Starting tomorrow, Oct. 15, you’ll be able to keep a third coho in the Willamette system above the falls, ODFW announced this afternoon.
That includes the mainstem as well as Molalla, Santiam, Yamhill, South Yamhill and Tualatin Rivers.
So far 10,000 coho have been counted at the falls, with more on the way.
“It’s exciting to see another strong return of coho this year,” said Tom Murtagh, ODFW fish biologist, in a press release. “We’re always pleased when we are able to offer additional fishing opportunities to anglers.”
COHO FISHING MIGHT BE BETTER IN THE WILLAMETTE’S TRIBS ABOVE THE FALLS ONCE THE RAINS COME, BUT THE SALMON CAN ALSO BE CAUGHT IN THE MAINSTEM. RYAN HUMMEL HOOKED THIS ONE ON A BRAD’S WIGGLER LAST SEASON. (WRIGHT & MCGILL/EAGLE CLAW PHOTO CONTEST)
While coho can be hard to catch in these warmer waters, rains could help anglers out as the fish gather at the mouths of the tribs.
In the October issue of Northwest Sportsman, our Terry Otto talked about the fish and the fishery. Here’s that story:
Huge Coho Run Headed To Upper Willamette
By Terry Otto
Three falls ago 19,000 adult coho spawned in the tributaries above Willamette Falls, and afterwards, when that brood year’s juveniles went down to the ocean, they were greeted by excellent conditions.
That year-class will be returning this month to their natal streams, and according to district fisheries biologist Todd Alsbury, there could be a real mess of them.
“We could possibly see a return of 15,000 to 25,000 coho,” he says.
All those fish got a free pass as they swam the ocean and up the Columbia. Since they are wild-spawned they aren’t fin-clipped, and can’t be kept by anglers.
Until they pass the falls.
STUMPTOWN’S BIGGEST COHO run could dwarf hatchery runs in other local rivers this fall. This stock is very different from those. Generated by the progeny of hatchery plants that were cut long ago, this population has thrived in the Tualatin, Yamhill and other Willamette tributaries. It’s spread into new systems, and continues to grow.
Historically, coho did not spawn above the falls because the water was too low to jump this time of year. That changed when fish ladders were installed. Coho have made good use of that access.
“The average run is about 6,000 to 7,000 fish,” says Alsbury, but this year is not an average year.
And since they are not native or indigenous to the upper Willamette, they can be managed, and harvested, free from the constraints of Endangered Species Act listings that trouble other systems. That has resulted in a terrific silver fishery with liberal harvests in good years.
When plentiful, the limit has been as many as three adult coho a day.
Will that occur again this season?
“The three-fish limit will probably happen this year, certainly,” says Alsbury.
Watch dfw.state.or.us for changes to the regulations.
UNLIKE COHO RETURNING to the Sandy and Clackamas, which sometimes see harvests of up to 25 percent in the ocean and Buoy 10 before they reach local waters, these fish have not been hammered. That means all the best, most aggressive biters are still there when they pass the falls.
And these are fine salmon.
“They seem to not turn color as fast as the coho in the other rivers,” says Alsbury, “and they stay good into November.”
However, don’t expect them to light up until they pass out of the Willamette’s warm water. When they stack up at the mouths of its tributaries they don’t bite well.
“It’s a tough bite,” says Alsbury. “It’s good for about the first half hour of light, and then tough the rest of the day.”
Reportedly, small plugs are effective.
They bite much better once the rains come and they enter their spawning tributaries. While many dig and tend redds in the Tualatin, Yamhill and Molalla Rivers, they enter other, smaller rivers as well.
This includes the Pudding, which feeds the Molalla, and just about any small stream that enters the Willamette above the falls.
Once into the natal rivers, they fall to most coho methods such as bobber and eggs, spinners, and drifted yarn or bait.
Many of the coho will wait for the rains and colder temps before they pass over the Willamette Falls. Watch the dam counts, and when the coho start to pass at more than a hundred fish a day, it’s time to go.
Anglers can find access along the Molalla, which may be high enough to drift once the rains return. Boat access starts at the Cedar Launch upstream of Freyer Park. Going downstream, there is the Meadow Brook Bridge on Highway 211, Wagonwheel County Park on Highway 213, the Canby City Park ramp, Knights Bridge crossing near Canby, and at Molalla State Park, near the mouth.
Bank access can be found at each of the parks and launch sites. However, the best bank access may be above the North Fork, on a patchwork of BLM lands from the Glen Avon Bridge to the Turner Bridge.
Access is tougher on the Tualatin, and most of it is in the lower reaches, which are sluggish and not the best salmon-holding water.
The Yamhill also has limited bank access, and while the schools really stack up at the mouth, the bite is notoriously poor until the fish enter the river itself.
Most of these rivers are open for coho retention until Oct. 31, and anglers can keep clipped or un-clipped fish. Check the regulations before you fish, as some sections of the rivers do not allow bait.