fall was no fluke and its use expands far beyond the URB’s of the Columbia, so let’s take a look at how to employ this killer combo.

Rigging this setup is similar to how one rigs a fish-flash and herring for spring Chinook but there are a few important differences.  Perhaps the most important one is what makes this tandem so effective.  What’s different about the rotating flasher is that instead of spiraling through the water like an Aaron Rodgers touchdown pass it swings around in a wide arc.  Because of this, the standard 12”-16” bumper between your swivel and flasher won’t do, we need something closer to 24”.  This allows the flasher to move in a larger circumference and therefore impart more action to the bait.  Conversely, we need to shorten the leader from the flasher to the bait.  36” is a good starting point but remember that the longer you make the leader the less action your bait will have, not to mention it gets pretty difficult to net a fish with a total leader length of more than 7’.

After their introduction around a decade ago, the Superbait and Super Cut-Plug had become somewhat of a forgotten lure on the lower Columbia.  But recent success with this method has brought these colorful plastic lures back into the spotlight.  As far as I can tell it seems that color doesn’t seems to matter a ton as long as you follow the basic rules of available light (solid colors in overcast or low light, metallics in direct light).  Pack them with canned Tuna, Sardine, Herring, or Anchovy.  Toss them in the river and troll them downstream while waiting for your rod to fold over.

Superbaits aren’t the only lure that works behind a rotating flasher.  Small trolling spinners and plug-cut Herring proved very effective for Spring Chinook this year at times.  I definitely plan on running Anchovies at Buoy 10 this year with them this season too.

Now that you have the rigging down you just need to find some fish to put your gear in front of.  This is where good electronics are worth their weight in gold.  Unlike early season Springer trolling you can forget dredging the bottom with your lead.  In the summer and fall months Chinook will suspend off the bottom during the tide changes and the flood.  As a result, all you need to do is clip enough weight to your slider to get down to the depth you’re marking fish at.  During the ebb is a good time to start fishing deeper.  Work your gear within 5’-10’ of the bottom to locate traveling fish.  Line counter reels are almost a must here.  It also doesn’t hurt to have a few buddies on board so you can stagger depths until a biter is found.

Though it was the Fall Salmon season last year that brought this technique to light in the Portland area, it’s proven quite versatile in other fisheries as well.  Spring Chinook in the Willamette harbor, Buoy 10, and Ocean Salmon all lend themselves well to this tactic.  With Summer Chinook beginning to show up, I’m certain this will have a place for those looking to avoid the 3AM launch time at Bonneville that’s necessary to grab one of the relatively few anchor spots.  Good luck out there!!

Shad arrive in the big rivers


Shad arrive in the big rivers

The lowly Shad is a species I often refer to as the Rodney Dangerfield of anadromous fish since they get absolutely no regard.  And why should they?  A fresh Shad smells like a week dead Salmon that’s been rotting in the sun.  They also happen to be covered in a layer of industrial strength slime that no amount of power washing could ever remove.  But what they lack in aesthetic value, they make up for in heart voraciousness.

Shad are beginning to show up now and will be around through the end of June.  The Oregon City area is pretty much the only known place to fish the main stem Willamette however there are a few places on the Multnomah Channel to catch them as well.  Oregon City also tends to see better catches than Columbia early in the season.  By early June the big river will be in full swing as areas around Washougal up to Bonneville Dam produce good catches with the area aptly known as the ‘Shad Rack’ being one of, if not the best spot on the river on any given day.

Shad are primarily fished on anchor and even in a low water year such as this our rivers are subject to ever changing flow levels.  This combined with the fact that the areas that tend to be the most productive often have very loose gravel bottoms that can make it difficult to keep your anchor stuck.  Use a heavy ‘Columbia River’, or ‘Kedge’ style anchor with at least 4’ of log chain to keep your anchor stuck.  The Coast Guard recommends a 7/1 ratio of anchor rope to safely anchor your boat, i.e. you would need 105’ of rope out to anchor in 15 feet of water.  

