How to catch salmon on the Columbia River Tech Tip #2b – What technique is best?

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Pros and Cons of Anchoring for Spring Chinook

This is the second half of a two part article.  Go here for the first half.

Limit of Spring Chinook

Anchoring Advantages:

  • Easy for beginners, less stressful
  • Able to precisely target a fish holding spot where the salmon come to you; you don’t have to find them
  • Cheaper, saves on gas and bait
  • Can get out of the weather

Let’s look at the positives I have listed for anchoring.

Easy for beginners and less stressful

Anchor fishing for spring Chinook is pretty mellow once you get the anchoring out of the way.  It’s quite relaxing to sit out on the river enjoying the view, maybe cooking some food, or playing cribbage, and enjoying good conversation with friends and family while waiting for that takedown on your rod.

Anchoring is easy and the relaxation it provides is probably the greatest reason we see so many boats anchored on the Columbia during our spring Chinook season.

Able to precisely target a fish holding spot

If you have a location that you know holds fish such as a traveling lane, drop off, or edge of some structure then anchoring can be very productive.  Anchoring on locations such as these allows you to pretty much own that spot and put your lure (generally a sardine wrapped Kwikfish) directly in front of the salmon.

As long as there are fish moving, then in areas such as these, the fish are going come to you, and you’re going to have a great chance of hooking up.

Cheaper, anchoring saves on gas and bait

Anchoring doesn’t have nearly the trip expense when compared with trolling.  An angler can generally get through a trip on two to five gallons of gas and a few packages of sardines.  Another bonus is that the wear and tear on motors is also limited.

Anglers can get out of the weather

You will find that quite a few anglers who specialize in anchor fishing like to have a covered area on their boat.  Having a top on your boat when trolling can often restrict visibility but when on anchor it is much less of an issue, it is actually a bonus because you can get out of the rain.  Many boaters have a small heater onboard, jackets don’t have to be worn, and it can get quite comfortable under the top!

There is definitely also a downside associated with anchor fishing, lets go through the main disadvantages.

Anchoring Negatives:

  • Get up really early and fight other boaters for the good spot
  • Can’t use herring as well on anchor
  • Anchoring too close to shipping channel
  • Can’t move to where the fish are being caught and you can’t search out fish
  • Difficult to fish when it’s windy
  • Can be boring
  • Very tide driven
    Sea lions
  • Anchoring, pulling anchor, dropping off of anchor

Get up early, or arrive to the anchor location early, and fight other boaters for the good spot

There are many really good anchor fishing spots on the Columbia River and these spots don’t stay secrets for long, fishermen notice where fish are being caught.  If your spot is producing fish then trust me somebody has noticed and you’re going to have to get up extra early to beat the other boaters to that same spot the next day or the next weekend.

I say you have to get up early because we’re assuming in this scenario that the tide is already running out at dawn, but let’s say the tide doesn’t change until 11 o’clock and you plan on trolling the incoming tide first thing in the morning.  Life is good, you trolled during the morning and now you arrive at your chosen anchor location just to find that three other boaters have beaten you to it and are now holding against the current with their trolling motors in reverse waiting for the tide to change.  “Ah ha” you say, “This won’t happen to me tomorrow!  I will get here extra early and beat them at their own game!”  Well that is fine, but just remember that they have the same plan, and so does the other guy that showed up late.  Also, that block of time you spent holding in reverse wasn’t spent fishing, because you’re not fishing until that tide starts running out.  The time you spent holding the boat in place with the trolling motor could have been spent trolling, and putting fish in the boat.

Can’t use herring as well on anchor

Herring is exceptional bait for spring Chinook and it probably catches the bulk of the fish during March and April.  Trolling herring works really well but what many anglers don’t realize is that it can also be fished while on anchor … but conditions have to be just right for this method to work perfectly.

In order to fish herring on anchor and get it to spin properly you need to have a pretty strong outgoing current, otherwise it will sink to the bottom or just wobble in the current and not spin at all.  Not all areas of the river get strong enough current to fish herring on anchor and the areas that do get strong current don’t always have it for an extended period of time.  So if you can’t fish herring and you’re forced to use something else, you just took one of the best producing baits and took it out of the game.

Anchoring in the shipping channel

One of the major drawbacks of anchor fishing is that commercial river traffic has the right of way in the shipping channel.  In some areas of the river the shipping channel takes up almost the whole river, while in others it is a very narrow travel lane, either way boaters must move for vessels restricted in their ability to maneuver and operating in the shipping channel.  If you were wondering, a vessel that must stay in the shipping channel is definitely restricted in its ability to maneuver and you have to give it the right of way.

What does this mean to you as a fisherman anchored in the river?  It means that you often times can’t fish where the fish are actually running which is often in the shipping channel.  You can’t catch them where they aint.  Some folks actually do anchor in the shipping channel and play chicken with the ships which is a good way to get a large ticket from the coast guard or worse yet ran over.  Others anchor in the channel and quickly pull anchor when the ship is bearing down on them, hoping they see the ship in time to move, either way it is a bad idea, unsafe, and generally not a good practice to follow.

