By: Bruce Hewitt
Fall upriver bright Chinook are headed to the Hanford Reach in a big way. Of more than 600,000 fall Chinook entering the Columbia River, far more than 200,000 are destined for the mid Columbia above McNary Dam. The Hanford Reach is expected to return 125,000 natural spawners in addition to big contributions by the Grant County Hatchery above Vernita and the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Ringold Hatchery. There’s going to be about 225,000 to 230,000 fish that should return to the reach between Tri Cities and Priest Rapids.
There’s a lot of excitement in Eastern Washington when it comes to salmon. On a weekend there’s going to be 700-800 boats in The Reach. There will be 125-150 boats that launch out of Ringold and that doesn’t include the Richland folks that launch down there and run up. I’d expect to see 50 at White Bluffs Ferry Landing another 200 at Vernita Bridge and tons of others scattered throughout the Columbia River. It’s an exciting time around here.
The past several years we’ve altered our salmon catching techniques. Whereas spinners trolled downriver, big wobbling plugs and Spin-N-Glo’s teamed with eggs or brined herring used to be the dominant method flashers coupled with Super Baits are now the in-thing. The new wave of techniques is simpler and keeps baits in the strike zone longer.
As a guide I’m keenly aware of the need to catch fish for clients. That said, in the early season I join the flasher and Super Bait crowd because I can cover so much water in a short period of time. However, as mid-season approaches I back-troll divers and Fire Cured eggs, as well as divers with Kwikfish or Mag Lips wrapped with a Fire Brine cured sardine, herring or anchovy.
The main difference is where we choose to fish each offering. With eggs or wrapped plugs I like the head end of holes or tailouts and pay close attention to the water flows coming off Priest Rapids Dam for raising or lowering water levels. With rising water levels fish tend to move from the deep holding water as they resume their upstream travels. When water is rising look for deeper slots between the bigger holding holes and pick off these moving salmon that are more aggressive. Be sure to bring a couple of different colors of eggs as preferences change from orange to red to pink. A quick means of enhancing your eggs after they have been in the water for a few minutes is to dip them into Pautzke Nectar to freshen them up.
Similarly, I choose plugs that are painted or glow in the dark types for early mornings and shift to metallic bodies during the day, and especially in bright sun. Change your plug wrap every 20- 30 minutes for maximum scent delivery. Brining fillets with Fire Brine is effective in maintaining scent and color between wrap changes.
Because flashers are a large presentation that creates a lot of disturbance it stands to reason that fish become lure and boat shy. Shifting to small Spin-N-Glos teamed with smaller egg clusters will draw strikes more readily when fishing shallow zones of 15 feet or less. Similarly, switching from big K16 or K15 plugs to smaller 13 or 14 sizes, or dropping from size 5 or 4.5 Mag Lips to the smaller profile 3 .5 or even 3.0 Mag Lips brings strikes too. Whenever you bait wrap any of these plugs tune them before fishing. Lures need to dive straight down, not off to one side. Turning the eyelet on the top of the plug in the opposite direction it runs will bring is back to a more centered wobble. Also check the alignment of the belly hook eye so it lines with the length of the lure body. While we typically center the bait wrap around the belly eye, a plug that is difficult to tune can be helped by positioning the piece of fillet somewhat forward of the center towards the plug head.
As we move into the latter half of the season, the fall Chinook become increasing susceptible to cured eggs. This is likely due to their ripening in preparation for seeking mates and spawning. By early October it’s hard to beat Red Fire Brine treated eggs teamed with Red Spin-N-Glo or Corkies. Find a travel lane and hover fish or anchor to intercept moving fish. Another technique with eggs is allowing your boat to drift downstream and bounce eggs along the bottom with a four-foot leader. This is when I prefer yarn with my eggs.
When seeking the best quality fish I would consider fishing the upper areas of the Hanford Reach nearer to Priest Rapids and Vernita Bridge earlier in the season. As the season progresses I tend to gravitate mid and lower Hanford Reach areas like White Bluff Ferry Landing and Ringold. For end of the season, look for brighter, late arriving fish from Ringold downstream to Richland.
Whenever you go afield to fish be prepared to try more than a single presentation style. If you aren’t catching with flasher combos, then switch to two rods with Kwikfish and two with eggs. If that bores you, try trolling a spinner downstream with four-foot leader using 4-6 ounces of lead. At last, move to areas where you can avoid other fisherman and downsize. Being flexible and innovative helps hook more fish.
Editor’s Note: Veteran guide Bruce Hewitt operates Going Fishing Guide Service. For more info on his Hanford Reach salmon trips please visit http://catchingmorefish.com.