A wide range of gear can be used when fishing from a boat.  From a $30 trout combo with a spinning reel to high-end Steelhead rods with casting reels and everything in between.  However, there is a case to be made for using at the very least, a quality reel with a fine-tuned drag system.  Not only will these slimy critters test your gear, but if you fish for Shad long enough, it’s only a matter of time until you hook a Spring Chinook.  When that happens, you want to have a set up that will give you a good chance to land your prize.  I prefer a 7 foot 6 inch Steelhead plug rod rated at 8-17 pounds with a moderate action.  These offer a very soft tip with enough backbone able to handle anything you might hook into.

For terminal gear, most people use 12 to 15 pound monofilament mainline tied to a standard dropper rig on a spreader, or slider.  Dropper lines vary from as little as 24 inches in shallow water to 36 inches or more for deep water.  Shad do tend to be a bit leader shy, so I like to use 8# Ultragreen or P-line CXX.  This line is strong enough to handle a Chinook on light gear, and it also allows your lures to have more action in the water, eliciting more strikes.

Shad are plankton feeders so in regards to lures, the only rule is small and colorful.  These can range from the classic Dick Knight, or Triple-Teaser lures, to a small chrome barrel swivel with a Siwash hook clipped to end and a couple red or green 6mm beads stacked on top.  My most consistent producer is the mini-Dick Knight in chrome/chartreuse, or chrome/red, however there are times, especially on the Willamette that they find a small green jig head (1/32, or 1/64 ounce) with a pink or green jelly grub to be irresistible.

Shad are generally fished in water of less than 20 feet of water.  Just like when anchor fishing for Salmon, current breaks, shelves and ledges that funnel fish toward your gear are always good areas to target.  Like any type of fishing, things can get slow at times.  Shad often travel in narrow lanes and will go on and off the bite with changing light conditions.  Don’t hesitate to change locations if other boats are hooking up and you aren’t.  Another trick to keep the bite going is to pick up your rod and bounce the weight up and down off the bottom.  It’s amazing how often this will trigger a bite.

This fishery offers a wonderful balance of challenge and steady action which makes it perfect for getting the whole family involved.  In my opinion there’s no better species to get your kids excited about fishing.  Good luck!

Digging for Razor Clams


Digging for Razor Clams

If you’re like me and you’ve had just about enough of this lackluster Spring Chinook season, you may want to take a look at some other options.  Instead of lamenting your empty freezer or staying home, consider heading to the beach for some clam digging.

Razor clams are hands down the best tasting bivalve on the coast.  Their tender, flavorful body will make anyone salivate merely at the thought of biting into a breaded and fried specimen.  Coming off of 2015 in which Razor Clamming was closed coast wide in both Oregon and Washington due to Domoic acid for much of the spring and summer.  As a result, many of those Razors never got harvested and are ripe to be plucked from the surf.

Doing so can be tricky at times however.  Depending on where you are searching for them, they’re “show” will take different forms.  In the higher parts of the beach they will be a small hole in the sand, or a dimple. Down at the surf line the clams will be closer to the surface and will often make their necks visible as the filter water in and out of their bodies.  These are generally the easiest to dig as they are so close to the surface but beware of the surf and the risk of losing your catch to a receding wave.

Most Razor Clam harvesters most often use an implement known as a “Clam Gun” to catch their quarry.  These have a long metal or PVC cylinder with a sealed handle and a hole in it for the user to create suction with.  These devices have seen some innovations in the last couple of years involving high quality Stainless Steel or aluminum components and different diameters to accommodate the full range of clam enthusiasts. 

Some clam gun manufacture’s such as “Clam-Vac” have begun vertically attaching a small tube to the side of the cylinder.  This helps to relieve the pressure as the gun is pushed into, and pulled out of the sand.  Though I’ve never tried them, it seems like this would make the task of gathering Razor’s more attainable for the young, old, or for anybody who struggles with it.

