A Special Salmon Season

Guide Dave Eng caught this big Chinook this past week in the Columbia River Gorge near the Deschutes River. Courtesy Dave Eng

First it was the sockeye salmon that came up the Columbia River in huge numbers, over three times what was forecast. Now, it’s time for anglers to enjoy a strong fall Chinook run and what looks to be a massive coho run up the Columbia as well.

As of September 14, some 400,000 fall Chinook salmon have passed over Bonneville Dam, about 25% better than the 10-year average. Last year’s coho salmon return over Bonneville Dam was a good one with over 118,000 salmon crossing. The bulk of the coho run is still in the ocean or at the mouth of the Columbia and despite that over 70,000 silvers have crossed Bonneville, meaning anglers could see a truly epic return of these fish into the Lower Columbia River and Columbia River Gorge this fall.

In the past week anglers have been catching quick limits of Chinook salmon in the Columbia River Gorge, especially near the mouths of the Klickitat and Deschutes Rivers. As far as technique goes, trolling lures behind flashers has been more productive than hover fishing with eggs.

The Lower Columbia River from the mouth to Bonneville Dam closed early this month to protect tule fall Chinook salmon, a stock that is still not doing well. However, the bulk of that run has passed and on the 15th portions of the Columbia reopened with a three hatchery coho daily limit near Buoy 10. Anglers can also fish between Reed Island near Washougal to Bonneville Dam and keep both hatchery coho and Chinook salmon.

Another part of the river anglers and guides are flocking to now is the Hanford Reach near the Vernita Bridge. This area is known for it’s run of very big fall Chinook and the bite is getting going here now.

Why are the numbers so strong this year? In the opinion of most biologists, favorable ocean conditions. Warm water blobs in the Northern Pacific and the Gulf of Alaska between 2014 and 2016 led to a lack of forage fish and very low returns of salmon for several subsequent years. Now, the waters are once again cool and holding large quantities of food for the growing salmon to include herring, candlefish, squid and shrimp.

The fall Chinook fishing should remain strong through the month of September and coho fishing, especially in the Columbia River Gorge, is expected to be strong this year thru the month of October. 

Early Fall Hunting

Several opportunities for hunters are available this month. This includes the continuation of the fall bear and dove season which have been open for several weeks now. Archery hunters have been targeting both elk and deer in select game management units around the state. Forest grouse hunting also opened on September 15, as did the high buck hunt for deer in the Cascades and select portions of the Olympic Mountains range. This last hunt is a modern firearm hunt which runs through September 25 and is a buck-only hunt with a three-point minimum on the antlers. The archery seasons for deer and elk run through the 22 or the 25 of September, depending on the species and area hunted. Check the regulations for further details.

In addition to this there are some special pheasant hunts coming up to include one for hunters 65 years and older as well as for hunters with disabilities that runs from September 19-23. This year’s youth waterfowl hunt in Eastern Washington, normally held in September, takes place October 1. The youth pheasant hunt took place September 17 and 18 this year. Birds were scheduled to be released at select state wildlife areas prior to that pheasant hunt, meaning seniors should be able to kick up a few roosters this week.

John Kruse – and



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