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Columbia Chinook Worth the Drive

by Wayne Kruse, Herald Outdoor Columnist
The Daily Herald, August 21, 2008

So the Lake Wenatchee sockeye season is closed, and the chinook season in Marine Areas 9 and 10 is closed, and woe is us. But making lemonade, it simply gives the saltwater fishermen more time to drive a little farther. Down to buoy 10, for instance, which has been hotter than a festering thumb the past week and a half, and which needs fishing before it closes.

The bottom end of the Columbia River, via Ilwaco, turned on for the Aug. 9-10 weekend, according to state Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver, and has only gotten better since. Boat fishermen checked by state personnel last week averaged 0.43 chinook per rod, which is excellent fishing for adult kings anywhere in the Northwest. On the better days, the average approached two-thirds of a chinook per person, with improved coho fishing rounding out the catch.

"There have been quite a few kings checked in the 30- to 40-pound range," Hymer said, "and the occasional trophy approaching 50 pounds."

Through Sunday, he said, the fishery had produced 2,891 chinook and 412 coho for an estimated 7,900 angler trips. That constitutes 45 percent of the season's expected catch, and a meeting of the Columbia River Compact today may decide to alter the regulations, including the possibility of early closure. Monitor buoy 10 catch statistics and regulation changes at

Buoy 10 is essentially a trolling show, with most anglers using a diver followed by a herring -- whole or plug cut -- or a big spinner in red/white or green/chartreuse. Depths vary from shallow to maybe 40 feet, and from 12 pulls to 25 pulls, typically. Since these are big fish, not leader-shy, and in a crowded fishery, Hymer suggested going with reasonably heavy gear

Depending on the tide and time of day, chinook can be caught anywhere from buoy 10 upriver to the Megler-Astoria Bridge, but Hymer said morning fog can be a problem on the lower end, and afternoon wind can get nasty in a hurry up toward the bridge.

If you plan on hitting the Columbia Basin for the dove opener on Sept. 1, you might toss some fishing gear in the family bus for a shot at some good early-fall walleye and smallmouth bass action. State biologist Paul Hoffarth said walleye fishing is in full swing in Lake Umatilla from Plymouth to Boardman, on the Hanford Reach, and on the Snake and Columbia around the Tri-Cities.

Rob Phillips, Eastern Washington resident, avid angler, and contributor to The Reel News, touts smallmouth fishing on the Columbia between Plymouth and Crow Butte, near Umatilla and Paterson. This is the area that drew many of the top fishermen in last year's big Tri-Cities-based national bass tournament, and Phillips said a 5-pound smally is a possibility on any given day this time of year. The key is to find structure, Phillips said, and some of the better structure includes gravel bars 8 to 20 feet deep, located at many places in the river, along both the Washington and Oregon shorelines.

Fish the bars first by trolling deep-diving crankbaits such as a Poe's 300 or 400, or the Timber Tiger DC 13, Phillips said, which will get right down in the gravel. Once you find bass, go back and work the area with a small grub or worm. Good fall plug colors, Phillips said, include red crawdad, brown crawdad, metallic perch and metallic red.

COHO: Closer to home, Marine Areas 9 and 10 (Admiralty Inlet and Seattle) are still open for coho, and action has been fair. All Star Charters owner/skipper Gary Krein in Everett said 10 is the better of the two, mostly for resident silvers in the 3- to 5-pound range, but ocean fish to 10 or 12 pounds are starting to show. Krein likes the flasher/white squid rig, or flasher followed by either a Coyote or Coho Killer spoon. The army truck Coyote has been a producer, as has the green/white Coho Killer.

Jefferson Head is a popular spot, but Krein said the east shoreline from Edmonds south to Elliott Bay also is holding coho.

SALMON CHECKS: Fishing slowed some in the San Juan Islands last week, with checks at the Washington Park ramp in Anacortes showing just three chinook for 37 anglers on Sunday. Checks at the Port of Everett ramp reflected the last day of the Area 9-10 selective chinook fishery on Friday, contacting 177 anglers with four chinook and seven coho. With that season closed, Sunday checks showed just 44 anglers, with two coho and no chinook.

Scattered reports from the Tulalip Bubble tended to indicate an uptick in the fishing last week, but with little pressure and still tough pickings.

CLOSURES: Although all the final numbers hadn't been collected at the time of writing, the Lake Wenatchee sockeye fishery likely produced a catch of somewhere around 3,300 fish in its 10-day run, compared to roughly 5,500 fish during the last season in 2004. That fishery, however, was open from July 24 through Aug. 31.

The numbers also were down from last year in the selective chinook fishery in Marine Areas 9 and 10. The harvest as of Aug. 12 was 4,767 fish, according to Puget Sound recreational salmon manager Steve Thiesfeld, and if you add, say, 500 fish for Aug. 13, 14 and 15, you come up with somewhere around 5,300 chinook. That's well under the preseason combined quota of 7,000 hatchery kings in the two areas, but still a great opportunity for local anglers to participate in a major fishery.

Ilwaco closed to salmon fishing Sunday, when the coho quota was reached, but halibut fishermen get two additional days off the south coast, Friday and Saturday. Westport remains open Sundays through Thursdays, and Marine Areas 3 and 4 (LaPush and Neah Bay) on Tuesdays through Saturdays, through Sept. 13 or until quotas are reached. Westport fishermen averaged about one salmon per rod last week, almost an equal 50-50 split of coho and chinook.

TUNA: Wendy Beeghley, coastal creel-check coordinator for the state, said tuna action is getting a little spotty, but that there is still opportunity. Charters out of Westport are running 45 to 50 miles to find albacore, but private boats out of Ilwaco are still scoring at about 35 miles.

"I've seen catches ranging from two fish per person up to 15 per person," Beeghley said. "Average size is around 15 pounds, but catches have been including a good percentage of younger fish in the 8-pound range."

STEELHEAD: Rain this week should refresh the local steelhead picture and perhaps improve an already good season on the upper Skykomish. Reiter Ponds, the Cable Hole and water downstream have been consistent producers of fish in the 10- to 12-pound range. Float-and-jig has been the most popular setup.

Both forks of the Stillaguamish are worth a few casts as well, with fish being reported taken by fly fishermen around the Cicero Bridge on the North Fork, and by those working pocket water with float-and-jig on the South Fork between Red Bridge and Blue Bridge.

"The South Fork normally comes on this time of year," said guide and avid angler Sam Ingram, whose home is on the river east of Arlington. "I've been seeing fish coming up over the riffles the past week or so."

DUCK DINNER: The Everett Chapter of Ducks Unlimited invites the public to its annual fund-raising banquet on Sept. 4 at Normanna Hall in Everett (2725 Oaks Avenue). Doors open at 5:30 p.m., dinner is at 7 p.m. and the auction is after dinner. Tickets are $50 for singles, $75 for a couple and $10 for youths. For more information, call Kurt Benson at 425-231-6497. All proceeds go toward enhancing waterfowl and preserving waterfowl habitat.

Wayne Kruse, Herald Outdoor Columnist
Columbia Chinook Worth the Drive
The Daily Herald, August 21, 2008

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