by Andy Schneider
Underneath all those water skiers, personal water crafts and pleasure boaters in the Columbia River there lurks a fish that has earned the respect of many fisherman, The URB, a Upriver Bright Columbia River Fall Chinook. These are some of the hardest fighting fish that swim in the Columbia. Need evidence? Just take a boat ride up the river from Longview to Troutdale. You will notice boats floating down river fighting these fish...a lot of boats. Because these URB's don't come right to the boat, it takes a while to subdue these fish that seem to average close to 30-pounds. And once an angler drops off of anchor to fight one of these URB's he may not be expected back to the hog line for upwards of 20 minutes.
LOCATION: From Longview to Troutdale you will find many hog lines that form every year in the exact same spots. There is a reason for this, these hog lines produce fish. But just because hog line fishing is so popular, doesn't mean you have to anchor in one to find fish. A great place to look for a place to fish is at home with a contour map of the Columbia River. Look for water that is 20-40 feet deep, out of the shipping channel, that is close to shore or an island. Continue to look for wing dams and pile dikes that have 20-40 feet of water at the end of them. Mark these "promising" areas on your map and go and fish them.
If you are fishing in an area that is heavily effected by the tide, start your day in a little shallow of water, 25-30 feet just after high tide. As the tide continues to run out and gets closer to low tide, move to deeper water 30-50 feet deep. Watch the hog lines, you will notice that the bite usually will start on the inside boats and work to the outside boats as the tide progresses.
SPECIFIC LOCATIONS: If you live somewhere between Rainier or Troutdale you are just minutes away from catching a Chinook, here are some specific locations to try:
Rainier/ Longview: Concentrate on fishing from Lord Island to Carroll Slough on the Washington side of the river. This is Wobbler fishing at it's finest, it seems that your location on the river doesn't matter as much as the quality of your presentation.
St. Helens: From Deer Island to the Lewis river you will find excellent places to anchor on the Washington side of the Columbia. Anchoring off of pile dikes along the shipping channel will produce the most fish.
Sauvie Island: All along the Washington shore directly across from Sauvie Island, from Frenchman's Bar Park to St. Helens; there are countless places to ambush a URB, the popularity of this stretch has grown in the last decade and requires finding a good anchor spot early and holding your boat with your trolling motor in reverse may be needed.
Government Island: Starting at the Hwy 205 Bridge to the very tip of Government Island you will find lots of 20-30 feet of water. Here is a place where the URB's spread out and finding some structure on the bottom may pay off. Try shallow water at the beginning of the tide and deeper water at the end of the tide. Plugs work excellent at the lower end of the island, while Wobblers are the top producers upriver. Towards the tip of Government Island there are some rocks and riprap that produce fish year after year.
Sandy River Mouth: This is where the Columbia starts to narrow for the first time and will concentrate these URB's. Fish from the power lines to Buoy 48 along the Oregon shore. Wobblers will account for most fish closer to the power lines, but spinners produce well upriver towards Buoy 48 where the current can be very strong. This area can support lots of boats, but don't be surprised by fisherman anchoring hours before light to guarantee their spot in the hog line. If Chinook fishing is a little slow, bring your Steelhead Spinning rod along and motor over to where the Sandy enters the Columbia and cast spinners in this 4-12 feet of water for Coho, which will stage in this area before heading up the Sandy.
TACKLE: The most popular lure for URB's is the wobbler. There are now well over a dozen brand name wobblers on the market, some of the most popular are: The Alvin, Brad's Wobbler, Brad's Mini-Extreme, Simon, Manistee, Clancy and The 10 Spot. Why so many? Because you will find yourself fishing at all different currents throughout the tide, so you must be prepared.
WOBBLER USER GUIDE
Fast current: Alvin, 10 spot and Clancy.
Medium Current: Alvin, Brad's Wobbler and Mini-Extreme Slow Current: Simon, Manistee and Brad's Mini-Extreme
It only makes sense to use the heavier gauge wobblers in faster currents and lighter gauge wobblers in slower currents. As tempting as it may be to bend or "Tune" your wobbler, don't do it. Instead switch it out to a wobbler that was designed for the current speed you're anchored in. Tuning a wobbler is only delaying the inevitable of having to switch your wobbler eventually because current speed is increasing or decreasing as the tide changes. Once you start "Tuning" a wobbler, you will be stuck having to "Tune" it every fishing trip till it fatigues and stops fishing effectivly.