Sep 30, 2013

Ain't no Nookie Like Chinookie

    For many outdoorsmen, fall is a special time of year. The trees turn cool colors, the summer heat is finally gone, and love is in the air (and water) for many species - which translates to some fun hunting and fishing seasons!
Yakima River Fall Colors
Pretty colors are cool and all, but they're the least of the reasons I like the fall!
     For the last few years, I've associated fall with the best steelhead fishing of the year, and in years previous to that, it was the time to catch big brown trout on the Henry's Fork. However a new one for me this year was the fall Chinook salmon.
     If you're not familiar with the salmon runs of the Columbia River, this year's fall Chinook salmon run was one for the record books.  The last time there were as many of these fish in the river as there were this year was in the 1940s! 
     To give you an idea of just how many fish there were this year, here's a graph of the number of salmon per day counted this fall as they passed the first dam in the Columbia River compared to last year, and the last ten years: 
2013 Columbia River Fall Chinook Graph, Passage at Bonneville Dam
In a nutshell, 2013 was a GOOD year for fall Chinook in the Columbia River!
     Chinook salmon are one of the few fish that I'll admit that I'm not very good at catching. However, I figured with that many fish in the river even I couldn't get totally skunked. I live right next to the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River, which ranks right up there with the best spots to fish for fall Chinook in the pacific northwest, but you need a boat to do it. My little row boat isn't quite up for a trip on the Columbia. So I turned my attention to the Yakima River; it's big enough to get a decent run of fish, but small enough that I could wade fish it and still have a reasonable chance, plus it's five minutes from my house!
     I considered my options for what tactics to use. Eggs are probably the best bait for catching salmon, but they're smelly and very messy and I don't like to use them.  I decided to stick to what I'm good at and use spinners and spoons. There's nothing quite like the teeth-jarring sensation of a salmon or steelhead hitting a lure! Plus I had to make sure my gear was still in working order for an upcoming trip to Idaho (see this post)!
     I found a likely looking spot in the river and picked out my tastiest looking spinners. It wasn't long till I started bringing in some fish, but the first fish I brought in definitely wasn't what I had expected to catch on a big salmon lure. It was a beast of a mountain whitefish! Check out that monster adipose fin - it's bigger than my thumb!
Mountain Whitefish
20 inches of mountain whitefish!
Mountain Whitefish
I'm not sure how, but he managed to get all three hooks of the treble hook inside his mouth. Anybody know how he did that??
Mountain Whitefish
Seriously though, did you see the size of that adipose fin?
     Fishing for salmon is usually a drain on my patience because sometimes hours pass without so much as a bite, but the Yakima River is home to a bunch of smallmouth bass, which I was grateful for because they kept my attention between salmon bites.
Yakima River Smallmouth Bass
He looks pretty surprised to see me.
       It wasn't long before I started encountering my intended species though. I lost more than I landed, but I'm OK with that. I don't usually like to eat them, so for me the best part is the bite and the fight; if I don't have to handle them to unhook them, all the better for everybody involved!  This dark female however, was one of the ones I did land and also my biggest Chinook ever. She put up a heck of a fight, cartwheeling in the air several times and giving my steelhead rod (who's name is Bob, if you're wondering) a run for its money!
Yakima River Fall Chinook Salmon
Still not big for a Chinook, but this 15 pounder is my biggest one yet!
Bob getting bent!
Here's Bob just doing what he does.
     I even lucked into two steelhead! Yakima River steelhead have had a hard time, and there's not too many of them in there. I was happy with one, but two was ridiculous! Unfortunately, I didn't get good pictures of these fish since I wanted to release them as carefully and quickly as possible.
Yakima River Steelhead
Yakima River Steelhead!

     I've had a hard time moving to Washington from Idaho. Don't get me wrong, I like sagebrush as much as the next guy, but it has been quite an adjustment. But I do have to admit, fall Chinook fishing has been pretty awesome, even if it was in Washington!

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