Several people have asked me in the past week or so about where to find some good fishing right now. That is a really good question.
Normally this time of year there are several good options. This year though, some of the places you can usually count on are either closed, or there just aren’t many fish around.
My favorite thing to do in mid-July is to fish for sockeye salmon in the Columbia River near Brewster. In just about every one of the past five or six years, there has been an open season for sockeye on the upper Columbia because the sockeye run has been pretty good, or even very good.
That is not the case this year. As of Monday only 56,844 sockeye had passed over Bonneville Dam. The original estimate for sockeye in the Columbia was right at 99,000, but in late June, the folks who try to estimate and monitor the runs, downgraded their official forecast to 58,000.
Based on the count through Monday, it looks like their downgraded estimate may be a bit low, but it’s still going to be a pretty poor run, especially when you look at some of the big numbers from a few years ago when over a half million of the smallish salmon came back from the Pacific each year.
The main culprit to the poor numbers this year is that this run of fish are the progeny of fish that returned in 2015. That run was another really good one, but the warm waters of the Columbia and tributaries basically boiled a large percentage of those adult returning fish.
A couple months ago many sockeye fanatics were still hoping that fish might return in fishable numbers, like they did last year. In 2018, the forecasters also estimated a sockeye run in the Columbia of about 99,000. But the fish blew those estimates out of the water. When it was all said and done some 210,000 sockeye returned, which allowed an opening on the upper Columbia and those who participated in the fishery had some good catching.
Sockeye, while not big, are arguably the very best-eating of the salmon species.
For those who just have to do some fishing for sockeye, there is currently a season open on Baker Lake near the town of Concrete in Skagit County.
Summer chinook are in the same situation as the sockeye. In the past several years, there has been a sports fishery on the Columbia, but again, a poor estimate for the return of the summer runs has forced fisheries managers to keep any sports seasons closed.
Another popular summertime fishery that has been curtailed is for steelhead on the Columbia and some tributaries. Currently steelhead fishing is open on the Columbia up to the Tri-Cities, with one hatchery fish allowed per angler per day.
Steelhead fishing is also open at Drano Lake under the same catch limits. Night fishing is closed on the Columbia and at Drano.
But, steelhead fishing will be closed on the Columbia, at Drano and a few other popular fishing spots on August 1.
These limited seasons and bag limits are in place because fisheries officials are concerned about this year’s run of steelhead which, similar to the salmon, are expected to come in at well below normal numbers.
As of Monday, just over 7,700 steelhead had come up through the fish ladders at Bonneville.
So, back to the original question. Where is there some good fishing right now?
It is looking like the walleye fishing is starting to pick up in the Columbia, and at popular reservoirs such as Potholes and Banks Lake. It is still not nearly as good as it was two years ago, but anglers who are working at it are finding fish, and there have been some nice-sized ones taken too.
Smallmouth bass fishing has really taken off recently. Anglers are catching them in the Columbia near the Tri-Cities, on the Snake River, and at Potholes Reservoir, Banks Lake and Lake Roosevelt.
In all of these waters, find some rocky structure along the banks and there will be bass there.
My family and I fished at Riffe Lake a week ago and we found good numbers of land-locked coho salmon willing to bite. The fish, which are 12-17 inches in length, are running a little deeper than a month ago, but there still seems to be decent numbers in the lake.
And, based on photos and reports I have been seeing from Lake Chelan, the kokanee there are still on the bite. The little salmon are not big this year, but on most days they are on the bite.
Often overlooked at Chelan, as the kokanee and lake trout get all the attention, is the fishing for cutthroat trout and smallmouth bass. While the kokanee and lake trout are out in the deeper waters of the huge lake, the trout and bass tend to stick to the shorelines.
The other consideration when fishing Chelan this time of year is the large number of pleasure seekers on the lake. By midday the waters are quite busy with jet skiers, tubers and water skiers, so plan accordingly.
• Rob Phillips is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer who has written the Northwest Sportsman column for over 25 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org