Hanford Reach Seeing Epic Salmon Action

By Bruce Hewitt | 09/30/2014

While its only going to last a few more weeks we have a huge number of salmon up here on the Columbia right now. There’s a quarter million fish on the Hanford Reach and I think we will end up with somewhere between 350,000 and 360,000 fish. Last year we had about 180,000-190,000 and everybody thought the fishing was stellar. Today (this was written Friday) there was 9,000 fish that came over McNary Dam and the three previous days ranged from 10,000 to 14,000. Keep in mind, we are talking about the entire Hanford Reach, from the north end of Richland to Priest Rapids Dam, roughly 50 miles.

There are probably 120 boat trailers at Ringold (launching area) right now. And, that’s during the week. There was so many people last weekend at the launch in Richland there was nowhere to park. They overflowed the launch and cars poured onto the street and out in front of people’s houses. It’s been crazy.

People are going nuts. I can’t say I’ve ever seen this. This reminds you of the Buoy 10 fishery or the Portland springer fishery where huge crowds show. I’ve lived in the Tri Cities area 13 years and never seen this much excitement. People were excited last year because it was a huge run of fish. This is blowing the hinges off things.

More impressive, these fish are nicer than any of the fish we caught last year. Last year, they were dinks. This year, we are averaging 14-17 pounds whereas last year they were seven or eight pounds. We had so many jacks last year and aren’t catching as many so far. It’s been a blast for clients to hook these larger fish.

There’s an absolute ton of fish in the river. Nobody is going to contest that. And, there’s no problem seeing them on the depth finder. There’s no problem with seeing them flop around, but they are playing with the water and it’s made it a little challenging. It hasn’t been an easy bite the last few weeks. We’ve had to work hard. The bite has been predicated by having a surge of water coming at us. I’ve generally had a decent egg bite first thing in the morning, but it’s the push of water that’s making them bite like crazy. And, the other end of it has killed the bite. When it goes from high to low, or in lesser terms when the shut off the water.

I’m expecting things to change a little bit if this water ever cools down. These fish are going to turn on to the Red Fire Cured eggs the first week of October, but right now we have very warm water. We have 66 degree water. It was 67 the other day. We want to see it fall closer to 60. As it does the egg bite will turn on. Right now, I’m having my best luck with plain borax, salt and sugar. That will change any day now, though, but for now I have to be honest. I’m fishing a natural color eggs. The plain stuff is working.

(See below: Hewitt’s natural borax eggs (bottom) vs the Red Fire Cure eggs (top)

We are going to see a good salmon bite till they kick us off the river on October 31. The fish quality will go downhill late in the season, but there will be fish everywhere. There’s a ton of fish around here right now. I can’t stress that enough. And, the excitement isn’t going away anytime soon. As this water cools we’ll be expecting a full fledged egg bite.

Whether you’re eggs are red, orange, or whatever, don’t leave home without them if you are fishing for fall Chinook on the Hanford Reach.  Experience tells me that once you reach the mid point of the Columbia River fall salmon season, eggs are the cornerstone of your arsenal for catching these hard fighting beauties.  And while red Fire Cured eggs are the lead offering, some days Orange Fire Cured eggs outfish them.

Hewitt’s Eggs

To start with, carefully bleed all of your fish immediately after catching. This reduces likelihood of blood getting into the body cavity and contaminating the skeins. It also improves the eating qualities of these fish in still warm waters. It’s good idea to place fish in cooler with ice to extract the heat out of them.

When you remove the skeins from the body cavity of the female, you should position the fish on its back. Be careful to insert the knife into the vent opening with very little angle and use only the knife tip to avoid cutting into the skeins. Carefully cut the individual skeins loose from the anchor point, just behind the front of the cavity. Then, cut the membranes further back toward the vent to free the skein without tearing. At this point, if you have bled the fish the skeins are free of blood. In the event there is some blood in the skeins wash them in river water or use bottled water. Avoid using chlorinated tap water.

I prefer to add Fire Cure to my eggs before I refrigerate them. I find that it is preferable to add a liberal amount to eggs in a gallon plastic sealable bag. Therefore, I can carefully work the cure into all areas of the skeins. I also try to hold the initially cured eggs at room temperature to get the eggs to begin juicing up nicely before I remix and refrigerate after a couple of hours. I dislike freezing uncured eggs as they take on a honey like consistency that do not hold together as well as curing eggs and then freezing.

I really like the eggs to sit in the cure for 2-3 days. They get juicy overnight, and then by the second day they begin to re-absorb the juices.  By the third day most of the juices have been reabsorbed. This gives you maximum color development and retention for brightly colored and long milking baits, which FireCure is known for.

If you want a quicker cure try Fire Brine. This is an easy to use liquid that you simply immerse your clean egg skeins in overnight.  Customize your brine by adding ½ cup BorX O Fire and ½ cup Fire Cure to enhance the color intensity.

You are now ready to fish your eggs. Choose red, orange or green Spin N Glo bobbers and team them with double hooks. I suspend the eggs from the top hook and leave the bottom hook dangle free.  Try contrasting colors like a red bobber with orange eggs, green bobber with either red or orange, or orange bobber with red eggs.

Now find a favorite soft water seam alongside a good current flow, position your offerings right on the edge and be patient. Sometimes fish will bite aggressively and other times they may hang below your bait until drawn by the scent and color of your offering.

Good luck and take good care of your eggs. Cure them carefully for baits that will fish well for salmon or steelhead.

Editor’s Note: Bruce Hewitt operates Going Fishing Guide Service in Tri Cities, Washington. For more info on his Hanford Reach salmon trips please visit www.catchingmorefish.com.