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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

July 23, 2012 at 11:17 AM

Outdoor writer Dave Graybill offers his perspective on the Upper Columbia sockeye fishery


Here is an Upper Columbia sockeye fishing report from Dave Graybill, longtime Eastern Washington outdoor radio host and angler:

Sockeye fishing on the Upper Columbia River is dominating the fishing scene here in Central Washington. An all-time record number of sockeye are making their way up stream, and although the counts at Bonneville Dam are starting to dwindle, they are coming over the upper river dams at as many as 20,000 per day. Excellent numbers of them are already in our area, but we still can expect a couple hundred thousand more fish to pass through our area on their way up the Okanogan River.

Sockeye are stacked up below Wanapum Dam and fishing will be good here as long as the numbers hold up over Priest Rapids. Anglers are fishing above Rocky Reach Dam as the currents are very heavy below the dam. Fishing below Wells Dam is also not recommended due to the currents, and the launch was blown out again this year due to high flows. Anglers could use the launch a couple miles above the dam and try fishing off the barrier, or even cast bobbers and jigs bait with shrimp from the rip rap next to the outlet of the fish ladder here.

I fished the Brewster Pool recently, with my fishing buddy Rollie Schmitten from Lake Wenatchee, and learned some important things about when and how to catch sockeye in this part of the river. The first I would recommend to anglers who want to maximize their time on the water is to be on the fishing grounds early in the morning. We talked to a lot of anglers and the ones that were getting limit numbers of sockeye were trolling at first light. The action can be fast and furious the first few hours, but it gradually tapers off as the day brightens. We fished the afternoon one day and had very limited success. The following day we should have been on the water by 6:30 or so and were kicking ourselves for not being their earlier.


When you’re on the water better have the right set up. I may be repeating myself here, but it is important to have the right gear. That means a size 0 chrome dodger, and I am using ones that have a cross-hatched, reflective inset. Behind the dodger we had very good success with the Macks Lure Cha Cha Sockeye rig. This has a combination of a Smile Blade, a couple of beads, a squidder or small hoochie and two red hooks tied on the business end. If you can’t find these off the shelf and need to “roll your own”, you can buy small hoochie bodies separately and I would use size 1 red hooks. Leaders should be 15 to 18 inches in length, so the dodge imparts a good action to the bait. Leaders can be tied on heavy test line, too. It is not unusual to hook a king on this set up, and you want to have chance at landing one if that happens. We also found it is very important to add a small, died coon shrimp on the lead hook, and give a shot of Graybill’s Guide Formula Salmon scent.

When fishing below the mouth of the Okanogan River, we had our best success trolling up stream and into the current. It is had to gauge your speed when pushing against a varying current, but if I was reading point 0 9 on my Lowrance GPS unit I was in the ballpark. I would also recommend that you run your baits at 15 to 20 feet on the downriggers.

We spent most of our time trolling well below the mouth on the Highway 97 side of the channel below the Okanogan River. We would run up to the point and slide back down, but had better luck trolling up stream and although there are boats clear down to the bend in the channel, we started progressively higher. At one point Schmitten noticed quite a few fish rolling just off the shore. We were able to get within a short distance of the shore and still keep 30 feet of water under the boat. Passing through these rolling fish did put fish in the box, and I would watch for this activity. It will come and go as fish move through the pool. One last suggestion is to have a long-handled net along. Just like kokanee, these fish go crazy when they get near the boat and a long reach helps put more sockeye in the fish box.

If you plan to fish the Brewster Pool there are two motels right on the river in Pateros that you can call for reservations. One is the Pateros Lakeshore Inn website, which has two docks reserved for their guests. There is a restaurant and a convenience store right next door, too. The Lake Pateros Inn also has a dock for their guests and there is a launch very close to the motel. There is a second launch in Pateros just across the street and above the bridge over the Methow River. Another good spot to stop while in Brewster is the Triangle Exxon. There is a convenience store here, but even better, owner Bob Fateley is a great source of current information on the fishing here, year round.

Another item of interest is the Budweiser-Lowrance Salmon Derby sponsored by the Brewster Chamber of Commerce which will be held this year on August 3-5. This is a very popular derby in its seventh year. You can learn all about it by logging onto the Brewster Salmon Derby website.

If ever there was a time to visit Central Washington, and the Brewster-Pateros area in particular, this is it. Sockeye fishing is the best that anyone can ever expect to see on the Upper Columbia, and the king salmon fishing should be excellent this season, too. I hope you can find time to experience the fishing here, under sunny skies and calm water. It’s about as good as it gets.

(Pictures courtesy of Dave Graybill. Pictured is the sockeye fishing fleet in the Brewster Pool, and Shane Magnuson (left) and Dave Graybill celebrate catching a bright sockeye below Wanapum Dam.)

For details or to get Graybill’s weekly report visit Dave Graybill’s website.



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