September 12, 2008

Northwest Sportsman — Notorious Non-Biters Are Elusive As Ever

By Scott Sandsberry

I am having some issues with the run of fall chinook salmon currently coming up the Columbia River. The main issue is, they aren't inclined to bite. Specifically, they aren't inclined to bite anything I have on the end of my fishing line.

Fall chinook are notorious for being non-biters. In most years, however, I have had some luck in tricking two or three of them into biting. Not this year.

I have to admit, I haven't fished for them very hard. But I have been out a couple of times with my sights set on hooking one of the big salmon. So far, it has all been for naught.

The aggravating part of all of this is I know there are thousands and thousands of the salmon in the river. The counts at Bonneville Dam through this past weekend show nearly 200,000 of the dang things now above the dam. And there are thousands more hot on their tail fins.

But the most irritating part of fishing for these giants of the salmon family is this: You can see them. I was fishing at the mouth of the Deschutes on Monday, and fish after fish after fish splashed and jumped around the boat. One even smacked its head on the bow of the boat. My guess is it wasn't by mistake. That salmon was just sending a little message.

I know you're up there trying to catch me, that thumping said, but I am having none of it.

There are a few biters in the run, but very few. At the mouth of the Deschutes, I saw maybe 10 salmon caught in five or six hours of fishing. That was with some 50 boats on the water, with an average of three anglers per boat. One salmon for every 15 anglers: Something is wrong with this picture.

I don't know why I want to catch one of the things so badly. They are not all that great to eat. But they are big. I guess that's the appeal. Some of them will push 50 pounds in weight, with a few even bigger.

Other than in Alaska or in some parts of British Columbia, where can you catch a salmon that big?

And they do fight. They fight like crazy. Or, at least, that is how I remember them fighting the last time I hooked one -- which has been a while.

I've fished at Drano, and at the mouth of the Deschutes in the past couple of weeks trying to catch a fall chinook, with nothing but a healthy fuel bill to show for my efforts.

My next attempt to catch a fall chinook this year will most likely be at Vernita. Some of the earliest arriving salmon have to be there now, and they should bite there. Or at least, they should bite better there. But there is still no guarantee of that. I've fished there some days without so much as a sniff. Other days, though, I have hooked several of the big brutes.

If I wanted to go fishing to actually catch a fish, I would be much better off going trout fishing, or bass fishing, or even steelhead fishing in the next few days and weeks. Those fish will bite. They are hungry and need to eat. If you present something they think is food, they will gobble it.

The majority of fall chinook salmon won't gobble anything. They are done eating. They aren't hungry. For the most part, they really can't be bothered. It is very frustrating.

You would think with a couple of hundred thousand of the stinking things in the river, one could be fooled into biting my lure. At least, that has been my motivation. But I am getting less motivated as time goes by. And, for that matter, as those thousands of fall chinook go by, ignoring everything I offer up. I'm not sure, but I think I can even hear them laughing.

Rob Phillips is a freelance outdoor writer and partner in the advertising firm of Smith, Phillips & DiPietro. He can be reached at [email protected]

by Rob Phillips

For the Yakima Herald-Republic

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