Columbia River Spring Chinook

By Terry Otto

The Columbia River spring Chinook is a special fish.  If you doubt it,  just take a look at the Columbia in late March when the run is just getting started.  From Cathlamet, Washington, to Troutdale, Oregon the river is covered with boats.  It sometimes seems as if every boat in the Northwest is on the river, trolling, anchoring with plugs, and working hard to catch one of the region’s most sought-after fish.

Columbia River Spring Chinooks
Buzz Ramsey of Washington prepares to release a wild Columbia River Spring

They are worth it.  Big, strong, and built for action,
The spring Chinook on the Columbia are loaded with fats and oils to sustain them as they make their long journey over many months. This extra nutritional oomph is what makes the spring Chinook both so tasty and so tough to land.  Heavy bodied and clean-lined, they are built for power and speed.  When a springer burns the line off your reel, the adrenaline rush can put your heart into overdrive.

Columbia River Spring ChinooksOnce the runs start in earnest anglers target the well-known hotspots. Areas such as the Interstate reach near the Portland Airport, the Clifton Channel near Cathlamet, and the Davis Bar, where the Willamette joins the Columbia, get very crowded.

Columbia River Spring Chinook without  the Crowds

The tailrace fishery below Bonneville Dam was closed to spring fishing a few years ago.  Since then angler effort in the upper sections of the free-flowing Columbia have fallen to almost nothing.  The flats from Rooster Rock to Beacon Rock hardly get a look anymore.

That’s alright with the folks that target this water.  Tangling with Columbia River spring Chinook while you fish below the rugged cliffs and mountains of the Columbia River Gorge without competition?  What’s not to enjoy?  It’s an increasingly rare opportunity to angle for such magnificent fish without playing bumper boats.

And then there are the springer flats.  Big, broad, and level, you can troll for miles without leaving the right depths.  The only disadvantage is that you don’t have an army of boats plying the waters, showing you where the good bites are.  But once you do find the right spots, you don’t have to fight off newcomers.

Good Electronics for Big Flats

These are huge flats, and good electronics are important for locating and staying on the schools.  Often the fish will be in one small area of a big, wide flat.  Miss that spot, and you go fishless.  If you can mark the bites on your GPS, then you can hit that exact spot again and again.

While springers tend to show in the lower river as early as February, they won’t move above Troutdale in good numbers until early April.  Once they do, a select few anglers will start to fish it, and they stick with it until managers close the season, usually in late April.

If Columbia springers are a fish you’d like to get to know, or get to know better, the water below Beacon Rock may be the best place to do so without fighting the crowds.  If you already fish for springers, and you have your favorite spots, it may seem like a risk to leave those well-known places and spend time learning a new area.  But this time, the risk could very well be worth it.

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