Kayak fishing on the Columbia River during the 2019 fall salmon run is proving to be a tough one. The peak of the salmon run has passed this area of the Columbia River and the fishing is tough. The daily salmon limit is one. If you get lucky and get a fish early in the morning, when most of the action seems to be happening, your salmon fishing day is over by eight or nine o’ clock. Or, fish all day and get nothing, which is what I got my last time out.
There are more fishing boats than ever and way less fish. That is a poor combo if you’re looking for good fishing.
You know it’s bad when six people get off a big guide service boat and take turns taking pictures with the one fish they caught.
It’s a weekend and all the salmon fishing spots are packed to the max. The name brand spots are out of boat parking spaces by 9AM. With a one fish limit, there is a lot of boat launch maneuvering with all the boats coming and going. We are going to spend some predicted showery weather and try to have some fun bass fishing, then give the salmon another shot in a day or two.
It has been a wild couple of days kayak fishing for salmon on the Columbia River, to put it mildly. It’s been windy the past four or five days and it was Labor Day weekend; even though the season will almost certainly be closed sooner rather than later, we had to pass on the Salmon fishing. The next morning was forecast for light winds; 2mph from the east. Perfect for kayak fishing with minimal paddling.
I humped the kayak down the cliff at O dark thirty and noticed the wind was a bit more than the forecast 2mph. In fact, it was blowing pretty hard. As is often the case in this part of Washington, the wind was blowing from two directions at the same time; about 6-8mph from the west and 4-6mph from the north. The wind was forecast to die to nearly calm by noon, so I was hoping this was as bad as it would get. I launched the kayak and nosed cautiously on to the main channel of the Columbia River. Keep in mind, the wind is howling from two different directions and it is pitch black. The waves were easily 3-4 feet, which on a SOT kayak is just about overhead. The wind was howling down the Columbia River Gorge from the west, making short interval wind swells. My 13’6″ kayak was dipping down the backside of the wave, into the trough and not being able to make it up the next wave, so the waves were breaking over the bow and I started to take on water.
I had only paddled five hundred feet and it was already knarly. I kept the bow into the waves, but the short intervals of the waves kept them breaking over the bow. Because I have not kayak fished in super knarly conditions like paddling through breaking waves on the ocean for some time so my kayak was rigged for calm water fishing. There are four scupper holes, which are basically “self bailers”. You will get water in the kayak, but not enough to sink. Because I don’t like fishing with a wet butt, two of the scuppers are plugged with silicone seal. The other two are functional, just in case of a situation like this. The kayak was almost full of water, cameras and tackle boxes floating around by the light of my headlamp, so I yanked the two scupper plugs out and hoped they would not float away in the wind and waves. During a brief lull in the wind swells, I quickly turned the kayak around, taking another wave broadside as I turned, and headed back to the launch.
The kayak was full of water. I had foolishly neglected to deploy the rough water setup for the front hatch, so water had come through and flooded inside the hull. About a half gallon of water below, not too bad considering the conditions. Everything on the boat was wet, including me from the neck down, except for the dry bag below with my wallet, cell phone and keys in it. When things are going bad, you try to look for the positive side. That would be that the water temperature is very warm. I was wet. If this happened a month from now, I would be wet and freezing. Big difference. I spent a half hour bailing out the kayak, stowing the camera gear and getting ready for another really wet attempt at the day of salmon fishing. The swells were dropping a bit but the wind continued to blow. I paddled back out into a lumpy, bumpy, windy river, but now, there were a bunch of boats bobbing around. I was soaking wet and the early morning battle against the Columbia River had definitely woke me up.
It was getting light and I was casting for salmon and bailing water out of the kayak as the wind kept blowing and the waves kept coming. The fishing was slow. Boats were bobbing heavily at anchor in shallow water and I did not see any fish being caught. Still, I had taken a pretty good pounding, courtesy of the Columbia River, I wanted a little something for the effort. I kept working my way between anchored boats and river swells, when I got a strike in a most unlikely spot and managed to land a Chinook salmon between the bank anglers and the anchored boats. With my daily limit of one salmon in hand, I paddled in. The Columbia had wet slapped me in the face, but I got my limit. A wild experience when you least expect it and only one photo to show for it. That’s fishing; it’s the experience, not necessarily the fish you catch.
