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Fishing Walleye on the Lower Columbia River

Fishing Walleye on the Lower Columbia River

By Lance Merz

Walleye fishing on the Columbia River is a destination hot spot for anglers who seek this predatory fish.  In fact, most walleye anglers will tell you that if you can catch a walleye, you can catch just about any species of fish.  Over the past two years, Departments of Fish and Wildlife in Washington and Oregon have lifted the limits while fishing the Lower Columbiafor these fish.  Studies are showing that walleye are eating the Salmon and Steelhead smolts and they want to eliminate the species all together.  Only one rod is authorized per angler, but there is plenty of fish to be had for all.

I had the opportunity to fish with Mack’s Lure Pro Staff Angler Ted Beach, a professional Walleye angler whose knowledge compares to that of an encyclopedia. When Ted talks about fishing, people listen.  He gives various seminars throughout Washington each year and loves to teach how to fish" and there is an art to fishing this species of fish.  We launched in an area of the Lower Columbia, just below the McNary Dam in a place called Crowe Butte.  We were fishing in attempts to find some fish to catch for a TV show that was to be aired the next day with Northwest Fishing Reports (NWFR).  Due to the harsh winter that was felt by all, the current of the river was moving quite fast.  Instead of moving into the main current, Ted sought his attention to areas of the river where the current wasn’t as swift.  Normally, these areas are closer to the shore and range in depths of 5- to 25-feet.  We were trolling with bottom walkers with a 5- to 6-foot leader, primarily using Double Whammy Walleye and Smile Blade Super Slow Death Rigs tipped with a night crawler.

It wasn’t long after we started trolling that the first fish of the day came into the boat, a 16” walleye that knocked the funk off the boat.

A slow troll downstream revealed a few more fish in the live well; this was going to be a good day!  There are parts of the Columbia River that can be very intimidating and if you’ve never been on that particular area of the river, I’d recommend going out with a guide who knows the water.  There are parts where channels are very shallow, which can take out a lower unit very easily.  There are even areas of the middle of the river that can be as shallow at six inches.

Ted and fished throughout the day; a fish here and a fish there.  The fishing was consistent, but it wasn’t lights out for sure.  The water temperature for fishing for walleye was still a bit chilly (57 degrees), and the clarity of the water was color of chocolate milk.

Then the wind picked up.  It is imperative that if you’re operating a boat on the Columbia River that you are aware of the weather conditions at the time you are going to fish.  Without warning, the chop on the water can produce 5-6’ swells and without enough knowledge of boat operations, it could be catastrophic.  Since the wind was so sever on the main channel, Ted decided to tuck into a slough which protected us from the wind.  Not only did we start to catch walleye, be we also began catching Smallmouth Bass and Perch as well.  Since walleye are a predatory fish, catching these other species was a good sign.

The next day, we decided to fish in another area of the river, adjacent to the town of Plymouth, Washington.  Ted made this decision because the forecast was calling for wind gusts of up to 22mph that day as well as rain.  We met with the crew of Northwest Fishing Reports and began to film the show.  Mike Carey, owner of the NWFR jumped in the boat with Ted and I, and his crew was in another boat fishing as well.  We launched the boat and the conditions were perfect; calm with no rain.  We decided to take advantage of the early morning by fishing what Ted called the “Plymouth Slough”, a branch of the Columbia just off the main channel of the river which if needed, could protect us from the gusts which were coming.  The fishing was consistent and again, we were all using Double Whammy Walleye crawler harnesses and Smile Blade Super Slow Death Rigs.  The hot Smile Blade of the day however, was the UV Glo Burst which produces a tremendous amount of flash and attraction even in murky waters.

We pushed the limits and decided to fish just below the McNary Dam.  There was only one guide boat on the water and the preferred method was to troll up to the border (a line just below the dam that no one is allowed) and drifted down.  All but one chute was open at the dam and the water was swift to say the least.  Even without the wind, swells were consistent at five to six feet.  A few more walleye were caught in this area before the wind picked up, which forced us back down to the slough, which produced more fish in the rain.  In all, 40 fish were caught in a two day period.

Ted is an excellent teacher.  I learned a different way to rig up the walleye rod and even learned a new way to thread a worm on a hook.  What I learned the most from Ted, was that preparation is essential when fishing for walleye.  As with any other fishery, having the line in the water longer will eventually lead to more fish.  Ted’s boat was filled with additional tackle and riggings that made it very easily to slide off each lure to try a different color.

That same week, Bob Loomis and Richy Harrod took their shot at fishing the Lower Columbia as well.  They fished in an area of the Columbia adjacent to Biggs, Oregon, in a place called “Peach Beach”.  Trolling was the preferred method, just off the main channel using Wally Pop Crawler harnesses, as well as Double Whammy Walleye and the Smile Blade Super Slow Death Rig.

Although there are no limits on parts of the Lower Columbia River, it doesn’t mean that all fish have to be caught.  I have seen first hand where anglers will go out fishing a catch in excess of 100 fish or more in one day.  In my opinion, catch what you’re going to eat.  Set a limit for your boat which will allow other anglers the ability to catch fish as well.


This article, by Lance Merz, was featured in the June issue of the Mack Attack Magazine.

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