Spring time is so close we can all almost hear the first honey bee zip by our ear, we can picture the flowers and trees blooming across the land, and we can smell the spring Chinook coming back from their long 3-4 year journey in the ocean. That’s right, with spring time just around the corner, so is the arrival of one of the most sought after fish there is. There is something that a spring Chinook does to all avid fishermen that cannot be explained. Maybe it’s the fact that these fish are extremely aggressive and usually will bite exactly what is put in their face, maybe it’s the fact that these fish can rip line off your reel at about 35 feet per second, or maybe it’s the fact that these fish are the best eating fish you have ever sunk your teeth into. If these fish can make it past all the rath of sea lions and other obstacles a good run of these fish will be heading for the Cowlitz and North Fork Lewis Rivers.
The Cowlitz River is going to be your first and best bet out of the two rivers to pick up some springers. A year ago the estimated return was 4,100 and the run came back stronger than predicted at 4,900. The predicted run this year on the Cowlitz is 12,500 fish, with a spawning need of 1,250 fish. If this return happens it would be double what the 5 year average has been, which pretty much means GAME ON! A majority of these fish are going to be bonked at the mouth of the Cowlitz. The technique best for picking up fish here is to anchor up based on the tides. Every fisherman out there has their own technique and spots of where these fish travel, the rule of thumb is most fish will be in 6-25 feet of water. Find that depth and anchor. There are many lures of choice but Luhr Jensen Kwik fish is the most popular. Sizes K-13 to K-16, with the K-14 & K-15 the most common. The larger sizes are used when the current slows down, the smaller sizes are good when there is faster current. On the belly of your kwikfish place a sardine fillet and attach it using stretchy thread. This will make your plug give off a very oily scent to the springers heading its way. 50″ leaders & 18″ to 26″ lead lines are industry standard. For weight you can use 2 or 8 ounces depending on the depth and current of the water.
If you’re not looking to anchor fish another great way to pick up springers in the Cowlitz is to back troll for them. The method of choice is going to be either back trolling plugs or bait and diver. You’re going to use the same set up as anchored but you will be trolling against the current with your kicker motor slow enough to allow the boat to back down with the current. This can be a very effective method! Launch at either barrier dam or blue creek and work around that area.
If you’re reading this article and getting sad because you don’t have a boat, don’t worry because tons of fish are caught on the Cowlitz by bank fishermen. Plunking is highly effective on this river and there are lots of places to do it. From your fishing pole, use a 15 to 25-pound mainline and two 8mm beads up your line, then tie a size 3 swivel and a 32-inch piece of 30-40 pound mono. Run up a large slider followed by two more 8mm beads and then another size 3 swivel. Tie on another 36-inch 15-20 pound leader and size 2 Spin-N-Glo with two 5mm red beads and a double 2/0 hook. For bait you can use sand shrimp or cured prawns. Some good places to give a chance are the high bank hole, which is located across from Delameter Road just below Four Corners; this is one of the best holes on the river. Another good bet would be the mouth of the Toutle Located on the east side of the river, take I-5 exit 49, head east and take the first left, which is a frontage road. Travel about 2 miles to the parking area above the train bridge at the Burlington Northern-Sante Fe gate, park there and it’s about a mile walk.
The Lewis this year is also expected to get a better than normal Spring Chinook numbers. The forecast a year ago was 2,200 and the actual run was 1,900 which were worst of the decade. This year the expected number back is 6000, which if it turns out could make for a really good year. The hatcheries need 950 spring Chinook for spawning purposes. I talked to Paul Ambrose from Great Northwest Rivers Guide Service (www.greatnwrivers.com) He said that the technique of choice in the north fork is to hover fish, simply put hover fishing is a super slow back troll technique where you “hover” over the hole and wait until you get a bite. Standard technique is to let your bait hit the bottom then reel up 2 cranks and hold it, the bite is not very heavy and you should set the hook after a few “taps”. Most people use cured eggs with sand shrimp. You can do this in any significantly deep hole you find and it will hold fish. I like to also use mackerel and sardine with eggs. Have you heard the saying; “early bird gets the worm.” On the North Fork this can really pay off. If you can use bait/diver on Johnson creek flats first thing in the morning that always produces fish, and quite a few doubles. You can also use cut plug herring and sardine and back troll them on this river.
On another note the Kalama River hasn’t had the best of numbers in the past years and it looks like the forecast for this year isn’t going to be much better. The 2009 return of 350 was the second worst since at least 1980. The only worse year was 338 adults in 1985. This year a weak 900 fish are expected to return with the spawning goal for the hatchery of 500 spring Chinook. Even with these numbers, talking to Monty Thierry of Reel Adventure Guide Service (www.reeladv.com), he assures me that fish can still be taken, so don’t let that out of your radar for a possible on catching some spring Chinook this year. These fish are the best table fare the great pacific northwest has to offer, and it looks like all these rivers this year are going to put a lot of it on all of our tables! Happy Fishing!