I spent the rest of the day drying everything out. The wind, which was forecast to be nearly calm, was ripping. Kiteboarders were enjoying a great wind day with the summer crowds gone, the NOAA/National Weather Service stated it was 2mph. Note my pants flying sideways from the camper hatch, drying in the sun and wind. Because so much water had come into the hull of the kayak, even with minimal closure of the hatch, I checked the hatch gasket and found it had come apart. I repaired this before, but it needs regular inspection and maintenance. Super Glued the rubber hatch gasket back together and ready to go fishing. Tomorrow is forecast to be calm before afternoon thunderstorms.
It was nearly dead calm when I paddled out on to the Columbia River the following day. Maybe people are reading this blog or maybe they are just getting desperate, but at exactly one hour before sunrise, there were a half dozen boats and a plenty of early rising bank fishermen. Once again, I had no action and I did not see any other boats land fish. I did see the bank fishermen land a couple. The shore fishermen have been doing pretty well from what I’ve seen.
A WDFW boat showed up, which is rare, stopped at an anchored boat at the edge of a pack of thirty boats, then proceeded directly towards me. The WDFW officer inspected my kayak, asked for my fishing license, which I provided and asked to show my PFD and signalling device, which I did. He asked to inspect the lure I was using, and I showed him. It was a barbless treble hook on a Mepps spinner. I had just switched lures and only cast it a few times. He informed me it was illegal, a violation of the anti snagging rules. I needed to use a single hook, not barbless with this lure in this particular spot, where I live, for this salmon fishing season. I only fish for salmon in two or three spots, all near where I live, they all have different regulations and they change regularly; it’s very confusing. I had the same spinner in my tackle box with a siwash(single) hook, unfortunately, I picked the wrong one. I was also informed that because I did not have my Salmon/Steelhead card on my kayak(it’s in the glove box of my truck, 100 yards away), it would be a $150 fine. The reason I keep my Salmon card in my glove box is because my fishing kayak is wet. Very wet. 45° air temp, 50° water temp, drizzle, everything wet, not a great place for paperwork. I’m not a poacher, I’m trying to do the right thing. I offered to paddle in, get my card and show the WDFW officers; thirty minutes, max. No deal. I fill out my card and send it in every year. I did what I though was right to provide information necessary to keep the salmon fishery alive and send the State of Washington a card they would be able to read. No dice, $150 fine.
Anyway, after the visit from the WDFW, I clipped on a lure that I hoped would conform to the current WDFW regulations and tried to get back to fishing. $150 lighter, I continued to fish while the WDFW boat patrolled the edge of the salmon pack. I was afraid they would come in and bust me again for the salmon card; that fucking sucks. I caught this Chinook salmon and headed home like a thug who had just robbed a bank.
So, I caught a salmon, which is what I wanted to do, but this day will be nothing but bad memories. Salmon fishing has always been competitive, especially as the salmon populations shrink, but it’s gotten to the point where, aside from catching the fish itself, salmon fishing in a pack of boats is not that great of an experience. I reckon it’s merely a reflection of the loss of respect Americans have for each other.
The conditions here were not great for kayak fishing, so we headed to another spot where the fishing was better. Limits of one fish were fairly easy to get, but the fishing days are short that way. We’ll try again in a day or two, but the photo and video opportunities for salmon fishing have been hard to come by.
With much trepidation and apprehension, the 2019 fall salmon fishing season on this part of the Columbia River is under way. All year there had been dire predictions of low returning fish counts and that has proven to be the case so far. Steelhead fishing is history. The returning coho run is supposed to be better than last year, which was a salmon fishing disaster. Chinook salmon numbers are worse than last year. The daily fish limit is one; hatchery Chinook or Coho.
The peak of the salmon run here is about the first week in September. This peak is very predictable and varies little from year to year. Usually, we start salmon fishing on the Columbia River after Labor Day weekend. Summer is over and the fair weather visitors begin to head home. This year, knowing the salmon run would be poor and fishing season liable to be cancelled at any time, we hit the river a few days before the Labor Day weekend.
