There’s a season for every salmon on the Columbia River, and with the right salmon fishing guide you can make every guided fishing trip memorable. Today we’ll take a look at the three main salmon seasons on the Columbia River, each of which has its own distinct seasonal characteristics.
Spring Salmon Fishing on the Columbia River
The spring salmon season on the Columbia River consists of the spring run of Chinook or king salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), the first of the three seasonal runs.
Technically, any king salmon counted at the fish ladders of Bonneville Dam between January 1 and June 15 is considered a spring run king salmon, but the season is much shorter than that—something to keep in mind when planning your seasonal salmon fishing trip.
In 2018, the spring salmon season opened on May 25 and lasted through June 6 for the area below Bonneville Dam. For boat and bank fishing, the open area was from the Tongue Point/Rocky Point line to Beacon Rock, and for bank only angling all the way up to Bonneville Dam. For the area above Bonneville Dam, the spring salmon season opened on May 25 but lasted until June 15.
The spring Chinook salmon run is very tightly regulated, with a daily bag limit of two adult salmonids of any kind—Chinook, Coho, or steelhead—only one of which may be a Chinook.
Additionally, only hatchery fish, differentiated by their clipped adipose fins, may be kept. The good news here is that hatchery fish are relatively common, usually representing over half of the total run.
Spring run Chinook or king salmon on the Columbia River have some characteristics which generally distinguish them from the other runs. They enter the river in the spring, or even before, because they have farther to go than the summer run Chinook salmon and much farther to go than the fall run Chinook salmon.
In terms of their physical characteristics, spring run Chinook salmon on the Columbia run about 8-12 pounds, small by the standards of the species, with some fish weighing 12-20 pounds and very few heavier than that. However, they are justly famed for their taste: these are considered not only some of the best tasting king salmon, but also some of the best-tasting salmon in the world.
Common fishing techniques for the spring Chinook salmon run in the Columbia River include trolling the fish with herring or other baitfish, or using diving plugs. An experienced salmon fishing guide can also help you with techniques if you charter one for a salmon fishing trip.
Summer Salmon Fishing on the Columbia River
As with the spring salmon season, the summer salmon season on the Columbia River consists mainly of Chinook or king salmon, and is defined in strict calendrical terms: any salmon crossing the dam between June 16 and July 31 is considered part of the summer run. The official season, however, is even shorter, running from June 22 to July 4 in 2018.
Despite these limitations, there are a few very good reasons to charter a salmon fishing guide for a trip during the summer Chinook run, the first of which is the size of the fish. As we have discussed before, summer Chinook salmon average about 25 pounds.
Indeed, the summer run Chinook salmon on the Columbia River were historically known as “June hogs” because of their size: they reached lengths of three to four feet, and weights of more than 60 pounds.
Summer king salmon are also very high-quality eating. They are considered a close second to their spring cousins in terms of desirability for the table, something to consider when planning a guided salmon fishing trip.
Another important reason to charter a summer salmon fishing guide is more generous bag limits during the summer season. The daily bag limit is typically two hatchery salmonids, including up to two summer king salmon.
Additionally, in some years the summer water temperatures make the summer king salmon more motivated to bite than their spring cousins, meaning less time to catch them. A summer salmon fishing guide can also help you to increase your chances of success and potentially spend less time on the water.
Common techniques for catching summer run king salmon on the Columbia River include baitfish, salmon eggs or roe, and jig lures which mimic the prey they take in the oceans.
Fall Salmon Fishing on the Columbia River
The fall salmon run on the Columbia River features not only the Chinook or king salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) we have been discussing, but also the closely-related Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), a smaller but still eminently worthy quarry for a chartered salmon fishing trip.
As we saw in a previous blog post, fall-run Chinook or king salmon are known as “up-river brights” because they are still bright silver when they are caught in the Buoy 10 fishery at the mouth of the Columbia River near Astoria. They are if anything even bigger than the “June hogs” of the summer run, with 25-35-pound fish common, and they are known for their ferocity on the hook.
Coho salmon are essentially only a fall-run species, an added benefit of scheduling a salmon fishing trip in this season.
Compared with their larger Chinook salmon cousins, Coho salmon are smaller: hatchery Coho usually run about 4-6 pounds, wild Coho usually about 6-8. However, some fish run significantly larger, in the 10-15-pound range.
They are also significantly more numerous than Chinook or king salmon and usually occur at much shallower depths. Coho are noted for their aggressiveness on the line, although paradoxically, they are at the same time known for being relatively easy to spook. A salmon fishing guide can help to ensure you have the best chance of hooking a Coho without scaring them off.
Common fishing techniques for the fall run salmon fishery at Buoy 10 include the use of baitfish, such as herring, spinners, and jig lures that mimic their prey. These techniques should work for Coho as well as for Chinook salmon.
If all of that is not enough, there are additional reasons to charter a fall salmon fishing trip on the Columbia River, and they have to do with bag limits and the length of the season itself: the season is longer overall, and during part of the season one can catch and keep wild Chinook.
The easy way to think of this is in terms of three fall seasons for the Buoy 10 fishery, running at various times from August 1 to December 31.
From August 1 to 24 the daily bag limit is one adult salmonid, including hatchery Coho salmon and hatchery or wild Chinook salmon. Thereafter Chinook are prohibited, but from August 25 to September 30 and from October 1 to December 31 the daily bag limit is two adult hatchery salmonids, which may include two Coho, and during the latter period hatchery Coho jacks may also be taken.
Whether you’re a first-timer or you’ve experienced the Columbia’s salmon seasons before, we’d love to be a part of your seasonal salmon fishing trip.
To find out more about how we can help make your salmon season a memorable and successful trip, please drop us a line.
Photo courtesy of Jason Lander.