Year in and year out, trolling is by far the most popular method on the Columbia River. Though it certainly isn’t the only technique by which to fill your freezer with arguably the world’s tastiest Salmon, there’s a reason so many anglers employ trolling. This week, we’ll take a look at some of the conditions, and structure to pay attention to while chasing Springers on the Columbia.
2016 is shaping up to be vastly different than the previous year. The Columbia basin has a far greater snow pack which will help keep the headwaters cool and reservoirs full throughout the summer. This will translate to cooler water temps and higher flows than we had last year. I don’t think however that the flows will be like the ones we saw in 2011, in which the Columbia surpassed flood stage for nearly two weeks. This year looks to be more like an average, or slightly above average year in terms of runoff. This should keep fish biting well throughout the season but not produce such heavy flows that we have no choice but to anchor in the bushes.
Looking back through my journal entries it seems that in years similar to this in snow pack, your efforts are best spent targeting shallow to medium depth flats such as the ones found near the airport, Davis Bar and Corbett. In addition to the tides, I use the Vancouver gauge to help he choose what water to target. Right now the river is hovering around 10’ which is a little higher than ideal for trolling the big river, but definitely not out of the question. I’ve trolled up fish with the gauge as high as 12.75’. Current breaks caused by wing dams, points, or other structure can help funnel fish.
Though the rigging may not change much, this technique looks a little different on the big river than it does on the Willamette. Stronger currents put fish close to the bottom meaning that more often than not your lead should be dredging a trough in the sand as the boat maneuvers downstream. Shorter lead dropper lines of 12-16” will get your gear down even closer to the deck. Most guides will tell you than if the cut edge of your Herring isn’t sand-blasted after each pass, you weren’t fishing. The one exception might come when the tide slows down during the incoming. In this case I still like to keep my back rods banging the bottom, but might bring the bow rods a crank or two up as fish may suspend a little in softer flows.
One feature that is unique to the lower Columbia is the rolling dunes found across its substrate. When the current pushes hard, the low spots between these mounds can offer great shelter for weary upriver bound Salmon. Many anglers will get lazy and just fish the tops of the dunes all the while passing their gear right over the top of aggressive Salmon. Instead of passing up these fish, keep a close eye on your sonar and kick the motor into neutral about the time the boat passes the top of the dune. This will drop your baits into the low spot where fish hold. Once you approach the incline, put the motor back into gear and repeat the process. This may seem tedious at times, but it will pay off once you get the hang of it.
Because you’ll spend most of your time dragging bottom it is wise to change your Herring after a pass or two. Bait will have a tendency to ‘mushroom out’ which after a while will cause it to stop spinning. Another solution would be to use a Herring helmet such as the ‘Dick’s Sure-Spin’ to help keep your bait together. These can also be used to add some color to the equation.
The vast majority of trollers will use some sort of rotating flasher such as the YBC Fish Flash, Short Bus, or other variety. It’s best to let available light and water clarity determine flasher color. For turbid water or low light conditions use contrasting fluorescent patterns while metallic colors reflect better under clearer water and sunnier weather. Shades of green, Chartreuse, blue, and orange opposite chrome are hard to beat.
We have some nice holdover tides this week so if you have a chance to get out, now is the time to do it. The Willamette looks like it will be blown out for at least 10 days so focusing your efforts above Kelly Point would be wise. Good luck out there!