We fish at a spot that is mostly local fishermen. It’s not a “brand name” spot, which is fine with the locals. If you know what you are doing, it is a good spot for salmon and Steelhead fishing. The fishing techniques you need to use to be successful are a bit different than standard Columbia River salmon fishing, so fishermen not familiar with the spot may not do so well. Normally at this time of year, there are a fair amount of salmon fishing boats out fishing. This season, there have been hardly any. On a calm day on the Columbia River at any known salmon fishing spot, there will be boats, but not so far this season.
This fishing spot is not too popular with kayak fishermen because it is either a long, sometimes windy, paddle across the Columbia River, or a sketchy hike down a crumbling cliff with all your gear. In the dark. Hauling the kayak up the cliff after a long day of fishing is no picnic either. If you look at your fishing kayak as an “investment”, this is not the fishing spot for you.
If you are a regular reader of this kayak fishing blog, you know we like to be on the water well before the crack of dawn. This is especially true for salmon fishing, except that fishing for salmon may not start until one hour before sunrise. This time of year, it’s about 5:20AM, still dark. By 6:30AM, it’s already starting to get light. One hour before sunrise, the lines go in the river.
I fished three consecutive days. The first day, I hooked a nice fish, but it jumped a few times and ran under the kayak. In the dark. I got it next to the kayak and the hooks pulled out before I could get the landing net deployed and I lost it. I fished for another six hours and did not get another bite. The second day, just after I put my line in the water, I got a strike and landed this small coho salmon. It was a native fish, easily unhooked from the barbless hooks and released unharmed.
At least I caught one; the 2019 Salmon Fishing season would not be a skunk! That’s the way salmon fishing, and a lot of other big game fishing is like; you don’t catch anything until you do. Sometimes you get them and sometimes you do not.
Back to fishing in the pre-dawn darkness when I had another solid strike and hookup. I could tell this fish was bigger than the coho salmon I had just caught and released. When there is no light, the Columbia River is like a black hole. I was fighting the fish mostly by feel. The only time I could see anything was if the fish jumped or splashed on the surface. After a nice battle in the dark, the fish was next to the kayak. Getting a landing net under a struggling salmon is tough enough, try doing it in pitch blackness!
Got the fish in the net and had a look; it was a hatchery Chinook salmon, probably a male. The first keeper of the 2019 salmon fishing season. After nothing the day before, I had caught two salmon, one released, essentially limiting out before 6:00AM this morning. That’s salmon fishing for you.
Encouraged by the previous day’s success, I was eager to go the final day of our salmon fishing mission. I fished from about 5:20AM until noon without a single bite. Not only did I not have any luck, with about twenty boats fishing for salmon, I did not see a single fish caught. Even when the fishing is bad, as it very well can be, it’s unusual to not see any fish caught.
That is not the direction salmon fishermen are hoping for. Perhaps it has just been a bad few days or a slow start to the salmon run, but after the last few years of rapidly declining returning salmon numbers, it’s difficult to be optimistic about the Columbia River salmon fishery. It seems almost a sure thing that the salmon fishing season on the Columbia River will be closed sooner rather than later. We will try to fish every day, weather permitting, because who knows how much longer there is going to be any salmon fishing at all?
A couple of calm wind days appeared with a blistering heat wave that sent temperatures into the high 90’s, but we take any calm days we can get, so off we go to eastern Washington kayak fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River.
This is a spot of historical significance. It is a lot different than it was back then because of all the dams, but we are paddling our kayaks on the same river as Lewis & Clark.
With the normal west wind off the Pacific Ocean switched around to an easterly afternoon breeze, we were able to fish in a few different spots that are harder to get to with a west wind. Paddling a few miles into a stiff west wind is not something you want to do after a full day of kayak fishing. With the hot weather and possibility of afternoon wind, we were on the river and fishing in the cool, calm early morning well before sunrise. When the sky is red in the morning this time of year, it means it is going to be very hot.
