Boats all along the shore, but no nets. The magpies cry in the alders. A tennis shoe floats. Plastic bottles, bundles of dried sedges and tumbleweeds join the parade. The only thing missing from the floating debris is a dead farm animal.
About ten years ago, I slept on my boat to avoid the 3am queue of 150 boats at the Brewster launch. Sockeye salmon piled up at the mouth of the Okanogan River until it cooled enough so they could resume their migration. Limits of six fish were all the rage, but there was a high likelihood of getting boned by an inexperienced boater or being crowded into shallow water by a yacht-sized guide boat with six rods. fishing.
Sockeye salmon fishing in the Hanford Reach is more polished. Boaters drop anchor from Richland to Ringold and wait for a school of sockeye to swim past. The only thing that disturbs the peaceful cooing of mourning doves is the roar of jet boat engines and the rap music of wake boarders.
Setup is quite easy. You can tie beads with a Colorado type rotary blade, Flashabou fly or Mack’s Smile blade and dodger behind a lead dropper. The top hook of a two-hook rig is attached with an egg loop for attaching shrimp or shrimp meat. Add a back hook (single or treble) to increase the chances of a strike leading to a hook.
Some die-hard anglers say align the long antennae of the shrimp with the shank of the hook. Broken antenna or loose shell? Throw it away. Sockeye won’t eat it. Others say it’s okay to remove the legs and antennae, but don’t forget the smell. Popcorn shrimp from the supermarket can also grab a bite after a generous dusting with Borax O’ Fire.
Thank goodness for both poles! Having the ability to experiment with a range of lures, depths and dropper weights is critical to success. Let’s say two anglers come together but only have room on the boat to pull out three rods. Who gets the extra rod? Answer: the guy who owns the boat. You might have a chance to shoot the extra rod if you bring libation and snacks, but that’s a big “if”.
The pre-season forecast for Columbia River sockeye salmon was 198,000, nearly a third more fish than last year. The first prognosis seems conservative with over 350,000 fish passing Bonneville Dam in the last week of June. As a result, daily salmon limits (including a combination of sockeye and summer chinook) have been increased in the Hanford reach and above Priest Rapids Dam. See the WDFW Emergency Rules page for more details.
On average, about 80 percent of upstream sockeye pass through Hanford Reach. An exception was in 2015 when the majority of the upriver perished due to extremely low flow and high water temperature. Sadly, only 200 of the endangered Snake River sockeye run are expected to make it to Stanley Basin this year.
According to scale analysis, Columbia River sockeye return after one year to the Pacific Ocean in the range of 17 inches, fish from 2 oceans are about 20 inches long, and fish from 3 oceans can reach 25 inches. inches, with the majority of larger fish destined for Lake Wenatchee. To conserve their energy, they hug the shore and stay close to the bottom. Radiotagging studies indicate travel time upstream ranges from 10 to 20 miles per day.
The last hour was spent cleaning weeds from gear, throwing blackberries from the bottom of my boat and pretending I didn’t care. I move the anchor line to the starboard side of my boat and slide to a depth of 9 feet. Then, a blow so wild that the butt of the rod slams against the side of the boat. When I pull the bent stem from the stand, a bright mint sockeye flies up and takes off on an electrifying run.
When the fish gets tired, I bring it back to the boat keeping the tip of my rod in the water. Wild jumps alongside the boat invariably result in a free-swimming sockeye salmon. There is also a risk of losing one if you don’t clean it with your best hand. This one, however, clings to the upper lip and finds its place in the cooler alongside an assortment of bait shrimp and cold drinks.
I’m still learning the trade even though I scored nine times last summer. Turbid water, excessive debris and runoff that inundated shoreline vegetation and channel bar islands made the start of this year a hit or miss. Still, there’s no better way to spend a hot summer day than chasing sockeye salmon on Hanford Reach.
A friend convinced his wife to go sockeye salmon fishing after his appendectomy so he could put an extra limit on the freezer. Another puts his three children on the boat to fill a day with eight fish. As for personal addiction, I spent seven consecutive days on the Reach last season when the air temperature averaged 110 F.
When the sockeye salmon action in the Reach slows, fuel your addiction as you follow the race upstream to Wanapum Dam, Wells Dam and Brewster Basin. In the meantime, find a free slot along the shore to drop anchor, test your patience and hone your skills.
Dennis Dauble is a local author of five books on fish and fishing. Contact him at his DennisDaubleBooks.com website.