I had the opportunity to go kayak fishing with a couple of old friends I knew from back in high school in Texas. Both Todd and Stephen are now Portland residents, and Stephen is my neighbor; It really is a small world. It was a blast getting to spend a few hours with them playing on the water.
We launched from willow bar at Sauvie Island on to the Columbia River into thick fog at 8 am. We were a bit behind schedule, but this day was about hanging with the boys and having fun more than working hard to catch spring salmon. Air temp. was 44 degrees, rising to the mid 50's, with light winds blowing out of the south at six miles per hour. Water temps remain cool, around 42 degrees.
We paddled up river towards a wing dam that we could not see until we were within one hundred feet. Fog horns from commercial ships blasted all over the river, and it felt eerie. Suddenly, a ship blew it's horn louder than the rest; This one was very close. I blew on my own fog horn as we retreated behind the wing dam, signaling to the commercial vessel our position just as a precaution. I was surprised that we could not see the ship until it was only two or three hundred feet away. I managed to get this video of it turning 180 degrees right off my bow. Be advised, I was surprised when I saw the huge boat turning towards me at such a short distance, and I dropped the F bomb.
Over the last week, I became a little doubtful of the Department of Fish and Wildlife's prediction of 297,000 spring salmon returning to the Columbia River this year. I had been trolling the river since mid February, and had yet to see a single salmon. All of the local reports were saying the same thing, telling of one fish per dozen boats. I watched the number of bank anglers on Sauvie Island grow from one or two in late February on the whole island, to about sixty, just on willow bar by March 21st, and had yet to see one of the boats or bankies so much as hook a fish. I began dreaming of places like Alaska, or Kamchatka, where the rivers run so thick with salmon you could walk across their backs to the other side. With my doubts that the fish were present in any significant numbers, I decided to play on any half-way decent boat wake that came my way. The rides only last a few seconds, but it does add a little break from the monotony of not catching salmon.
We trolled spinners & plugs in the eddy behind the wing dam for a half hour with no strikes, and proceeded to pull out of the eddy and float down stream. I zigged & zagged down the bar past several bankies. One particular group had a framed tarp shelter with a wood stove. I was a bit envious as I thought about sitting by the warm wood stove all day, sipping hot coco with my feet propped up while waiting for the bell on my rod to ring, signaling a hooked salmon.
As I reached the end of the hole, a bank angler's bell rang, and I watched him catch and release a nice 15-20 pound wild salmon. Finally someone was catching a fish, and once again, I believe they exist. This being the first fish I had seen, I realized just how early in the season it was. I had been looking for fish in February, and here it was March 21st and I just now had seen the first fish.
I was hoping a pod of a few dozen fish were within the area of my plug, but I floated downriver without any strikes, nor did I hear any more bells, or see any more boat or bank anglers fighting or landing fish. It seems the run is starting to show... slowly. I pulled out on the beach for a quick lunch break, and Stephen managed to snap this cool pic:
After our break, we floated down towards social security beach without any strikes, so we paddled back to the launch and headed home. It had been another slow, but fun day on the Columbia, and it was good to finally see a fish landed; It refreshed my waning desire to catch a salmon within 15 minutes of my house. It also made me very eager for the next few weeks, when I hope to see as big a push of fish as ODFW predicted. A little part of me feels I wasted allot of time and energy by trying for springers so early in the season, but it did give me a chance to get my routine and gear dialed. I feel like if the fish do show in big numbers, or I happen to get lucky with that one random fish pushing through the gauntlet of boat and bank anglers, I will be ready. We will just have to see what happens by the end of April.
Until then, I'll be hoping for big numbers of fish returning!