By the time the sun peeked over the dry eastern Washington hills, we had paddled a couple miles and caught a few fish. The calm and light east wind allowed us to paddle further upriver.
The kayak fishing conditions on the Columbia River in the early morning were just about perfect and the smallmouth bass were biting. About as good as it gets. The fish could be bigger, but we always say that.
There was a lot of kayak fishing action. A few bigger fish, a bunch of one pounders and lots of small bass looking to get bigger by eating anything that moves.
The smallmouth bass were very active. They could be caught close to shore or in deeper water where they usually head in summer when the river water gets warm. There were spots you could get a strike on every cast. The bass were coughing up crayfish. If you had a lure that looked like one you were in business.
For two days the smallmouth bass fishing was great. Caught lots of fish and did a lot of paddling with the calm conditions. The river is starting to get slimed with green algae making it tough to fish, this may be as good as it gets this summer.
We wanted to fish another day or two, but there were a bunch of sketchy looking characters, most likely tweakers, in the parking lot. Vehicle break ins and theft, once rare at these remote boat launches and trailheads, is now a regular occurance, especially on weekends. This place is a long way from anywhere and there is sketchy phone coverage. Nobody is going to help you, you’re on your own and you must make smart decisions. The conditions were excellent and the fish were biting, but the red lights were flashing so we packed up and headed home. That’s the way things are in a rapidly changing area of the Pacific Northwest. Good news is there are plenty of other fishing spots and we are out looking for them.
The beginning of fall salmon fishing season is almost here. Usually, there is a lot of excitement and anticipation this time of year, but this time around, it’s more like anxiety and apprehension. We’ll see soon enough.
After the increasing wind put an end to a successful kayak fishing trip on the Columbia River, we headed north to do a little kayak fishing at Goose Lake in the Cascade Mountains. It’s been a few years since we’ve gone fishing at Goose Lake. This time of year is usually not the best time for fishermen but we decided to have a look.
As expected, with the warm weather we’ve been having, the mountain snow pack is down to the glaciers so the seasonal snow melt fed streams are running dry. There is not much water coming into Goose Lake so the water level is very low. Goose Lake is not a large lake to begin with, not much left this time of year.
Just like a lot of the other “natural beauty” around this part of the country, Goose Lake can look like the middle of nowhere, but much of it is man made. The lake has no native fish but is stocked by Fish & Game several times a year. If you go fishing a day or two after being stocked, you can catch fish on every cast from the boat launch. For a small lake, there is good deal of fishing pressure and the stocked fish get caught up pretty quickly. The fishing for the two days we were there was pretty good. Maybe I just had the lucky lure. One small cutthroat trout and the rest were stocker clone rainbows.
Like other spots in this area, Goose Lake is one of those places that has become a popular weekend camping/fishing destination. On nice summer weekends and many weekdays, the place is packed with weekend warriors from the rapidly expanding Portland/Vancouver metro area. It seems more like a Portland city pond than a Cascade Mountain lake. It’s not a big area and it seems overrun. There were some pretty sketchy people there that did not look like recreational campers. Even though it’s taking a beating, Goose Lake still has it’s moments.
That wraps up what is likely our last trip to Goose Lake for this year. We probably should have come here a bit earlier in the season. Have to follow the trout stocking truck next year and beat the crowd!
The Columbia River area wind has not been kind to kayak fishermen this smallmouth bass fishing season. There have only been a very few calm days where we have been able to get out on the Columbia River to go fishing. Whenever we’ve been able to go fishing, the fishing has been pretty good. Still looking for that big 20″ trophy smallmouth, but it’s been a while since I caught a really big fish.
Some of the best smallmouth bass fishing spots on the mid Columbia River are also the most windy so whenever the wind is predicted to be moderately calm, it’s a call to make a seventy five mile drive to go fishing. We lucked out and were able to get two and a half days of fishing with good conditions between wind events. It was really hot here in eastern Washington in the afternoon and the smallmouth bass will bite day or night, so we got an early start to the fishing day by the light of the moon when the wind was most calm.