Other tools to take along with you include a net to put your catch in.  Danielson makes one that easily clips to your belt loop allowing your hands to be free for digging.  At minimum you’ll want knee boots, but I like to use my breathable chest-waders.  I also take along a plastic or metal broom handle with the head unscrewed to use a tamping stick.  Using a 3’ piece of 40# mono, tie a slipknot through the top of the broom handle and tie the other end to large duo-lock snap then clip it to your belt loop.  That way you can drop the tamping stick and dig without losing it in the surf.

As far as locations are concerned the Oregon side of the Columbia River has excellent digging from Ft. Stevens State Park, south all the way to Seaside.  Many of the beaches from Gearhart north have drive-on beach access that even most 2 wheel drive vehicles can handle.  Of course always exercise caution when driving off road however.  Washington also has great clamming to offer.  The Long Beach Peninsula is loaded with tasty Razors but the seasons tend to be more short lived and tightly monitored though so always check with WDFW before going.

Tides are easily the most important factor when determining whether or not to dig.  Any “minus” tide will do, but the lower the better.  Make sure to arrive at least 2 hours before low slack.  This will not only allow plenty of time to dig, but often the beaches get crowded and can be picked over by the time low tide is near.  The other factor to consider before going is the height of the surf.  Often when things get too rough out there (8’-10’ or more) the clams don’t seem to show as well.  Check USCG bar reports to get an idea before you go.

As luck would have it, we happen to have some killer tides coming this weekend so take Mom down with you or surprise her with fried Razors for Mothers Day dinner!   Good luck out there, and be safe.

April fishing update, an odd spring Chinook season so far


April fishing update, an odd spring Chinook season so far

The 2016 Spring Chinook season is shaping up to be an odd one to say the least. Snow pack is much improved over last year but it seems that perhaps the poor ocean conditions of 2015 may have had an adverse effect on our Spring Chinook stocks at sea.  The Columbia has been closed for two weeks now and given the lackluster counts at Bonneville thus far, I would be surprised to see it reopen before June. 

To make matters worse, Oregon’s tried and true fail safe river known as the Willamette hasn’t exactly been on fire either.  Many top guides are struggling to find two or three fish a day with the occasional skunk happening at times too. 

In addition to ocean conditions being to blame, one can’t spend more than a few minutes at Clackamette Park or the falls without realizing what a huge problem Sea Lions are causing for Fisherman.  Between their presence in high numbers putting fish off the bite, or straight up stealing them off an otherwise successful angler’s line, the lower Willamette is an absolute bloodbath.  What to do about the situation with the Pinnipeds is a discussion for another forum but one can’t help but notice the appearance of these predators in northwest rivers over the last fifteen years or so has begun to make a huge impact on our Salmon runs.

Things are not all doom and gloom however.  The truth is that there are still fish to be caught, it just may take a little more time and patience than it has in previous years.  Bites are precious now more than ever so be sure to make each one count by keeping your hooks sharp and your gear in top working order. 

Summer and Fall Salmon Seasons have been set!  This includes my all-time favorite fishery, Buoy 10.  There will be a few changes this year down at the red can that aim to help extend the season all the way to Labor Day.  While the majority of Chinook strains remain very healthy, the Snake River, and Lower River Tule stocks are down.  This means managers have decided to designate Sundays and Mondays between August 1st and September 5th as “clipped Chinook only” days to help limit the number of wild fish taken.  If this season is anywhere near as good as last year, it shouldn’t hurt your ability to load your freezer and cupboards with plenty of Salmon, you may just be faced with the prospect of having to turn back one of those stud wild URB’s we run into up there from time to time.  Other than that, the bag limit will remain similar to past years with two Salmon only one of which may be a Chinook and Coho must be clipped. 

