Targeting Spring Salmon on the Columbia River

November 8, 2021

Probably the most popular fishery on the Columbia River is the spring Chinook season. This is one of our favorite times of the year, not only because we love catching these hard fighting fish, they are also considered the best eating of all the Salmon species.

The springer season fires up as early as March and runs through June. We at Columbia River fishing adventures target these beautiful Salmon at several key areas on the Columbia starting on the Washington side around the mouth of the Lewis River and generally finishing up the season on the Willamette River near Portland  Oregon. There is some fantastic fishing that takes place this time of year! But the window can be short depending on the numbers of fish and if the states keep the season open or not.

The mouth of the Lewis River

As soon as March rolls around and spring chinook start to enter the Columbia, we head down the Columbia River about 30 miles from Portland to the mouth of the Lewis. This is one of our favorite places to target these Salmon as they tend to stack up in pretty good number before heading up to spawn in the upper Lewis. There are several good holding spots in this area and we’ve consistently had good success getting these big bright fish in the boat for our clients. There are several other great areas to target spring Salmon in this area as well.

Bachelor Island

Once the bite falls off on the Lewis our next favorite spot is around Bachelor Island. This area is just upriver from the Lewis on the Washington side as well. You can follow Lake River or just run up the Columbia. Around Bachelor Island, the spring Salmon fishing is very consistent and almost always kicks out a few fish. We work the shelves and target depths of anywhere from. 15-40 ft depending on water conditions and the methods being used to target the Salmon.  This is where we generally hit pay dirt as this is the depth springers tend to travel and stack up on this section of the river.

Caterpillar Island

As we continue working our way up river getting closer to Portland Oregon.  We fish the Caterpillar Island area. This section is right below Frenchman’s Bar and is an excellent piece of water that hosts both anchor fisherman and troller’s. You’ll even see a few plunker’s who’ve walked down from Frenchman’s to fish the top part of the flat just below the channel marker at the top of the island.

During a busy day at Caterpillar, the inside portion of the flat is usually tied up by anchor fisherman, and the outside is where the trollers make their passes through the lanes.  If it’s not too busy you can make trolling passes on the inside, but you have to pay extra attention for anchored boats to make sure not to get snagged up someone’s anchor line.

The inside portion of Caterpillar Island is typically 12-18 feet of water, and the outside of the bar is 18-25 feet. This section of the river has more rolling humps than the Davis Bar located directly above. You’ll notice these humps as you troll downstream, especially when you start fishing close to the bottom and getting snagged. I generally like my gear to be dragging over the shallow spots and then just ticking along as it gets deeper. You’ll often notice you can mark Salmon in the deep spots just behind the little ledges and humps. Caterpillar Island is a nice long troll and one of the best spots to target spring chinook on the Columbia River making it another one of our favorite spring Salmon fishing spots.

Willow Bar

At the bottom end of the Caterpillar troll located just across the river, you’ll find Willow Bar on the Oregon side.  Bank anglers line up on this bar, but you can still make passes if you troll it on the outside of the bar closer to the center of the river. This is deeper water for trolling, and will generally fish between 30-45 feet deep depending on how close you can get to the bar itself. Be ready some big Salmon have been taken here.

As you troll downstream around the corner (Willow Point) from Willow Bar you come to Social Security or Walton Beach.  This is another very popular plunking spot, but can also be a decent troll when you stay to the outside of the plunkers.  At Social Security Beach it’s much easier to stay closer to the 25-35 foot depth ratio as you troll your way downstream making it a nice smooth troll.

Collins Beach

At the bottom of Walton Beach, Collins Beach begins, this beach is also referred to as the Naked Beach. Thus meaning that it’s a clothing optional beach, so be prepared to see a few naked people when you troll through this section.  This beach is typified by 12-18 foot depths on the inside, and 18-25 foot depths on the mid riverside. This is another very nice piece of water, and it seems the Salmon sometimes sit up on the shelf on the inside corner between the bottom of Social Security Beach and the top end of Collins beach.

Frenchman’s Bar

Getting a little closer to Portland Oregon Frenchman’s Bar is another popular fishery on the Columbia and fairly well known holding area for Spring Chinook. We have to be careful in this section as not to get snagged due to the long line of bank anglers that run their plunking gear from boats about 200 yards from shore. We like to fish this area on the Washington side up to Davis Bar. Don’t be afraid to fish deep in this area lots of Salmon are caught in the center of the river. The Oregon side by the mouth of The Willamette River is also an area that shouldn’t be overlooked. The fishing can get pretty hot on this spot and on occasion a bit crowded. This is when we work our way up river to some of the other great spots up near the I-5 Bridge.

The area around I-5

The I-5 section on the river. This is the section that divides Vancouver Washington and Portland Oregon. You can work both sides of the river. Hayden Island is a great pinch point for some Spring Chinook action. The I-5 section of the Columbia is renowned for probably the largest concentration of spring chinook in the entire river and it’s very close to Portland Oregon. The area from Frenchman’s Bar all the way to Government Island is prime trolling water for Spring Chinook that have entered the Columbia River system and are headed upriver to Bonneville Dam.

Willamette River

Once April rolls around we are fishing the Willamette the River. The Willamette runs through Portland Oregon and makes it a fantastic place to fish for those who don’t want to travel. Springers like to stack up at the mouth and below Willamette falls before working their way up the Willamette to spawn in the upper reaches at the Santiam and McKenzie Rivers. Since early-run Willamette springers tend to hold off ledges, we like to work the high-slack tides while chasing them up to Sellwood and then all the way up to Willamette Falls. The fishing is usually pretty good on the Willamette during this time and we tend to put lots of Salmon in the boat until things start to slow down and the season ends in June.

If you’re looking to target Spring Salmon on the Columbia River these are some of the absolute best fishing spots on the entire river.  The Columbia River spring Salmon are the best eating Salmon in the world and the action takes place just minutes from Portland Oregon. Making this fishery a favorite of Columbia River Fishing Guides. If you are looking to get in on the Action call Columbia River Fishing Adventures Today 503-490-3099

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