Sep 102019

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.

Chinook salmon caught by kayak fisherman Ron Barbish on a rough weather day on the Columbia River

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.

Drying everything out after a wet day of fishing for salmon on the Columbia River

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.

Dodging government patrols, a hungry man in Washington catches a salmon to eat

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.

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