The trout stocking schedule is in full swing as well as Spring Bear (Hopefully you were luckier than I was and managed to draw a tag).  The full Schedule is on the ODFW page where you can also sign up to receive email updates on which lakes and reservoirs have been stocked.  Another activity that is fun for the whole family is the sport reward bounty program for Northern Pikeminnow, which begins May 1st.  Chicken livers or cheese balls fished in and around wing dams and along current seams where they congregate, will produce bites.

Did I mention Summer Steelhead? No.  But these feisty brats are entering the tribs in good numbers now even if the DFW’s aren’t stocking them in numbers like they used to.  The Sandy and Clackamas on the Oregon side as well as the Cowlitz, Kalama, and Lewis are starting to see catchable numbers show up.

Whatever you plan to do, make sure you take advantage of this great weather we are having and get outside with the family!

How to improve your hook to landing ratios


How to improve your hook to landing ratios

A few years back I was trolling downstream from Willamette Park, my crew and I had our rods staggered throughout the water column in an attempt to cover the greatest amount of water possible.  Passing through the deep hole just up from the Spaghetti Factory Teddy’s rod took two sharp dips, hesitated,……buried, then went slack just as he was about to pick up the rod.  Teddy then began a long painful retrieve only to find the horrific sight of a thoroughly mauled Herring, and no Spring Chinook to show for it.  As can often happen to those that don’t fall into the “Open class” category of Spring Chinook anglers, we went the rest of the day without another opportunity.  Though it’s impossible not to miss a bite once in a while, there are some things we can do to maximize the number of chances we convert on. 

It all starts with a good rod that should be matched up to the type of fishing you are doing.  This doesn’t mean you have to spend $300 on a state of the art composite rod (though that does help) but you should expect to drop at least $60.  The Okuma SST, Berkley IM7, and North River are all good lines of technique specific sticks that won’t break the bank.  My absolute favorite all-around rod of all time is the 934 Kenai Kwik.  However, you won’t find me dragging hardware behind it because it is designed as a bait rod and has too soft a tip for blades.  Find something that works for how you plan to fish.

Everyone has a different opinion on mainline and although I’m a fan of braid for many tactics, I don’t often use it to troll for Springers.  When I do it would be for back-bouncing or trolling spinners, but I mostly pull bait so mono is my go-to.

For most people, the first lesson they ever learned about catching fish is to always keep your hooks sharp.  This has never been truer than with barbless hook rules in effect on the Willamette and Columbia.  Speaking of hooks, most of the rivers we fish in the spring allow up to three per rod.  Don’t hesitate to experiment with this.  I would recommend if using a triple mooching rig to not go over 3/0 with any of the hooks.  Anything heavier will add too much weight to get a proper roll in my experience.

This weekend I played around with running a size 2 treble as a trailing hook.  If you’re wondering how I pulled that off considering you can’t thread a treble through a Herring, I Simply used a Herring Helmet which allows you to only run the top hook through the mid-point of the bait.  I would also recommend that you shorten up your hook spacing to about 3 finger widths.  I didn’t get bit that day, but I ran a similar setup at Buoy 10 last summer with good results.

Knowing how and when to set the hook is another critical component to landing Salmon.  Anytime you’re using bait, be it Herring, Prawns, eggs, or even wrapped Kwikfish, it’s important to remember three words: Let them eat.  Leave the rod alone until it is buried and line is coming off the reel.  There is a theory that when a Salmon picks up a bait (specifically baitfish) it will chew it a few times then turn the opposite direction and swim off.  This is in an attempt to swallow the bait head first.  Salmon can’t swim backward so if you set the hook before line is coming off the reel, you run the risk of pulling it right out of Mr.  Springer’s mouth.  I will sometimes tell novices when they get bit to ignore their rod and stand over their reel and look down at it waiting for the drag to peel before picking up the rod.

News just broke that the Columbia River season will be cut short by one day so Friday the 8th will be our last chance at black-faced Springer for a while.  Hopefully you have a chance to get out and take advantage before it closes, if not there’s always the Willamette.  I’ll be digging razors since we have great tides this weekend.  Hope to see you down there!