SW Washington Fishing: September is prime time for salmon fishing in the Columbia River Basin, where large numbers of fish are moving upriver and into tributaries on both sides of Bonneville Dam. Chinook fishing at Buoy 10 near the mouth of the river closes Sept. 1 at the end of the day, but anglers will still have plenty of opportunity to catch chinook salmon, coho and steelhead in the weeks ahead.
As most anglers know, 1.5 million fall chinook salmon are expected to return to the Columbia River this year the highest number since at least 1938. Add coho to the equation, and a total of 2.1 million salmon are expected to return during the fall season.
"Expectations were off the charts when the fishery got under way," said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). "The Buoy 10 fishery started in fits and starts, but catch rates increased steadily in late August when the bulk of the run started moving into the river."
Through Aug. 26, anglers had caught an estimated 20,300 chinook and 18,000 coho in the 16-mile stretch upstream from Buoy 10 to the Rocky Point/Tongue Point line.
Barbless hooks are required when fishing for salmon and steelhead on the mainstem Columbia River and its tributaries.
Through Sept. 1 (Labor Day), the daily catch limit for the Buoy 10 fishery is two salmon, two hatchery steelhead, or one of each. Only one of those salmon may be a chinook, and anglers may retain only those chinook with a clipped adipose or left ventral fin during the Labor Day weekend (Aug. 30 through Sept.1).
"The three-day selective fishing rule was designed to help extend the fishery," Hymer said. "Anglers let us know they wanted that fishery to remain open through the long weekend."
Anglers must release any chinook salmon intercepted in the Buoy 10 area starting Sept. 2, but the daily catch limit for hatchery coho rises to three fish that day in those waters.
Meanwhile, the bulk of the chinook run is moving upstream, with increasing numbers of coho moving in behind them. Anglers fishing above Rocky Point will find new rules approved by WDFW this year to increase opportunities to catch abundant chinook salmon:
Anglers may retain up to 2 adult chinook per day from the Warrior Rock line upriver to the Steamboat Landing Dock in Washougal.
The daily catch limit is increased to 3 adult fall chinook from the Steamboat Landing Dock in Washougal upstream to the Hwy. 395 Bridge in Pasco.
Each angler aboard a vessel may deploy recreational salmon/steelhead gear until the daily salmonid limit for all anglers aboard has been achieved while fishing from Buoy 10 upstream to the Oregon/Washington border, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam.
Hymer advises anglers to take a close look at the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet for all regulations in effect where they plan to fish. Boat anglers should also be aware of Oregon's new sport fishing closure at the mouth of Young's Bay that runs through Sept.15.
For the latest creel-sampling results, check out WDFW's website, which also includes information from previous years to help plan your trip to Buoy 10. Anglers may also want to take advantage of the newly improved state boat ramp at Deep River.
For anglers following fall chinook upstream, Hymer also recommends fishing deep, between 40 and 60 feet down. For a lure, he suggests wobblers anchored with a heavy weight.
"Chinook go deep when water temperatures are high, so that's a good place to find them," Hymer said. "At the same time, anglers should take care not to drop anchor in the shipping channel. That can lead to real trouble."
For coho, he recommends using herring and spinners in the lower Columbia, and bait and lures in the tributaries. Hatchery steelhead will also be available throughout the month, as more fish from the "B-run" many weighing in the teens will be moving upriver. In addition, the hatchery steelhead daily limit has been increased to three fish on a portion of the lower Cowlitz.
Like last year, anglers will be allowed to retain up to six adult hatchery coho on all tributaries to the lower Columbia River with hatchery programs. Those rivers include the Cowlitz, Deep, Elochoman, Grays (including West Fork), Kalama, Klickitat, Lewis (including North Fork), Toutle (including Green and North Fork) and Washougal.
Chinook retention is limited to marked hatchery fish on those river systems, except on the Klickitat River, Deep River and Drano Lake, where anglers can also retain unmarked chinook. Mark-selective fisheries also will be in effect on the Wind and White Salmon rivers.
On the Lewis River (including the North Fork), only hatchery chinook may be retained through September. At Drano Lake, anglers may keep any coho (adipose fin clipped or not) throughout the season and the adult salmon daily limit is three fish. Three adult chinook may also be retained on the Klickitat River.
Meanwhile, anglers are still catching walleye above and below Bonneville Dam and trout on a number of lowland lakes. One popular spot for trout on the Cowlitz River is Lake Scanewa, where anglers can keep 10 hatchery rainbows per day. Daily limits have also been raised at the Swift and Merwin reservoirs on the Lewis system . At Swift Reservoir, anglers must release all salmon larger than 15 inches in length and any bull trout or steelhead they intercept.
For anglers who don't mind a hike or a drive, September is also a great time to head for the high lakes around Mount Adams, Mount St. Helens, and the south end of the Cascade Range. Lakes such as Goose, Council and Takhlakh all offer drive-in access. Goose Lake is stocked in mid-September with thousands of cutthroat, averaging close to a pound a piece. Fishing will be excellent until snow blocks the roads.
Other great fishing opportunities await angers around the Indian Heaven, Goat Rocks, William O'Douglas, and the Trapper Creek wilderness areas. The trout are biting, the mosquitos are gone, and the leaves are blushing with fall color. September is the time when the trout start feeding heavily to prepare for winter and anglers can hook up with some nice rainbow, cutthroat, eastern brook, brown and tiger trout.