Tips for catching Columbia River summer chinook

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

Guide Tom Burgess remembers fishing in the 1960s near Bonneville Dam when the chinook simply were called "June hogs.''

There wasn't much to it. Using a railroad spike for weight, he'd cast out a Spin-N-Glo off the mouth of Tanner Creek. Fishing was pretty good and not too crowded.

But summer salmon fell on hard times. Fishing in June and July was closed from 1973 through 2001.

Eventually, the run was rebuilt and fishing reopened in 2002. The 2012 summer chinook season debuts Saturday in the Columbia River with an excellent run of 91,200 forecast to return.

Fishing is scheduled to be open through July 1 downstream of Bonneville Dam and through July 31 between Bonneville and the Washington-Oregon border east of Umatilla, Ore.

Burgess of Big Gulp Guide Service is an Astoria native, but was raised in the Bonneville area. He's big fan of summer chinook.

"These summers are awesome fish,'' Burgess said last week at a fishing seminar in Portland. "They're great. The fight good, they're quality fish. They're big fish.''

While not quite the table fare of a spring chinook, they are runner-up, and top an ocean-caught coho, steelhead or fall chinook, he said.

"They are absolutely table fare delight,'' Burgess said.

Summer chinook fishing between the deadline at Bonneville and Skamania Island can be very good, but with the raging streamflow of the Columbia in that stretch it can be very dangerous, he said.

"You may get set out, you may be all right, the problem is you're going to have other guys who come in there and they may not be as well equipped or know what they're doing and that's when you get into situations,'' Burgess said.

He said he will not fish the Bonneville Dam unless the Columbia's flow drops substantially.

But the Columbia between Chinook Landing at Troutdale and Caterpillar Island downstream of Vancouver is good water for summer chinook, Burgess said.

"You want to anchor up, and it's easy to anchor, there's lots of room and it fishes really well,'' he said. "Those fish come through there, they loll around in there, you have a very good chance of catching fish.''

Don't be worried if the water is only 6 to 8 feet deep.

"If the current is still flowing hard, I would tuck into those sandy beaches and those banks as close as I could get,'' Burgess said.

Here are some of his tips:

• There are lots of ways to fish in this stretch. Spinners with size No. 4 to 6 blades are productive. He mentioned Good Day Fishing's hammered brass blade with a purple or blue tip. K14 and K15 Kwikfish work well.

Chartreuse and silver is a standard, but pink and cerise Kwikfish work well, too.

"For some reason, in the summer water the pink shows up really well.''

Spinners should have a prawn tail and Kwikfish need a bait wrap.

• When fishing in less than 10 feet, use 24- to 30-inch droppers. In 10 to 20 feet of water, experiment with droppers from 24 to 34 inches. In 20 to 30 feet of water, try a dropper as long as 48 inches.

"The key is as the water runs harder, the tide goes out, the fish run more suspended,'' he said. "They do one of two things. They move in closer to shore or they move up a little higher....As you go deeper, you want to extend your dropper.''

• Using a Jumbo Jet Diver with a Kwikfish will work.

• Try flatlining a MagLips 4.5 plug on 17-pound-test. Get it out 70 to 90 feet behind the boat. When adding a bait wrap to a MagLips, be sure the wrap is small.

• Trolling with plug-cut herring just like for spring chinook works in the Chinook Landing-to-Caterpillar Island reach.

"Make sure you have enough weight,'' he said. "I've found that guys do much better with a heavier weight, instead of six ounces, go with eight. Keep that presentation closer to the boat and in contact with that bottom.''

If the river is running too hard to troll, then anchor.

"I think if you fish off the Washington side you'd better be a little more familiar with the river,'' Burgess said. "It's a little deeper, there are some wings, pilings, rocks. There are things that if you don't know about might get you in trouble with your gear. On the Oregon side, there's not as much. It's more sandy and easier to anchor, easier to fish.''

• Try fishing between Government Island and the Oregon shore.

"When that water runs high like it is, go back in there. Those fish go back in there and mill around like goldfish,'' he said.