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News / Sports / Outdoors

Summer salmon fishing is slow for moment, but bite expected to get better

Sockeye, steelhead numbers low so far

By TERRY OTTO, For The Columbian
Published: June 24, 2023, 5:55am
3 Photos
It's smiles all around for these anglers who were lucky enough to take a limit of summer Chinook while fishing with Bill Monroe Outdoors. Summer Chinook bite well when they are on the move, so stationary methods work best.
It's smiles all around for these anglers who were lucky enough to take a limit of summer Chinook while fishing with Bill Monroe Outdoors. Summer Chinook bite well when they are on the move, so stationary methods work best. (Bill Monroe Outdoors photo) Photo Gallery

The Columbia River opened for summer salmon fishing on June 16.

Anglers can now fish for summer Chinook, sockeye, and steelhead from the Astoria-Megler Bridge up to the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco and from Richland to Priest Rapids Dam.

However, fishing has been slow to start.

The preseason forecast is for a return of 85,400 summer Chinook adults. About 35,000 had crossed Bonneville as of Wednesday, June 21.

The projection for this year’s sockeye run is 235,000 fish. That return would be well below last year’s record return of nearly 665,00 adults.

Steelhead numbers are still low, and no one is expecting a blockbuster year, but the action was fair for bank anglers in the lower river.

Shad fishing also opened on June 16. More than 1.3 million shad have crossed Bonneville this year, and the run is past its peak and will be slowing.

Fishing guide Bill Monroe Jr. of Bill Monroe Outdoors fished the Columbia River in the St. Helens, Ore.-area on the opening day, and while fish were caught, it was difficult.

“We went out (Friday). We hooked five and landed three but were only able to keep one of them,” Monroe said. “There was some good action near Rainier, and that was just about it.”

He fished Saturday as well, with the same result: one Chinook that he could keep.

Monroe reported that boat fishing for Chinook at Bonneville Dam was also slow.

(Anglers should note that the usual boat deadline at Beacon Rock has been moved up to the deadline at the Bonneville Dam.)

Bank anglers also fared poorly at Bonneville Dam, although lower Columbia River bank anglers did better. The bank fishing bite was best near Kalama and Vancouver.

Anglers fishing near channel marker 49, near Chinook Landing boat launch also found few fish. This reach did improve a little over the last few days.

Monroe does think it will pick up soon.

“It can only improve in my opinion,” he said. “This summer could really turn on in a couple weeks.”

He explained that the spring Chinook run was late this year, and many of those fish may be joining the summer Chinook as they arrive.

“If those springers show up, they could mingle with those summer fish and it could be an epic fishery,” Monroe said. “If the springers and summers show up at once, that could really be something.”

The water temp is also still fairly cold, at about 61 degrees. Once the water warms, the bite should get better.

The summer Chinook are on the move, and most anglers are fishing stationary baits to get them. Monroe has been anchoring along the fish traveling lanes and fishing Kwikfish wrapped with sardine fillets or tuna just off the bottom.

Bank anglers are mostly “plunking,” which involves casting heavy weights to fish plugs and spinners fixed near the bottom. The most popular offering for steelhead and sockeye is a Spin-n-glo fished with coon shrimp. Bank anglers looking for Chinook are fishing plugs and spinners.

The daily limit is two salmon or one salmon and one steelhead. Only adipose fin-clipped hatchery Chinook or steelhead may be kept, and reports so far indicate a low mark rate among the Chinook that have been caught. Anglers are reminded that barbless hooks are required for all salmon fishing in the Columbia River.

Sockeye that are kept count toward the daily salmon limit.

There were some decent catches of sockeye by bank anglers in the lower river, and some areas did give up some steelhead. Both species tend to travel near the bank in shallow water, sometimes five feet or less, giving bank anglers the best shot. The Chinook will travel much deeper, in 20 to 30 feet of water.

Fishing is best in the morning hours, and a falling tide improves the bite.

There is the possibility that the run could come in under the projection, and the fish could arrive late, according to Monroe. Such was the case with this year’s spring Chinook run.

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Tributaries open for salmon

The Lewis River is open for hatchery Chinook salmon until July 31. The daily limit is six fish, including one adult salmon.

The river reopened when managers realized they would meet their brood stock needs. The river is open for bank fishing only from Johnson Creek up to Colvin Creek.

While the fishing is slow, some Chinook are being caught and there are still some holding in the river.

The Lewis River is currently open for hatchery steelhead retention from the mouth up to Johnson Creek. The daily limit is three fin-clipped hatchery adults.

The Cowlitz River is also open for hatchery steelhead and salmon from the mouth to the deadline at the Barrier Dam. The daily limit is six fish, including three adults, of which only one can be a Chinook.

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For more information, contact the Region 5 office in Ridgefield at 360-696-6211.

For guided trips, Bill Monroe Outdoors: 503-702-4028, https://billmonroeoutdoors.com/

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