How to catch upriver bright Fall Chinook ... "Upriver brights" ...
thanks to: David A Ericcsen for this How To
How many of you fellow fishermen have been frustrated trying to catch upriver bright fall chinook on the Columbia?? Well I was until a couple of years ago when I had the opportunity to fish with a friend who has this fishery down pat. Below I will detail some things you can do to increase the chances that you will put one of these hard fighting hawg Chinooks in your boat.
When to go, what time of day is best??: generally the season for the Columbia upriver bright fall chinook salmon run begins to get going mid-august most years. I suggest anyone who is interested watch the fish counts in the newspaper, paying attention to the numbers of fall Chinook that are crossing Bonneville dam. When the counts hit 2-3000 fish a day you should be thinking about fishing. Traditionally the peak of the run will come in late august and early September with large numbers of chinook passing Bonneville dam. Counts during the peak are 5-14000 fish per day. As far as the time of day to fish, well most of you die hard chinook guys are aware that early is better as far as Mr. Chinook is concerned, although with this type of fishing I have rarely caught a chinook before 7 a.m. and caught several in the heat of the day. The tidal influence and the amount of water being spilled out of Bonneville dam seem to determine when the bite is rocking and when you can go take a nap in the boat more so than the time of day.
Where to go: I have fished in the Troutdale area more so than any other place in the Columbia river. I have done the combat salmon fishing at buoy 10, and that insane place called Drano lake several times and although I have caught nice fish at both the headaches and crowds are not something I really enjoy, plus the fishing seems equal to or even better than these places right in the Troutdale area. At any rate you will want to fish one of the hog lines or you can separate from the lines if you do not like crowds. I would recommend you fish in no less than 25 feet of water and no more than about 35 feet with 32-33 being ideal depending on the current and time of day. There are several well established hog lines that set up every year in this area and my only advice is get there early!! Even though the bite never seems to take off early the line fills quickly and late comers are out of luck as most lines will be boat to boat. As a safety precaution do not under any circumstances anchor your boat in the navigation lanes. This is not only illegal but foolhardy as well. If you arrive late you need to anchor away from the lines that are already formed and leave room so you can drop off and fight a fish should you need to.
Tackle tips and what to bring: this fishing technique is as simple as it gets. First off I recommend a 7ft or longer rod with a sensitive tip and some backbone as these fish can exceed 60 lbs. I would pair it with a high quality baitcasting reel loaded with premium 20lb test. A good drag is essential on the reel you choose. Now run your line to a 3 way swivel. Attach a light lead line off the bottom end and run 4-8 oz. Of lead preferably a ball depending on the strength of the current. You need to run about 41/2 to 5 feet of line on your lead dropper. Off the other end of the 3 way tie about 4-5 feet of leader and attach a Clancy, Alvin or 10 spot Wobler. I would not use less than 15lb test though. The rest is fairly simple. Sink your rig below the boat and then back bounce the rig out behind the boat until you get about a 45 degree angle on your line, then check your drag and simply put your rod into the rod holder and wait. Strikes are obvious and violent with no one wondering if that was a fish or not. My personal favorite is the Alvin Woblers, they come in a variety of colors and seem to outfish the others most of the time, although I have caught chinook on the others as well. On overcast days id use a rainbow pattern or something colorful on bright sunny days id stick with chromes and chrome/purple combos.
Very important tips: no that we have covered the basics let me impart some knowledge as to how you separate yourselves from the pack. First off change your hooks....most of these lures come packaged with a single silwash hook. The first thing I would do is remove the single hook and replace it with a high quality lightweight treble and a heavier snap ring. I have seen lots of guys loose fish or miss hook up due to the single hooks. There are some people who will tell you the treble does weird things to the action of the lure but I have had no ill affects from this and land more fish. Next important thing is to pay attention to the water flow. If the current speeds up Woblers like Alvins work excellent, but if you loose the current you need to switch to a lighter lure or relocate you boat. Stream flows tend to come and go during the day with the best bites corresponding with increased stream flow. Next lets talk about " tuning your lures " almost everyone I have seen fishing out there ignores this and it is absolutely critical. You can take a Wobler out of the package and tie it on and chuck it in the river and you will probably catch a fish or two on occasion, but....by simply tuning your lure and ensuring it has the optimal " swim " to it for the current you are fishing you will outfish the guy next to you who may be using the exact same lure. Ideally you want the Wobler to do a side to side swim. Picture a half pipe and you do not want that Wobler to exceed the 180 of the half pipe. If you are doing barrel rolls or barely moving then you are not fishing....period. Make sure you check your lures in the water before you back bounce out behind the boat for the right swim. Don't be afraid to custom paint your lures and experiment as well. I had one lure that caught several fish last season that was enhanced with some lure paint.
Notes about the Columbia river: be alert to boat traffic, especially barges. If they are blowing their horn it means you are in their way and need to get out post haste. Be cautious of river flows especially when anchoring your boat. You will need a quality anchor system and someone to show you how to safely anchor in this river if you have never done this before.
Final thoughts: have fun. This is a great opportunity to catch some truly trophy size chinook. Most of these fish are nickel bright and average is in the high 20's with generous amounts of fish over 30 lbs. Last season we put 3 in the boat over 40 lbs with the largest a monster slab of exactly 56 lbs!!!!!
hope this helps someone out. Thanks David A Ericcsen