Updated: Oct 5, 2021
Northwesterners that are looking to get outside this spring can find a wild adventure that is uniquely Northwest right here in Portland. The Mighty Spring Chinook has returned to the Willamette River and doing battle with one of these legendary fish is as much fun as you will find anywhere in the Pacific NW. Spring Chinook are the most prized salmon of the year, they are loaded with extra fat and oil for their long journey and that makes them particularly strong fighters, and extremely good to eat. The month of May is prime time for catching these fish, and for about as much money as it would cost to ski for the day, or spend the night on the Oregon Coast you can hire a guide that will be happy to take you out on the Willamette for a day of fishing. It is an experience you will never forget.
I recently met up with good friend and Fishing Guide , Dave Eng , for an amazing day of Spring Chinook fishing in the Portland area. We met at 6:00 am at the boat dock near Jon Storm Park, just below the Oregon City Bridge. We all loaded in the boat, and Dave motored us out to the middle of the Willamette River where we dropped our lines in the water and started fishing. Within an hour Rocky Conroy and Chris McBride had each landed a hatchery* Spring Chinook on Dave’s Egg and Sandshrimp cocktail attached to an Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp hook. This was the start of something special. These fish are not easy to catch, and we already had two by 7:00am.
Spring Chinook are strong fish with a bad attitude. They will test the limit of your gear with multiple long runs, and to top it off there are hungry sea lions lurking in the area that love to steal your fish while you are fighting it. Landing just one of these fish is a huge accomplishment.
As the day progressed, the sun poked out from behind the clouds. We shed a few layers of clothes and enjoyed the warm spring day. I was dozing off, watching the traffic jam above me on the 205 bridge and thinking about how lucky I was to be down here on the river instead of stuck in that traffic, when my good friend Mike Codino said “Bill!! you have a fish!!” I looked to see my rod doubled over in the rod holder and I almost fell getting out of my seat to grab the rod. It has been a year since I caught one of these fish, so I had forgotten how strong they really are. As I began reeling the fish in, Jason Hambly calmly mentioned that there was a sea lion right behind my fish and that I better hurry up. OMG, now I was really panicked - If I lost this fish, I would hear about it for al long time from this crew. As luck would have it I was able to get the fish close enough that Jason could net it, and hoist into the boat. There is no better feeling than seeing a Springer safely in the boat, I was so happy that I I think I may have cried a little bit ( don’t tell anyone)
The day was warming up and we had another lull between bites, but Dave kept working hard to get us two more fish. We moved positions in the river and almost instantly Mike’s Rod doubled over. After another epic battle we had fish number four in the boat. We put our rods back in, and it did not take long for Jason’s rod to go down. He landed the 5th fish of the day - Amazing!!
After boating our fifth fish, we motored back to the dock, got a few pics and Dave cleaned the fish for us. We were back in our cars and on the road in time to beat traffic on 205. It was truly an incredible adventure, right here in Portland.
Spring Chinook fishing on the Willamete River will stay good through June, so there is plenty of time left to book a trip and partake in this unique Northwest Experience. Give Dave a call at 503-431-8863 to book your trip.
The great thing about Spring Chinook fishing is that adventure continues when you cook up this true NW delicacy fo your friends and family. I will write more about this soon.
* there are many regulations on salmon fishing in the NW, one of them is that you are only allowed to keep hatchery Spring Chinook. The way to tell is that their adipose fin is clipped before they are released from the hatchery. So if the fish is missing its adipose fin, then they are legal to keep. If it has an adipose fin then it is considered wild and you must release the fish.
© 2019 Bill Matthews Outdoors, LLC