Fishing | Salmon | Sockeye | Sockeye Fishing on the Columbia River
Photo: Family fishing from boat on the Columbia River at Bridgeport.
Fishing at Bridgeport on the Columbia River. Photo by Jason Wettstein

Sockeye fishing on the Columbia River

Photo: A pair of sockeye laid out on net.
Weighing in at three to five pounds, or more, sockeye are great on the grill, but can prove challenging to catch.
Weighing in at three to five pounds, or more, sockeye are great on the grill, but can prove challenging to catch. Still the odds are improving this summer as sockeye are returning to the Columbia River in numbers that far exceed preseason forecasts.

To get them to bite, try these tips and techniques:

  • Go big or go home:  Better yet, go big and go chrome.

Successful anglers have been using big dodgers, chrome on both sides, 25 to 35 lb. line, and 12 to 20 inch leaders, depending on how fast they troll the boat.

Sockeye first need to see the lure to take the lure. WDFW experts recommend fishing with hoochies, possibly smile blades as an added attractant, and flashers.

Sticking with the sockeye "must see it to eat it" theme, look for lures with good action and maximum visibility in the water to catch a sockeye. Recommended colors include bold pink, orange, or chartreuse with shrimp or eggs on the pinched or barbless hook.

Photo: Dodgers. gear used by fishermen to catch sockeye.
Scott Young holding two sockeye caught while fishing Lake Wenatchee. Photo by Chris Donley.

For night anglers, consider glow beads.

Troll at 1 to 2 miles an hour while pulling that chrome.

  • Fish aware: Some of us know fish whisperers, people who seem to catch fish while others are striking out.

Becoming a fish hypnotist means paying attention to detail.

Pay attention to color of lure, depth of the lure, and speed of boat and take mental note when something works. Also pay attention to temperature. Fish will stage off the mouth of rivers and tributaries to cool when it is hot.

  • Choose sockeye not shuteye:  The early angler more likely gets the sockeye. 

Sockeye are most active from dawn up to 10 a.m. There is some smaller potential for an evening bite.

Sockeye hot spots on the upper Columbia River

Try these spots recommended by WDFW regional fish biologists Travis Maitland, Paul Hoffarth and fish and wildlife commissioner Dave Graybill, also known as 'the Fishin' Magician:'

  • The mouth of the Okanogan River, between Wells Dam downstream and Chief Joseph Dam upstream, also known as Lake Pateros.
  • Columbia River, above Priest Rapids Dam.  See the rule change for details on where to fish.
  • For shore fishers, try Rocky Reach Dam, north of Wenatchee.   Anglers have had luck with slip bobber and shrimp, marabou jigs, and octopus style hooks. Tip: Fish upstream of the dam, where the water is still pretty calm.   Below the dam, the water is too swift to fish from shore.
  • Okanogan River.With hundreds of thousands of sockeye having passed Bonneville Dam—the fifth highest count (as of mid-July) since 1938—WDFW biologist Joe Hymer expects a large portion of 2016's run to make its way toward the Okanogan River.
  • Lower Columbia sockeye have passed their peak run for 2016 and have moved on to the upper Columbia.

This information is current as of August 8, 2016.   Please always check WDFW fishing regulations and rule change pages for the most current rules and regulations before fishing.

Worth the Trip
Baker Lake

Fishing is heating up at Baker Lake, a recognized destination for those seeking sockeye on the Westside of the state. Brett Barkdull, regional fish biologist, had these tips for fishing Baker Lake:

* Find the fish: Typical depths are from the surface down to 60 feet depending on water temperature and clarity. "This year the water is very clear and fish tend to be on the deeper side," says Barkdull.

* Fish the right tackle: Typical gear is an 8 inch dodger or sling blade, 12 inch leader, with a 1.5 inch mini-squid, a smile blade above several beads, a combination of both smile blade and squid, or a small pink fly with flash tied in. Sometimes a size 8 or so spin and glow rig will work.

Photo: Fisherman holding a sockeye he caught in each hand.
Baker Lake gear, Photo by Brett Barkdull.

Tip the hooks with cured prawn or fresh sand shrimp. More flash is better than less. Fishing with lots of friends with lots of flash is great. If fishing alone — or not — try tying something off the downrigger ball. A dodger on a short leader or a daisy chain of fish flashes hanging off the ball will draw the fish in.

"It doesn't appear there is such a thing as too much flash," says Barkdull.

* Fish the correct speed: Typical speed is 1.2 miles per hour, sometimes a little faster and sometimes slower. If you fish slower, use a shorter leader.  If faster, use a longer leader.

* Fish flexibly: If you are sure you are on to fish, but not catching them, change gear and change speed. "Don't just keep doing what worked yesterday," says Barkdull. "Give the fish what they want. Successful anglers are always paying attention to details, and that makes all the difference."

Check this rule change for details on opportunities that have recently opened up on Baker Lake. 

Lake Wenatchee
Photo:  Lake Wenatchee seen across the water with snow covered mountain in the background.
Lake Wenatchee

Lake Wenatchee is not always open. But when it is open, it is often really good.

With a July projection of at least 60,000 sockeye destined for Lake Wenatchee, it's looking great.

Travis Maitland, WDFW biologist had this to say about fishing the lake.

* Use selective gear to protect endangered species: Lake Wenatchee is an intermittent fishery, requiring selective gear, single barbless hook, no scent, and no bait. This is meant to protect Endangered Species Act listed spring chinook, steelhead and bulltrout.

* Dare to go bare: "While anglers use hoochies with little smile blades, there is a simplistic lure that has worked for years," says Maitland. "That is two or three single bare hooks trailing behind a flasher or dodger." Potentially lucky colors include red and green colored bare hooks.

* Take in the temp, the rules, and watch conditions: Fishing in Lake Wenatchee can go a bit deeper than Baker Lake, down to 80 feet at times. "Sockeye are most active from dawn up to 10 a.m., and with really high temperatures, they may stage off the mouth of the Wenatchee River at the confluence with the Columbia River for a while before making the trek to the lake," says Maitland.

Also, Lake Wenatchee fishing can close on short notice. Anglers are advised to check the fishing hotline at (360) 902-2500 and WDFW's rule change page daily.

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