net and water

It’s been a long and grumpy winter for me, with lots of time spent on the phone and email trying to sort out a new way forward for our kayak center here in Skamokawa. It’s easy to lose perspective when you sit inside all day, and a couple of weeks ago, I finally started breaking away from the office to get out on the water. I put the skiff in the water on my birthday, March 10 and started fishing for spring chinook. So far, I haven’t caught anything, but it is early yet, and tomorrow is the first day of another three day opening, so maybe my salmon luck will change soon.

unaaq and norsaq

And yesterday, I finally got out in a kayak again, for the first time in weeks. I took out the Valley Q-Boat, which was loaned to me by Rob Avery of Valley Kayaks. It is a fiberglass, hard chined, Greenland style kayak. It seemed to roll pretty well, and for an 18 foot long kayak, was very maneuverable and nimble. Andrew took out one of the new plastic Valley Avocets and we paddled down to Three Tree Point and back. I took the harpoon along just for fun, and found that I’m sadly out of practice, compared to what I was able to do with that last fall. Sigh…

Enjoy some pictures!

springer fishing

skiff and triangles

north shore

Valley Q-Boat

The calendar says that it’s June 6th, but when I look outside, I see March, or maybe early April. Last night it rained bucketloads, and when I got up this morning, I had all kinds of new drips and leaks around the woodstove chimney. The other thing this means is that my open skiff, tied up at the dock in Skamokawa, would need to be pumped out.

When I went down to the dock, the skiff was more full of water than I had ever seen it, so I switched on the batteries, which should start the bilge pump. But today, nothing. So I went and got a bucket and started bailing out. Part way through, I realized that someone had been in my boat. The stern line was untied, and my flare box had been moved and opened. Further inspection revealed that a bunch of circuit breakers had been flipped on or off, which is why the bilge pump hadn’t come on. Someone had tried to steal my boat! The only thing that stopped them was that I had padlocked and chained it to the dock, something that I had sometimes thought was overkill for such a quiet rural area.

This is the second time in a week I have found evidence that someone has either ripped me off or tried to. About a week ago, on one of my walks up to the back of the land, I found that someone had come and stolen all of my no trespassing signs. Not just torn them down, as the slob hunters will sometimes do, but stolen them outright, leaving no trace. I also found that someone had stolen the transmission, radiator and hood off of an old pickup truck that was parked on the log landing up in back. Metal thievery has been a growing problem out here. About a month ago, someone chopped down and stole about 1200 feet of the phone line that feeds Skamokawa, leaving the whole area with no phone service for a day. A couple of weeks later, thieves stole about 1000 feet of power line that supplied a pumping station nearby. An aluminum skiff with expensive engines hanging off the back is apparently also a tempting target.

So, when I realized how close I had come to losing the skiff, I decided it was time to pull it out of the water and put it back on the trailer at home again. This sure makes it less convenient to use on short notice, but if the would-be thieves had carried bolt cutters with them, I would have no skiff at all now. So I decided to go for a little spin before I hauled it out.

This has been a cold and rainy spring, and the water level in the river shows it. The beaches have been covered with flotsam and jetsam for a couple of weeks now, and the water is fast moving and high. This channel marker has a piece of wood jammed in it at a level that is almost two feet higher than the high tide was supposed to have been lately.

Number 35 again

Normally on an incoming tide in this part of the river, the water flows upstream, backwards from normal river flow. Today, I was out in the middle of an incoming tide, yet the river was still flowing strongly out. I measured over 2 knots of current with the GPS. This pile jetty or wing dam is choked with logs and debris.

pile jetty clogged with logs

On the way home, I decided not to buck the wind chop and I took the quiet passage inside of Price Island, called Steamboat Slough. No matter how choppy it is on the main river, it is always flat and smooth in the slough.

Yamaha P60

The skiff is safely on the trailer at home now, where I can clean the algae off of the bottom, do some repairs and get the boat ready to go ocean salmon fishing when the weather gets nice. This year’s season has been sharply curtailed and moved around on the calendar, but if I’m lucky, I might be able to pick up a few fish before the season closes.