Can’t move to where the fish are being caught and you can’t search out fish

You’re on the river, you got up early and your in the spot where you have been catching fish the last two days.  The tide is right and the fish are finally biting but unfortunately not in your boat.  Today the fish are running in a line four boats farther out in the river and the guys in that spot are killing them and are just one fish away from being limited.  What do you do?  Nothing really, for the most part you have missed your chance at the bulk of the fish that have gone by today.  Oh yeah you can anchor in a different spot or go farther upriver but that isn’t going to salvage your day by much if any.

This is obvious, but when you’re on anchor you can’t go looking for the fish.  I don’t care how good a spot an anchor fisherman has, the fish don’t always run in that location, and when they aren’t there, it just isn’t going to happen for you.

Difficult to fish when it’s windy

Anchor fishing is really easy when the weather conditions cooperate, which is most of the time, especially during the first half of the day.  However when the wind comes up in the afternoon or a storm is blowing in, effective anchor fishing can be almost impossible.  The boat tops that were so great when it was cold, rainy, and calm have now just turned into big sails that catch the wind and blow your boat back and forth, in turn dragging your lure all over the bottom of the river.  With your boat swinging back and forth your odds of catching a Springer just went down dramatically.

Anchor fishing can be boring

This is pretty self explanatory, sitting on the hook (anchored up) can get really old when fish aren’t being caught, and it can get downright frustrating when you see someone troll by and catch one!

Very tide driven

Some new anglers don’t know this, but anchoring up with Kwikfish is done on the outgoing tide only, for some reason anchor fishing on the incoming tide just doesn’t produce.  Some sections of the lower Columbia especially from the Portland area upstream have a minimal tidal influence on the incoming tide.  This section of river often has downstream flow all day long.  The current may slow down during the incoming tide but it doesn’t actually reverse directions and flow upstream like it does near Longview or Clatskanie.  You may be thinking to yourself that this sounds like a perfect place to anchor, but keep in mind that just because this area has outgoing current doesn’t mean that it has the optimal current speed to work the Kwikfish.  The water in this area can often be very slow and not conducive to creating the good Kwikfish wobble that most anchor fishermen really want.

Since anchor fishing is an outgoing tide only deal, then in many areas you are either forced to troll, or just not fish on the incoming tide.  If you go to Longview or any of the areas downstream this is often what you will see, hardly anyone fishing the incoming tide but when the outgoing happens then here come all of the boats.  These guys are really missing out on some of the best fishing of the day by not taking advantage of the incoming tide.

Sea lions

Sea lions love to take salmon from spring Chinook fishermen and they especially like to take them from the fishermen in the hog lines (lines of anchored boats).  Why?  Because it is easier for them to figure out who has a fish on in these areas and to pick that boat off.  They see all of the guys in the boat jump up and run around fighting the fish, lifting the net in the air, and dropping out of the hog line, and this quickly lets them know what is going on.  Sea lions love to hang out below the hog lines and just wait for the action to begin!

When you’re trolling it isn’t nearly as evident to a Sea lion that you have a fish on, the boat is already moving and the anglers are constantly getting up and down in the boat, as well as reeling in their rods, so from a Sea lion’s point of view not much stands out when a boat that is trolling hooks into a salmon.  Since it is harder for Sea lions to determine which boats have fish on, it is also harder for them to consistently make a meal of troll caught fish, therefore they really don’t tend to hang out in the trolling lanes much. I know guys that anchor fish that have hooked up seven or eight fish just to have every one of them stolen by Sea lions; this just doesn’t happen when you’re trolling.

Anchoring, pulling anchor, and dropping off of anchor

Fishing on anchor involves deploying the anchor, pulling the anchor at the end of the day and dropping off of the anchor rope when a fish is hooked up.  One person can generally deploy the anchor and pull it but when a fish is hooked; having multiple people in the boat is really an advantage.

When a fish gets hooked someone needs to grab the rod and it’s important to release the boat from the anchor rope and start drifting back as soon as possible.  It’s mighty hard for the guy fighting the fish to walk forward and release the anchor rope, especially when he is in a windshield boat.  Anchor fishing is mostly a team sport; don’t get me wrong it can be done by one person, but not as easily as trolling is for one person.

To wrap it up

Ultimately an angler has to decide what he is after in a day of fishing.  Some folks are after fun and relaxation, others are hell bent to put fish in the boat at all costs, and there is everything in between.  Personally my approach to fishing is that I expect it to be work because it is my work, and the harder I work the luckier I get.  However many anglers are out on the water for some relaxation, and unfortunately relaxation and catching a bunch of fish don’t necessarily go hand in hand.  Sometimes catching salmon is easy but more often than not, an angler with a full fish box had to work his hind quarters off to make it happen.  You just have to decide what you AND your group are after in a days fishing, and choose the appropriate technique that suits you.

The author, Kevin Newell, is a professional fishing guide in Oregon and Washington!

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