Your Local Fishing Addict,
Published in March 2010 Issue of Northwest Sportsman Magazine
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Nymph fishing is probably one of the most challenging of all fly fishing techniques. Nymphing, since the fly is underwater and is often extremely small, can test the abilities of any angler, and often leaves the beginner angler frustrated to extreme levels. Yet, the ability of have good nymph fishing technique is essential for productive trout fishing. The reason for this is simple – most trout have a diet that consists primarily of sub-surface insects (nymphs). An angler who does not know how to nymph fish will be greatly limited on where they can fish and what they use.
Just like dry fly fishing, there are many, many ways to fish a nymph. Which one you should use really boils down to how skilled you are in nymph fly fishing and what you are attempting to catch and where you are doing it. Make sense? Probably not, but let’s move forward to give you some idea on the different nymphing techniques available when fly fishing.
Dead drifting can be done several ways, the most popular way is under a strike indicator but some people don’t like using one claiming its impure. The purpose of the dead drift is to make your fly imitate a dead insect larva drifting with the current. Fish target these because they’re an easy meal, you can also dead drift attractor pattern flies to grab the fishes attention.
How to dead: simply start by casting upstream above where you think the fish may be laying, allowing time for your nymph to sink into the strike zone. Strike indicators and weights attached to the line are popular tools for reaching the proper depth.
Swinging can be an effective way to cover large amounts of water rather quickly, and also an exciting way to fish because the takes are mostly BAM! Fish on, similar to drift fishing with terminal tackle. The swinging of the nymph for example the stone fly nymph is imitating the male stone flies swimming across the current towards the shore.
How to swing: make your cast strait across the current, usually standing above where you think the fish may be laying, letting the current take the line down, mending at first if necessary to properly present your fly let the fly continue downstream until it reaches its terminal point directly downstream, let sit for a count of three and retrieve take a few steps downstream, and repeat.
Good luck good fishing.
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Summer steelhead can be one of the most aggressive best fighting fish to target. They exert explosive runs and huge acrobatic jumps. They also come into the rivers with lots of fat content, making them an exceptional table fare. SW Washington’s rivers have some great summer steelhead fishing. The East Fork of the Lewis, the Kalama, the Washougal and the Elochoman all continue year after year to produce good runs of summer fish.
The East Fork is a great river for all techniques of fishing. The smolt release for this year’s return wasn’t a great one. The release was almost cut in half with only 32,300 smolt released. It’s going to be tough to pick up summer runs in this river, but they will be there. On the river you will see good bobber, drift, plug, and fly fishing water. Two great places to start for bank and boat anglers is Lewisville or Daybreak Park. The float from Lewisville to Daybreak is a really nice float. You can launch at the top of the park and go all the way to daybreak or la center. There is plenty of good water all the way through the float. Daybreak down to La Center is a long float; you will be oaring about 45 mins to an hour once you get to the dead water a few miles below Daybreak. For bank anglers you can park at either of the parks and walk up and down river. There are quite a few spots to fish from the bank. Jig and float fishing is the most popular on this river because of the quality float water up and down the river. From daybreak down, there is a lot of plug pulling water as well as drift fishing sections. Early in the summer you are going to want to concentrate low in the system, as the water begins to heat up, you should start to fish higher in the system cause that’s where the fish will be, trying to survive in the low warm water.
The Kalama should be a different story. With 84,150 smolt released this river is expected to be on fire. I talked with Monty Thierry of Reel Adventures Guide Service (www.reeladv.com) and he said the run this year is going to be a very good one. There are 3 popular floats on the Kalama. The first is from Pritchard’s/Red Barn down to the Slab Hole. Be aware of a large exposed boulder in the rapids just below Pritchard’s ramp. It comes into play as the water drops into summer steelhead time. You’ll need to run the rapids out in the chop to the right of the boulder as there isn’t enough space to clear the rock if you choose the left side. Not an issue if the water is high but as the water drops into summer flows this rock has turned a few boats over in the past. There are some nice runs in this stretch of river, good float and jig fishing just below Pritchard’s rapids and all through Weber’s run. The deep waters of the Upper Bridge hole has good bank access and can be fished with float and jigs up in the fast water at the top of the run and can hold fish all the way to the bridge. The Gazebo run/hole is another boat access only drift that is good for floating jigs/bait as well as divers with bait or small plugs. There is some small pocket water from there to the Slab run/hole that should be fished with floats and jigs.The second good float is the Slab hole to Modrow Bridge. There is good bank access on the Slab hole and can be good for jigs and/or diver bait if you’re in a boat. The lower hatchery run/hole puts out fish all summer long with floats and jigs, as well as drift fishing eggs or shrimp. Just below the hatchery is the Beginners hole with great bank access and is another good float and jig hole with good results for boaters as well pulling plugs or bait divers. Fishing the boulder laden flats below the beginner’s hole with the sun low on the water at first light or late in the day for migrating fish with spinners or floats and dark colored jigs. From this point down there is some limited bank access and better for boaters and can be good plug and bait diving when the water volumes are high enough in the early summer. After the water drops stick to floats with bait/jigs or spinners in the faster white water.
