WENATCHEE — Steadily, salmon are moving past sweltering downtown Wenatchee, swimming silently deep in the currents resolute in reaching their home tributary to breed and finish their life’s journey. As temperatures heat the streets, the serious angler plans for the hour when he might battle a king into his boat.
The opening week of chinook season on the upper Columbia is cooking in more ways than one. The best time to catch the migrating fish is during the cool morning temperatures. At 4 a.m. the river valley sits in contrast to the same site 12 hours later when heat waves ripple off the pavement. Guides set their boats into the river, and the only waves they see are reflecting the sliver of a moon that provides little light on the silent morning.
The silence of Wednesday’s summer morning was broken only by outboard motors of several guide boats and the heckling of friendly competitors who waited in line to launch their boats into the river at Riverfront Park.
The guides are not in the typical hot spots like Wells Dam or the mouth of the Okanogan River.
“They’re catching them right out front,” said Don Talbot, the fishing specialist at Hooked On Toys. “All the guides are coming down to Wenatchee.”
Jerrod Gibbons of Okanogan Valley Guide Service was among those launching out of Wenatchee on the opening days.
“The past couple years it hasn’t been good,” Gibbons said of chinook fishing below Rocky Reach Dam. “Everybody’s excited because they don’t have to travel all the way to Brewster. They don’t have to spend the gas money. The fish are in their own back yard.”
Gibbons moved his guide setup back up to the mouth of the Okanogan on Thursday.
“The fish are moving up to the Okanogan,” Gibbons said. “It’s (the river) going to be 70 degrees. That will stop the fish in their tracks.”
Salmon, being sensitive to warm water, will pool up at the mouth and stay in the cooler Columbia.
Fish counts, updated daily, at the dams along the Columbia are a good indicator of where the bulk of the population is hanging out. Another good indicator is the Hooked On Toys Salmon Derby, which has dedicated salmon anglers with details of each day’s fish activity. One day can be hot and the next day cold.
Sam Baird of Slammin’ Salmon Guide Service skippered the outing Sarah Nalley caught the pictured 20-pound, 6-ounce hatchery king. The boat also caught a wild salmon, which was released under state regulations.
“Fishing wasn’t as good as it was (earlier this week, when) we caught four fish in the same amount of time,” Baird said.
Based on the daily fish counts, each day will tell a different tale.
“It’s going to be a long season,” Baird said. “Fish numbers at Bonneville Dam are still holding strong. The season should stay good since the numbers are more spread out.”
Chinook at Bonneville peaked on May 3 with 7,311 fish passing in one day, but have started to rise again and are approaching another little peak in the low 2,000s as of Wednesday.