Well, it’s that time of year again, when the first big salmon fishing event of the calendar year happens, and right at my proverbial doorstep. Columbia River spring Chinook is what I’m talking about. Starting in early March, the first few spring Chinook start making their way into the river. In a “good year”, by mid-April there will be more than a thousand a day crossing the fish ladders at Bonneville Dam.

The first year I started fishing for springers was a “good year”, and I learned enough to be able to hook a dozen of these amazing fish that season, but I only landed one, a native, on the last day. The natives cannot be kept in the springer fishery, so that one went back in the river. That was in 2004. The next year, I managed to catch and keep this one. I think it was the most beautiful fish I’ve ever seen.

This was the only springer I’ve ever managed to keep. I lost two last year, one to a crafty harbor seal.

spring chinook

Springer fishing is famous for consuming one’s life, gobbling up hours of river time, gasoline and tackle and rarely producing a fish. My friend Brian at Cape Falcon Kayak told me he doesn’t believe springers actually exist.

Still, this has got to be my favorite fishery, for a lot of good reasons. The easiest to understand is that it is literally in my backyard. I live 3 miles from the river, at one of the most popular springer fishing areas, between Cathlamet and Skamokawa. So it is really easy and cheap for me to fish here. I can tie up my boat at the kayak center dock and leave it there all season, avoiding the hassle of launching and retrieving the boat every day. I can get out and fish for a couple hours whenever I can spare the time. It is a wonderful time to be on the river, as the weather is unpredictable and can provide anything from snow to rain, frost to sunshine, with a liberal helping of rain. I love it. And of course, if you ever do catch a springer, it will make all those hours worthwhile. They really are the best eating salmon.

rod and reel

There are two primary techniques for springer fishing: trolling and anchoring. When I was first starting out, I preferred to anchor up, since there was less hassle with changing depths and dodging other river traffic. Nowadays, I like trolling better, as it at least feels like I am doing something by moving around over different territory, and you can see more of the rest of the fleet and see how others are doing. It’s a little more social.


Both techniques involve a spreader and a cannonball weight of 3-6 ounces on a 2-3 foot dropper. For trolling, you add a rotating flasher of some kind, and a mooching rigged herring on a 40# leader. Use a shorter leader, maybe just a couple of feet, for cloudy water, and a longer leader for clearer water. Tweak the herring so that it spins in circles as you tow it through the water. The tricky part is keeping this rig moving along just off the bottom. The depth is constantly changing and if you aren’t near the bottom, you aren’t really fishing. If you are too close to the bottom, the weight starts bouncing and tangles your gear, and again, you aren’t really fishing. This takes constant checking and adjustment and it helps to have a good depth sounder so that you know where the bottom is. Generally, you want to be in 15-30 feet of water.

at anchor

For anchoring up, you also want to be in that 15-30 feet deep water, preferably right next to an underwater drop off, so that your gear is fishing right near an underwater “wall” on one side. The fish will tend to travel next to these walls. This technique is utilized mostly on the ebb tide, so that the outgoing water holds your gear right in the path of the fish as they are travelling upriver. You can use the herring rig for this, but most folks use a wobbling lure or spinner of some kind. Luhr Jensen’s Kwikfish is a popular choice, or a Brad’s Wobbler, or you can make your own spinners.

Either method you use, you will do a lot of waiting for something to happen.


This year, the season in this part of the river was very short, only ten days. I was working for part of it, so I only went out six times, for a few hours each. I didn’t get so much as a bite, and even when surrounded by as many as 40-50 other boats, I only saw a few fish get caught all season. No matter what the DFW says, the fishing down here was absolutely terrible, even by spring chinook standards. But even if there are only a few fish being caught, that still means somebody is going to get lucky. Today, on the last day of the season, these guys managed to catch a keeper right as I trolled past them, and I managed to get quick picture as they hauled it aboard.

And that was as close as I got to a spring Chinook in 2008.

somebody caught one!