The Washougal River is another smaller SW Washington river that year after year puts out good numbers of summer steelhead. With a smolt release of 64,600 for this year’s return fishermen on this river can expect good fishing results. Highway 14 provides good bank-fishing access to the Lower Washougal, and there are three spots along the lower river where boat anglers can launch to fish. This is a smaller river with lots of boulders so experience is needed for floating this river. When the flows are low on the river it’s not a good idea to even float. The bowling alley hole and cop shop hole are both very good places to fish from the bank. You can find good jig and float as well as drift fishing water by walking up and down the river from either of these spots. The upper shoug can also be very good when the water flows begin to drop. You can find fish trying to survive the heat and low water, in deep pools as well as fast riffles. Casting spinners up here can produce very well.
The Elochoman River is a small river that flows into the Columbia River near the town of Cathlamet, Washington. This river is always a good bet for putting some summer steel on your plate. Fishing this river can be fairly easy just because of its small size, the fish are easier to find. The river should produce a good run this year with a smolt release of 29,200. For such a small river, even if 5 percent returns, you’re looking at a good run. The river is bank fishing only, with most fishing being done below the beaver creek hatchery. It’s best to target the fish as soon as the river opens early in the season, because as the summer goes on and the river drops the fish get very spooked. Later in the summer going higher in the river can produce better fishing. The water between the two hatcheries can be very good water as well as the water above the hatcheries. This river has limited access and a lot of the water is private. Be sure not to trespass and always ask for permission to fish someone’s land. Fishing on the river is primarily done with bobber and jig, but there are a few runs good for drift fishing.
No matter what river you choose to go to in SW Washington you’re going to have a good chance at some summer steel. The good thing about all these rivers is the fact the most of them are fairly close. You can fish the East Fork, and if it’s not producing drive up to the Kalama or down to the Washougal. Fishing for summer steelhead can be one of the most exhilarating fishing experiences. Nothing is like the power and beauty of these awesome fish. I hope that you will be able to create some memories on one of these great rivers.
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We finally got the rods in the water around 8pm, setting ourselves up for a night of steelhead fishing! Pulling lighted plugs and glow in the dark Spin-N-Glos with sand shrimp. Everything was perfect, the weather, the water, and fishing with your best buddies. Anticipation was high; it was up to the fish now.
Summer Steelhead, Salmon, and sturgeon fishing the Columbia River and its tributaries can be an angler’s haven, thousands of salmon and steelhead poor over the dams every year on their journey upstream. Chinook salmon reaching over 40lbs, more steelhead than you can shake a stick at, and lots of keeper sturgeon! It truly is a great time to be fishing this Columbia River fishery.
Summer Chinook fishing is extremely hot! With fish averaging from 16-22 pounds and some well over 30 lbs, you really can’t beat fishing for these monsters. Sardine wrapped kwik-fish and Spinners are extremely productive. This year the season runs straight through July so we get a lot of time to target these huge chromers. Water depth and current flow are extremely important, try to stay in between 8-20ft of water on a normal day but some day’s fish are being caught as deep as 30ft of water. According to the preseason forecast there are almost 90,000 Summer Chinook expected to return to the Columbia this year! These Summer Chinook are by far the best tasting fish and they put up a heck of a fight.
Steelhead numbers over the dam continue to grow! Lots of fish are being caught in the lower river system already and it will only get better. A lot of places allow night fishing as well as day fishing so you never have to stop! Summer steelhead will continue to trickle into our river systems all through summer and into early fall. These fish have tons of stamina and will give you quite a show when hooked! Fishing Spin-N-Glos with sand shrimp, spinners, and small kwik-fish are all great ways to pick up steelhead in the Columbia. When it comes to night fishing, pulling lighted plugs and rigging up a glow in the dark Spin-N-Glo will knock them dead! There are so many fish and a ton of time to go catch them, it is definitely worth it!
Sturgeon is also a hot summer fish on the minds of many anglers! Sturgeon in the Columbia River vary from 20 inches to 20 feet! A keeper sturgeon will have to be within 42inches and 60 inches, making it difficult sometimes to find a fish to put on your dinner table. These fish are very hard fighting (some say the hardest), and taste amazing if prepared right. My favorite is fishing for oversize sturgeon! These monsters average between 6-12ft long, they will tear you up and keep fighting for up to an hour or more. There are many different types of baits used for sturgeon. Sand shrimp, smelt, anchovies, herring, sardines and squid all work well, make sure to use lots of scent also. If you are after the big fella’s then try a fresh whole shad.
We are all very lucky to get to enjoy this great Columbia River fishery. I hope that everybody will help preserve and protect our waters we are so fortunate to have here in the great northwest and enjoy every last minute you have on them. Whether its salmon, steelhead, or sturgeon fishing this summer I hope to all the best of luck!
Your Fellow Fishing Addict,
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