Man, these flame runs down from Seattle for Columbia River springers are not as easy to make as they once were, but when a Sunday boat ride invite aligned with a planned early afternoon rendezvous near Vancouver to pick up my oldest son after a week with his Oregon grandparents, it was on!
My writer Andy Schneider had done pretty good on the first two days of last weekend’s four-day opener, and while Saturday was a bit tougher, we still had high hopes for yesterday’s fishing.
Despite a slow start to season, anglers have begun to figure out the secret formulas for this year’s run, the Bonneville count is finally getting going and to be fishing so late in April usually means good action as the run hits in bulk.
We’ll see if there are enough upriver-bound springers left in the quota for another day, but this is how we waylaid a couple yesterday, in pictures run through the photo-editing app Prisma’s various filters, just because:
Dunno why I do this to myself instead of getting a hotel room near the fishery the night before, but after getting out of bed around 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning (and having not really gotten more than three hours of sleep), blast-off time came early at my house in Shoreline.
After a couple pit stops, including one unplanned swerve off the interstate to puke because I was overly excited to fish, I made it into Oregon well ahead of schedule.
We would be fishing the western Columbia Gorge, which at 5:45 a.m. this time of year is still on the dark side. Out in the predawn gloom, a few boats idled, waiting for clients and fellow anglers to arrive.
Andy was serving up the springers a real breakfast buffet of prawn spinners, green- and blue-dyed cutplugs and one without special sauce, hoping one would show what the bite of the day would be.
At first, Andy had three of our five rods rigged up with Fish Flashes behind 4- to 6-ounce weights off 14-inch droppers. But despite the Columbia’s big volume and murky waters, fellow anglers’ catches nearby soon showed us that naked brined herring is what the fish seemed to want this day, and so off went all the flashers.
After a 10- to 15-minute run upriver from the ramp, we arrived in the fishing grounds with the rest of the fleet.
The weather was nice for most of the morning, with light winds and only passing sprinkles. Beacon Rock rises in the background.
As ever, Ollie, Andy’s faithful fish hound and duck hunting companion, kept a sharp eye out for the bite, as well as passing pinnipeds. We saw several cruising through, two of which caught salmon.
Springer success! The rod right behind me went off and Steve S stood and quickly fought his fish into the net, getting us on the board fairly early on.
Andy smiles while taking a picture of his coworker and his salmon.
Steve admires his Chinook, roughly 8 to 10 pounds worth of scrumptious deliciousness. This year’s fish are coming in in interesting sizes, with some PIT-tagged 4- and even 5-year-olds barely over the 24-inch mark, which otherwise would designate them as 3-year-old jacks, according to a Bill Monroe story.
A boat makes a run upriver as the sun tries to poke through the clouds. Boaters were mostly trolling uphill while zigzagging against the current and being pushed downstream, though a few were fishing downhill.
Multnomah Falls spills out of a side canyon. The gorge here was shaped by the same Missoula Floods that dug out Eastern Washington’s Channeled Scablands and Grand and Moses Coulees. Today, trains, semitrucks and passenger vehicles race up and down the path to the Pacific.
We do crazy things for fish – this boat seemed on the small side for such big water. It was near here the CRITFC boat went down earlier this month, leading to the loss of one crewmember after a wave went over the bow of their 26-footer, capsizing the boat, which then sank.
After a couple hours with little action, Brenda Skinner’s rod went off. As the crew cleared rods, I got this snap, then realized I needed to grab the back line. As I did so, her fish came to the surface right behind the boat and I could see that it was a very, very nice Chinook, but in its thrashing, it threw the hooks, leading to disappointment.
It was in 2000, I believe, that I first fished for springers in the Columbia Gorge, and in doing so came to realize that spring has its own subtly beautiful colors as the trees take leaf again. This year, spring is behind schedule, but wondrous nonetheless.
Unfortunately for me, I had to be back to the ramp by 11:30 or so to go meet my inlaws and grab my son, River, who’d spent his spring break at their house on the Oregon Coast. In the end we could have fished for nine more minutes, as I beat them to the rendezvous point, and who knows what would have happened. Not long after I hit the road, Andy sent me an update, his pic of coworker Tony with a nice king.
It can be a long haul between points north and the springer-bearing streams of Southwest Washington, but for many anglers it is worth it to get after the year’s first salmon. Even though my drive with River back to Shoreline was a slog — when is this rain ever going to just give up?!?! — I was glad I’d gone and I look forward to many more trips, hopefully one day with both my sons.
About a block from home, I remembered to take a pic of a clock to show when my flame run wrapped up, this trip at 4:10 p.m., roughly 14 hours 20 minutes and 440 miles after my flight like a bat out of hell began.