It was a little more than a half moon, and with the rising sun in the east, it was light enough to see by 5 AM. We knew our fishing time would be limited by the afternoon wind, so we were on the water well before sunrise. By the light of the moon there was plenty of fishing action. We caught the biggest smallmouth bass of the fishing trip just before sunrise each day so it was worth getting up early and getting out there. It was also nice and cool on what would be a swelteringly hot summer day.
As the sun came up the fishing remained hot and we caught a lot of smallmouth bass. Most of them were “one pounders”, but we did catch a number of bigger fish. Smallmouth bass are great fighters and it always seems like there should be a bigger fish at the end of the line. Even the small bass put up a great fight.
The water temperature of the Columbia River, especially the side bays and shallow sections is warm and getting warmer. That means the smallmouth bass are moving to deeper water and the river vegetation is taking over. There is the usual seaweed, but the real problem is slimy green algae that is covering just about everything under the water. If your lure touches anything, it’s coated with algae and the fish won’t bite.
As the sun rose on another still very long PacNW summer day, it got really hot, into the low 90’s. The fishing was still good until late in the afternoon when the wind usually picked up and made the fishing more difficult.
Even during the windy afternoon, the fishing was still pretty good. When you’ve already had a long day of kayak fishing, you don’t want a mile long paddle against a 10-15 mph wind back to the launch. Good fishermen always want to try “one more cast”, but it’s time to get back to camp, get hydrated and something to eat so we can do it again early tomorrow morning.
As the weekend river goers packed up their fishing rods and pool toys, we packed up and left the hot, windy Columbia River and headed towards the Cascade Mountains and Goose Lake.
We’ve given up on fishing days due the non-stop Columbia River wind and have started looking for fishing hours. Some days the wind is non-stop, other days the wind might be calm around sunrise for a few hours or die down just before sunset. You have to take what you can get around here. Depending on the exact direction of the wind and your location on the river, there can be some wind shadows.
This is a nice fishing spot on the Columbia River in eastern Washington. It’s not very busy during the week but this is the local swimming hole for the local rural communities, so the weekends are busy. July 4th is the unofficial beginning of summer in the Pacific Northwest, there is a marked increase in the crowds at popular recreational areas.
Kayak fishing opportunities have been few and far between lately, so when a rare, moderately calm wind day appeared, we were on it before the crack of dawn.
As it seems to be most of the time, the smallmouth bass fishing early in the morning was pretty good. As was the case the last time out, many of the smallmouth bass were on the small size. Even the small fish are aggressive, a six inch bass will try to eat a four inch lure. This bass was a good size fish, but it must have been a female that had just laid all of her eggs, otherwise it would have been a lot fatter. I caught several fish like this.
The Columbia River Gorge is a natural wonder, but what you see today has been dramatically influenced by the hand of man.
Each day we were blown off the Columbia River by noon. As long as we could find shelter from the wind, there was plenty of kayak fishing action.
Every once and a while, a nicer bass would take the lure so it wasn’t always smaller fish. Quarter pounder or twenty inch trophy bass; you never know.
This was our first time fishing here, there was a lot of interesting stuff going on besides the smallmouth bass fishing. There was some weekend wild life in the parking lot and some wildlife down by the river.
With the 4th of July week over, all we need now is a few calm days. By “calm”, I mean less than double digit wind speed. It’s already July and we’ve only been fishing a few times. Between no salmon and the endless wind, it’s getting tough to be a kayak fisherman around here. Maybe it’s a sign that I need to work on the largemouth bass kayak fishing video from the past winter…
The seemingly endless wind of the Columbia River Gorge and surrounding vicinity finally eased up for a few days so we were back kayak fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River as soon as the wind stopped. That happened early in the morning as we paddled out to see a sight we have not seen in weeks; a calm Columbia River.
The first day of kayak fishing conditions was classic Pacific Northwest; 45° at sunrise, 85° at sunset. Bring all your outdoor clothing. There is still snow melt running into the Columbia, but it’s warming up. Warmer water means more seaweed, we’ll see how that goes this summer. Relatively few weeds to deal with. Rocks are always covered with algae or moss, so you must get close to the rocks, but not touch them. The fishing action was definitely better in the morning and tapered off in the afternoon.
