Walleye Fishing on the Columbia River

March 12, 2023

Walleye Fishing on the Columbia River

For any fisherman who targets walleye, the Columbia River is the perfect place to fish as you can catch all year round from February through to October. Walleye typically get bigger during spring as anglers from across the US descend on the Columbia River to fish. Late March and early April are known to be the best months to catch these gigantic beasts on the Columbia River. It is not uncommon to find female fish that weigh over 12 pounds during this season!

Since walleyes are non-native fish in the Columbia River, there are no regulations defining the number or size of the fish that anglers can catch. However, like in any other region, it is important to develop the skills required to fish safely in the Columbia River. It is recommended to hire a guide for the first two days to become acquainted with the water, as the reefs in this region often push rocks up close to the surface, with many boats finding themselves breached on these rocks.

We can frequently catch walleye in May, June and July on the Columbia River, but it is not as common to catch Big Walleye as earlier in the spring. It can be difficult to catch the bigger fish after the end of April. Therefore, tact and strategy are the most important if you are looking to reel in one of these big trophies!

We contacted several talented anglers specific to the Columbia River and in this article, we will give you the lowdown on their expert advice when it comes to hunting for beastly walleyes.

Best Places To Find Walleye

Across the lower Columbia, walleyes are frequently found in abundance, even all the way down to Portland Oregon, However, the ideal spot for fishing these trophies is between the dams from the Bonneville Pool to Lake Roosevelt.

If you are looking specifically for gigantic pre-spawn females, the best time to do so is when the water starts to get warmer between late March and mid-April. People from across the US travel down to try their luck at reeling in walleyes. In fact, according to Buddy Dupell professional fishing guide at Columbia River Fishing Adventures, there is no place in the US with a better walleye habitat and it won’t be long before the river sets a new world record.

He explains that Columbia is rich in an abundant supply of food that walleyes eat, including small minnows, squawfish, crayfish, and crappies. They have a vast variety of food options in the region which as a result increases the average size of the fish in the Columbia River.

Buddy recommends fishing where there is shallow water running over a bed that is gravelly or sandy, not too far away from deep channels. Ideally, look out for regions with many small fries. In general, they can be found at jetties, ledges, drop-offs, and areas that are highly rocky.

Buddy, who has mastered catching walleye, is a resident of Oregon’s Rufus area and lives close to several hotspots for fishing in late winter. Buddy constantly seeks structure. With time, an angler becomes more skilled at gravitating towards slow currents, which is considered the ideal spot. For Buddy, rocky bars and sandbars, within the navigation markers are always a safe bet.

In particular, he hunts for fish where the current changes, since minnows, tend to rest in such sections. However, Buddy is very cautious about the consequences of constantly looking at the screen hoping to find gigantic fish.

When Buddy analyzes the depth finder, he does not focus on determining the kind of fish he encounters. The reason is that a walleye typically swims closer to the bed, so identifying it can become extremely challenging. That’s why Buddy encourages looking for Rocky structures when analyzing the screen. He specifically tries to find tributaries or deep ledge.

Catching Walleye Like A Pro

In winter, the current tends to be quite slow between the dams. As such, anglers are more adventurous with the kinds of water that they target. The forage base and other factors make river fishery extremely fast-paced. As March begins, the menus boast of Sculpins, baby suckers, and crappies.

For Buddy, a female walleye of 13 pounds remains his best to date, which he immediately released after catching. He caught the fish using a jig that he trolled downstream very slowly. In general, Buddy prefers using big worm-harness rigs such as Double Whammy or Wally Pop or crankbaits, jigs, and blade baits. Travis Dupell of Portland Oregon Fishing Adventures is also a frequent user of jigs as well as blade baits, and he considers them some of the best baits on the Columbia in April. Both of the experts align the lures with the existing forage base.

According to Travis, jigging is very underrated as sculpin varieties are more than five in number and have diverse colors, with the lighter ones considered perfect for mimicking perch and small bass. Big schools of bait fish skillfully attract winter walleyes and as such, whenever you encounter a school, use a waypoint to mark it, and make use of jigs as well as blade baits while you circle around the section repeatedly. A vertical presentation is your best bet in this scenario. After casting, twitch, and reel several times. In case the fish are a little further away and the side-scan sonar is used to mark them, repeatedly rip before reeling, after casting. Some great blade baits that we recommend are the SteelShad in fire tiger, the Rapala Rap-V, and the 1-ounce Sonic BaitFish.

Buddy explains that runoff in the river is quite high in May. The current is also higher once the dams are opened, while the temperature of the water is a little over 40. This is how Buddy knows that it is time to slow the pace, as in this setting, the fish are quite slow as well. For Buddy, crankbaits such as Rapala Husky Jerk are perfect, as you can cast them or slow-troll them upstream. If the fish you are seeking are bigger, the bait must be bigger too. One great option is Wally Pop, according to Travis. Its neutral buoyancy is its greatest selling point. A great profile that is packed with protein is a nightcrawler, which you can hang using two hooks. If you plan on dispersing it over a longer period, it is recommended to lift up the stack bead before filling the tubing with some scent. Here, gels of trophy perch, leech, minnow, and shad by Pro-Cure can make the job easy.

Towards the side of the boat or with a long line, the bottom-walker must be trolled downstream. According to Buddy, while the pace must be aligned with the current’s speed, the range can be between 0.6 and 1 mph. Use your GPS to track the ground speed. Typically, a walleye backs off after striking the bait once and then goes at it again. While being gentle to set the hook, it is still important to be firm. As you use your bait, it is recommended to allow the tip of the rod to submerge severaltimes first. After counting to three, lift the tip and then set the hook. At a depth of 20 feet, you can either troll crankbaits or make use of worm harness rigs with bottom walkers in order to look for gigantic pre-spawn females. As dusk approaches, it is common for the fish to move towards even shallower regions.

Do note that in winter, the current is greater and as such, around 4 to 5 ounces of lead is required to ensure that the bait taps the bottom every few seconds. If you want to fill up the cooler, be on the lookout for schools of males where the water is 80 or 100 feet deep. According to Buddy, a vertical presentation with jig is helpful in this scenario.

Buddy is confident that this is a great time to try your luck if you are looking to catch giant walleye on the Columbia River. However, he cautions against catching female fish of this species because although they tend to lay around 500,000 eggs each year, their survival rate is a meager 2%. As such, in order to preserve the walleyes’ habitat, it is important to release any female fish you reel in.

Columbia River Fishing Adventures

At Columbia River Fishing Adventures, we have been chasing Walley for over 15 years, always committed to putting our clients onto great fish. We catch Walleye all year round!

If you’re looking for a lasting and memorable fishing experience landing a big fish, then contact us here today to get started.

For more information on where we fish and the types of fishing guides we provide, please visit our website at Columbia River Fishing Adventures.

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