Chinook & Sockeye Invading Upper Columbia River

By Brad Wagner | 07/28/2013

Considering we see thousands of summer run Chinook and tens of thousands of chrome bright sockeye, late summer is one of the best times to fish North Central Washington. This season anticipation is high as we are poised for a strong run of Chinook and a decent number of sockeye heading to the Brewster Pool and eventually Lake Osoyoos to spawn.

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So far the fishing is good for kings. Sockeye are showing in decent numbers, too. On a normal day my clients are catching a limit of two sockeye, two hatchery kings and two hatchery jacks.


Keep in mind that we are facing new regulations this season. Retention is only permitted on hatchery kings. Also, barbless hooks are mandatory. The WDFW is checking regularly to enforce these rules.


Fishing The Brewster Pool

Roughly an hour north of Wenatchee, the Brewster Pool is where the Okanogan River joins the Columbia. The Okanogan is warm river. That warmth aids salmon anglers looking to fish the Columbia. Here’s what happens; as the Okanogan’s temperature rises above 70 degrees salmon hold up in the cooler Columbia while they wait for the Okanogan to cool. When the Okanogan is warm you can bet salmon will be stacked up in the Columbia. You can check the water temperature on the Okanogan here

Fishing in the pool is fairly easy. While it does get fairly crowded, it’s a large area that can accommodate many boats. Once launching in downtown Brewster head upriver and look for the crowd.


Here most people troll with downriggers. I use a Pro Troll style flasher or spin flash with a cut plug herring behind it. Normally, I opt for a 40-48 inch leader, sometimes longer early in the season. I tend to shorten that as the season progresses. We run it 12-14 feet behind the downrigger ball and normally fish 10-65 feet down depending on where we are marking salmon.

I use cut plug style herring in greens and blue, but keep purple and red on hand at all times. (We’ll cover brining herring later.) I troll upriver about 1.2 mph and down river 2.4 mph, but that varies due to current. Personally, I monitor the downrigger cable angle to achieve the correct speed. It’s best to induce a little bow to ensure your gear is working properly.


When targeting The Pool good bait is vital. Without great bait the salmon won’t hit it. This is a prime example of when I tell people that most fish are caught at home in preparation.


Making Great Bait

First, find the best green label herring you can. In order to separate the bait without ripping off the scales thaw the bait slightly. I brine up 24 at a time. To do so I use one bottle of Fire Brine. This summer the new Green Fire Brine has been the hottest, but I always bring at least one more color. Keep in mind you only need a half bottle of the brine if you plan to do a dozen. Personally, I like to add scent to the brine. To do so I’ll add a bottle of Pautzke Nectar or a can of tuna (in oil) to induce more strikes.

I brine the herring whole for 24 hours. Then I cut plug them and brine again for another 24 hours. It’s important to keep the bait cold. If you do so and ensure they are spinning well chances of hooking a big, hot king improve.

The Sockeye of The Pool

The sockeye fishery is similar to king fishing. Typically, we target kings early and switch to sockeye gear as the sun rises. The sockeye are usually 8-30 feet deep. Normally, we employ limber, light action rods, smaller dodgers, 12-14 inch leaders and a small hoochie skirt. I use a tandem 2/0 hook setup with barbs pinched and sometimes a smiley blade above it. The hooks are always tipped with coon shrimp. Sockeye are very finicky fish so don’t be afraid to switch colors, depths and presentation if you are not getting them.


The Sockeye Coon Shrimp Brine

The brine I use for sockeye shrimp is basic, easy and effective. Take your shrimp and cover generously in Fire Brine. I like red and orange Fire Brine and again always add Pautzke Nectar and lots of Liquid Krill. Remember, these salmon eat krill in the ocean. After a 24-hour soak they are ready to fish.

When fishing I like to add some liquid krill to the lures every time I bring them in to check them which is every half hour or so or after a fish.

Editor’s Note: Pautzke pro Brad Wagner provides daily Upper Columbia River sockeye and Chinook trips in the summer. To learn more please visit or