The good news is that the smallmouth bass were biting and we caught a lot of fish. The not so good news is that most of the fish were small. A ton of bass between half a pound and a pound. Regardless of the size, smallmouth bass are aggressive and always put up a good fight.
We use 7’0″ spinning rods and lightweight reels, but use a bit heavier line because of the rocks and snags. Usually, 12-14lb. test mono. You don’t need miles of line on the reel because you can move the kayak if you are in danger or getting spooled. 1/8 oz. lead head pumpkin seed grubs are working well because they look like the crayfish the smallmouth bass are feeding on. Whether the bass is five pounds or a half pound, the lightweight setup makes it fun.
I did catch a few bigger bass, which keeps you on your toes when you think all you are catching half pounders. The smallmouth bass spawning is over and the river is full of baby smallmouth bass. Those mini bass will grow quickly and in a couple months be chunky smallmouth bass.
After a great few days of fishing and paddle-up camping, the wind has returned and shut down the kayak fishing on the Columbia River. Can’t help but remember the fantastic conditions and great fishing until we can get out there again.
As soon as the wind calms down, we are back on the river. We found a new spot to launch and hoping there will be some fishing action there so check back soon.
We’ve been facing some tough kayak fishing conditions on the Columbia River looking for the smallmouth bass. It has been very windy, double digit wind speeds just about every day. The Columbia River Gorge is one of the windiest places in the United States, but even here you get a relatively calm day once and a while. Throw in a few random rain showers and it makes for challenging kayak fishing conditions.
Rain is not a big problem, especially since it’s not really that cold, but the wind can be dangerous. Here on a cloudy John Day River, it looks pretty calm, but an hour later, the wind was blowing 15mph. You really have to pay attention to the wind in a fishing kayak.
We’ve stopped hoping for a calm day on the Columbia and will now settle for anything under 10mph. Not ideal fishing conditions, but if we wait for a calm day, we might not be doing much fishing at all.
The smallmouth bass fishing has been pretty good whenever we’ve been able to make it out. No big fish so far, but a lot of hard fighting “one pounders”. The sun came out for a couple seconds when I took the photo, but the rain resumed shortly thereafter.
We are trying every spot on the Columbia River that you can launch a kayak. Some of the places are pretty rugged, not only for the kayak, but for the truck getting to some of the more remote spots. Once and a while you get a rare “paddle up” camp spot, which is pretty cool.
We are waiting out another windy few days, but we know the fishing is good so we will be back on the river as soon as the wind calms to non life threatening levels so check back soon.
The weather was exceptionally warm and sunny as we arrived back in the Columbia River Gorge in the Pacific Northwest. As always, we were ready to get out on the Columbia River and start looking for those big springtime smallmouth bass. The temperature was mid-summer but the wind was mid-spring; windy almost every day.
The wind died to manageable for kayak fishing for a couple days so we were out on the Columbia long before the sun came up, anxious to get into the smallmouth bass. We caught a number of decent sized smallmouth bass on the first few casts, about an hour before sunrise. Since we were catching fish on the first few casts, we were pretty optimistic about how the first day of smallmouth bass fishing was going to go.
Unfortunately, our early luck did not hold up for most of the rest of the day, only picking off a few more fish here and there, maybe catching about eight fish all day. We called it a day about noon, packed up the gear and headed to another spot, hoping for better luck.
We were back on the water at a different spot the next morning. After a couple hours of fishing and only a couple real small bass to show for it, we started to wonder what was going on. We got out the thermometer and found the river water temperature was in the very low 50’s. The Columbia River is usually warmer this time of year, but heavy late season snow has the rivers still running with snow melt. The spot where we caught the smallmouth bass is as far from any Columbia River tributaries as you can get, the spot we were at was only a couple miles downstream from a major tributary. A degree or two in water temperature makes the difference for the fish being active or not.
The wind has come back with gusto and we are getting what we hope are the last few rainstorms of the winter rainy season, so it will be a few more days before we will be able to get back out on the river. Another season of weird weather is off and running, we’ll be out fishing whenever we get the chance so check back soon!