There has been a lot of starting and stopping with spring Chinook seasons this year, but there is one Columbia River fishery that has remained hot, and open all spring — the walleye fishery happening in the Columbia River Gorge right now.
At times this year the walleye fishing has been the best in long years. For instance, in an April creel survey, 89 anglers kept 333 walleye and released 133, which works out to 5.2 walleye per rod.
And, there is still a month left to get in on it.
Fishing guide Shane Magnuson of Upper Columbia Guide Service reports that fishing this year has been exceptional.
“It’s been good fishing the last couple weeks,” said Magnuson, “and it should be good through the month of June.”
The walleye fishing in the Gorge centers around two timelines. The first is the pre-spawn bite, which happens in February and March. This is when the biggest females tend to be caught. These are giants up to 15 pounds, although the number of fish caught daily tends to be lower.
The fish generally spawn in April, and by May they are in a post-spawn bite as they try to recover from spawning. That is when anglers begin to catch more fish overall, but the giant females are less likely to be caught.
Still, there are big fish in the mix.
“We tend to catch one or more fish in the seven-to-eight-pound range every day,” Magnuson said. “We always release those after a photo or two. They are our brood stock fish. We don’t want to kill those.”
He makes the point that the best eating walleye are from one to four pounds anyway, and larger fish are less tasty. The walleye is considered one of the best tasting fresh water fish to be had in North America.
Most of fish are in the 1-to-5-pound range, with the average walleye coming in at 2 to 3 pounds.
Magnuson usually fishes from the Maryhill State Park below the John Day Dam all the way down to a mile or so below the mouth of the Deschutes River, although he will sometimes fish above the dam.
“Once in a while, if the weather is rough, I will fish up there by Crow Butte near Boardman,” he said. “It can also be really good, but it’s a longer drive, so I don’t get up there much.”
The weather below the dam can get rough, especially when the notorious Gorge winds pick up. Waves up to 9 or 10 feet tall can develop suddenly. That is why anglers need to have boats that can handle big waves in case they have to run back to the launch.
Magnuson mostly targets water that is 20 to 35 feet deep along current seams where the fish can hold easily in the softer current and nab food that is flowing downstream. These areas are often reefs, or have rocky bottoms. However, many areas he targets down near the Deschutes are of a sand bottom.
There are two main methods used to take the fish, include trolling downstream with bottom-bouncing worm harnesses, or by jigging with blade baits or jigs.
He reports that the trolling is the easiest method. He rigs up with lead bottom-bouncers rigged up with a leader. At the business end of the leader, he will run small spin-n-glos and a two-hook night crawler rig.
“I just put them out so they bounce the bottom, then put the rod in the rod holder and wait for the fish to pull it down.”
The jigging method takes a bit more finesse, and sometimes his clients are not experienced enough to fish this way. He uses his motor to control the boats drift to align with the current, while the anglers jig the baits vertically.
“I have more trouble with guys jigging,” Magnuson said. “They have to be able to understand what a bite feels like and what the bottom feels like.”
He often jigs with the Worden’s Showdown Blade baits, or with a jig tipped with a nightcrawler. Good colors include white, purple, black, turquoise, fire tiger, or chartreuse. He will also sometimes tip the jigs with the Gulp Minnows, a soft-bodied bait.
“Those can work really well at times,” he adds.
His methodology includes trolling downstream over fish holding areas, and when he gets bit, he marks the location on his GPS. He continues to troll over the spot until the fish stop biting. At that point he switches to jigging, and works the spot until he stops getting bit. Then he moves on to look for more fish.
The local Vancouver bite centers around the I-205 Bridge, and the Washougal Reef near Camas. That fishery heats up a little later, and is just getting going right now. That bite will run later, into the month of July, and involves the same techniques.
Weather does affect the fishing, but if conditions remain good, anglers can expect the fishing to remain exceptional through June up in the Gorge. By July the river is inundated with food, such as shad larvae, and when that happens the walleye have so much food available, it gets very hard to get them to bite a bait.
So, get them while you can.
Terry Otto offers a weekly southwest Washington fishing report and forecast as part of Bob Rees’ The Guide Forecast at www.theguidesforecast.com
Guided Trips: Upper Columbia Guide service: 509-630-5433, https://www.uppercolumbiaguide.com/about-us