Spring Chinook salmon season is ahead, and that means the opportunity for an angling encounter with a fish that is emblematic of the Columbia River and the whole Pacific Northwest.
What’s so special about the spring Chinook, anyway? In today’s post we’ll answer that question and see why it’s essential to book a salmon fishing guide for a tour out of Portland Oregon as soon as possible.
Meet the Fish
The Chinook or King Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) is the largest and most sought-after of the Pacific salmon, a gamefish renowned for its size and fighting strength.
Like other salmon of the Columbia River, these fish are anadromous: they hatch and spend time in the river before migrating to the ocean, where they grow to maturity and finally return to the river to spawn and die.
As we have seen before, the Chinook salmon is distinct from other species in that it returns from the ocean in three major waves, or runs, each of which is associated with a particular season: spring, summer, and fall.
The spring run of Chinook refers specifically to all salmon counted at the fish ladders between January 1 and June 15, but the legal season for catching them is much shorter. The spring 2018 season was only from March 1 to April 7, slightly more than a month.
Daily bag limits are designed to protect the fishery stocks by carefully regulating the overall harvest. Last spring season’s daily bag limit was two adult salmonids, including Chinook, the closely-related Coho (Oncorhynchus kisutch), and steelhead Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss), and only one could be a Chinook.
As we’ve discussed previously, there are other reasons to book a salmon fishing guide for a trip out of Portland Oregon: Columbia River spring Chinook fight hard and taste particularly delicious. In fact, they are generally considered the most delicious of the three runs.
There’s one other thing that makes these “springers” special, and it’s too interesting to not mention: they are mostly composed of a very special population of Chinook, the stream-type, known for spending a longer time in freshwater after hatching before heading down to the sea.
By contrast, the ocean-type Chinook leave for the ocean sooner, which means they are smaller when they get there. This difference has significant consequences: ocean-type Chinook stay near the coast, while their stream-type cousins disperse farther out because they are larger and therefore less vulnerable.
With different life histories and somewhat different diets, stream-type Chinook end up being better-tasting than their ocean-type cousins. Spring is one of the best chances to encounter one, since most stream-type Chinook return in the spring run or the summer run because they have farther to travel before reaching their spawning grounds.
On the other hand, very few ocean-type Chinook are ever observed returning in the spring run, and they are much more common in summer and fall.
Meet the Fishery
If you’d like to encounter a spring Chinook salmon, the fishery around Portland Oregon is about the best place to go. For one thing, this is the biggest spring Chinook run, and the salmon that run through here go on to supply the Upper Columbia, Willamette, Deschutes, and Snake rivers.
Fishing around Portland will give you a better shot because all the fish are still in one river. Because the salmon are still fresh from the sea, they’re likely to put up a better fight and offer a better culinary experience to boot.
Another thing to consider is that this area is genuinely very beautiful. This is the Pacific Northwest at its best: green forests, running water, snowcapped mountains in the distance, national and state parks nearby if you want to take in more of the great outdoors.
One final factor to consider is the city itself. Portland is a city with art, culture, and no shortage of things to do.
For a spring Chinook salmon experience, it’s hard to beat this area: not only are your chances better, you’re also likely to have a great time during the rest of your visit.
Book Your Spot
Because the spring fishery is such a popular and iconic one on the Columbia, it’s important to book a salmon fishing guide for a chartered trip as soon as possible.
While the season has not been announced yet, it will likely be no longer than five weeks or so. If that sounds like a lengthy time, consider that the available guides will likely start booking spots as soon as the season is announced, and there are only so many guides who really know the fishery.
If you’re tempted to fish the Columbia without a guide, consider that this is the fourth-largest river in North America. As with any fish, there’s an art to getting salmon on the line, but the usual challenges are compounded by the fact that salmon have evolved a diminished feeding response when they are going upriver to spawn.
For the best chances of hooking a fish to remember, you’ll want to book a trip as soon as the fishing season is announced.
The Oregon and Washington Departments of Fish and Wildlife recently issued a joint release with the 2019 forecast, and the announcement of the fishery dates is likely to occur in February.
As soon as those dates are announced, legions of eager anglers in the region, across the country, and some overseas will begin making arrangements with local guides to charter a trip.
No doubt some of those anglers will leave disappointed. There is an art to finding salmon in the Columbia and getting them to strike, an art that can only be honed through many years of dedicated practice.
A good guide will do far more for you than taking you out on a boat, setting up the tackle, choosing the right lure or bait, and then turning on a fish finder to see where the salmon are. While all of these things are important, what is much more important is a deep knowledge of the fish and the river.
With the right guide, you’ll be prepared to make the most of this remarkable fishery and have a truly unforgettable experience with a legendary fish.
To find out more about how you can get ahead of the spring rush and book a trip to remember, please drop us a line.