When it comes to fishing in the lower Columbia River, not all areas are equal.
Salmon tend to bite better in certain locations than they do in others. We’re not talking here about total catch, but rather catch-per-effort.
Total catch is going to be the greatest where there are the most anglers. Catch-per-effort is like a batting average — statistically what your chances are of getting a fish each time you hit the water.
The numbers are in for April’s spring chinook fishery in the lower Columbia. The river was open for 13 days in April and the Washington and Oregon departments of Fish and Wildlife generate catch estimates based on their angler sampling programs.
Here’s what the numbers tell us. All of this combines hatchery fish kept plus wild fish released to produce a “success rate” percentage:
o The best fishing occurred off the Oregon bank in the St. Helens area. It’s not a big secret that guys who fish off Sand Island at St. Helens do well in the spring. The location is just downstream of the mouth of Multnomah Channel, a main travel route the Willamette-origin spring chinook.
More lower Columbia-origin spring chinook were caught here than at any other location in the river. Forty-one percent of the kept catch were lower Columbia salmon, while riverwide lower Columbia chinook were only about 20 percent of the kept catch.
o Bank fishing off the Washington shore just downstream of Bonneville Dam was the next most productive spot. Half the angling trips in April here resulted in a spring chinook caught, although, again, that figure includes wild salmon that were released.
o The best fishing from a boat also was in the Columbia Gorge. The section between the upstream end Reed Island near Washougal and Beacon Rock (or Rooster Rock on the final day) produced a fish for 34.6 percent of the angler trips.
o The urban sections of the lower Columbia produced least well for boaters. Section 2, which is the east end of Reed Island to the Portland airport tower, was the least productive for boaters with a 17.6 percent success rate. Section 3 (Portland airport tower to Kelley Point) was only slightly better at 19.8 percent success. Then came Section 4 (Kelley Point to Warrior Rock) with a 21.2 percent success rate.
The six sampling sections downstream from Warrior Rock had success rates for boaters ranging from 22.8 percent near Kalama to 32.5 percent near the mouth of the Cowlitz River.
o Bank angling success on the Oregon side of the Columbia was 17.1 percent, which is only about one-third that found on the Washington side. Bank anglers had a 15 percent success rate in the Frenchmen’s-Tena Bar area.
But in many of the sampling sections, the success rate for bank anglers was in the single digits.
Catch rates for spring chinook in the lower Columbia can be influenced by several factors, particularly streamflows from Bonneville Dam and muddy water coming from the Willamette and Cowlitz rivers.
The rates in one year can be significantly different the next spring.