A Productive Salmon Season in a Year of Low Returns

This year has proven one of my best yet for putting salmon in the kayak. After a slow start in March and April, I hooked eight and landed six spring Chinook "Springers" on the Willamette River. All were hatchery fish and most were 30-plus inches. They were all caught with my red and orange hand-tied spinners and Pro-Troll 360 flashers.

The Springers were caught in May and June, typically the end of the season. These two months seem to be my most productive. Two years ago, I landed six, and had two, two-fish days. This year, I never hooked two fish on the same day, although I had more days catching fish. Most days were spent focusing on the tide changes, and I was usually off the water by noon. I was fortunate because the run was about 25 percent lower than expected and many anglers had a rough season.


I spent July fishing for smallmouth bass in the Willamette and Columbia, and spent a few days in August anchored in the Columbia fishing for fall kings.

The fall season proved more challenging, especially for salmon and steelhead. Tracking some of the lowest returns in years, the Columbia River was closed early by Oregon and Washington - a highly unusual move by the fish and game departments.

Taking advantage of the remaining salmon season, my friend Eric joined me on the final days in hopes of catching a fish.

Since Eric was from Washington, we could both fish the Columbia using our resident licenses and tags.

The area I wanted to fish was west of Vancouver and a long way from any boat ramp. I determined the best kayak launch was on the Washington side where the outlet of Vancouver Lake met the Columbia River. It was more than 100 yards from the parking lot to the beach, depending on the tide, and required navigating a trail with a large drop-off and  blackberry bushes. Good thing the parking was free.

We originally planned to fish five days, but we only had two days before the entire  Columbia River was closed.

We launched late in the morning on the first day and early in the morning the second day, focusing on the tide changes. The area was busy with power boat both days and I was able to get onto two nice 30-plus inch fall kings. Unfortunately Eric didn't get a hit even though we both trolled the same water at the same depth using the same spinners and flashers.

The number of returning fish remained low, although not as low as some years in the early '90s, and the season remained closed.

After the closure, my focus turned to the coast and Tillamook Bay. I took four trips to the bay in September and October focusing on the early morning tide changes. I missed a fish on the spinner and flasher combo I had used all season and I hooked and landed another using a herring helmet my fishing buddy Don had used on a salmon/tuna trip a few weeks earlier.

What I found interesting, after examining the Tillamook fish, was that it was much deeper and thinner than the Columbia or Willamette fish. I am not sure why, but I was quite noticeable.

In early November, the tributaries on the central and northern coasts closed in another surprising move by the fish and game department. The bays remain open and on three different trips, I rarely saw a fish on the finder.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I expect my 2018 salmon season is finished (although I may try one more trip to the coast for fun). I can only hope the coming years show an improvement in the salmon runs and the opportunities are better. Unfortunately, climate change may dash those hopes and I may need to learn how to fish for walleye.

Make sure to check out my YouTube Channel, to find out more on my 2018 fishing adventures. 

Go Farther. Catch More.

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