500 Dollar Salmon?

3am Thursday morning. It’s dark and the sprinkling rain is falling in the great NorthWest. Today I will drive to Big Sandy Oregon. The mission of the day, hopefully catch and bring home Chinook salmon or Steelhead. Both are abundant this time of year in the Columbia River. I arrive at my destination. Still dark and now I’m parked in the area known as the Fishery. The sun is scheduled to show its face at 5:22am. My directions from Dan the fishing guide are to park and wait until the sun rises. At that point head down the dock and find the boat marked Quality Fishing Adventures. It was easy.

Dan and his boat were the only boat in the water and waiting for me. A handshake and we’re off. I’m pull my rain gear and my hoodie on tight as it’s still raining and the wind is blowing. 5:45am and here comes the sun. 15 minutes and 1/2 mile up the Columbia, we arrive. The fishing spot for today is named #214. I never did ask Dan how or why this spot was named #214. This was my first time fishing on the Columbia River. The river is big and wide! Probably 1/4 to 1/2 mile wide. The current is moving very fast.

Day is breaking and this mighty river is smooth and quiet. Dan is definitely a seasoned fishing guide. He is able to maneuver his 28 foot fishing boat into place, drop the anchor and position us perfectly the first time. Impressive, that’s all I can I say. The Columbia is also a water interstate. What’s amazing is it’s so peaceful and quiet and out of nowhere a huge lumber barge loaded with fresh cut timber is a good cast away with your fishing pole. Slowly and gracefully the barge passes us and leaves virtually no wake.


Time to fish. Dan gives me the goods on how to fish for these summer salmon and steelheads. After a quick class on salmon and steelhead 101, I’m ready. 6:15am. More rain and now some good wind. The air is crisp, clean and I smell fresh timber. Dan’s telling me about yesterday’s fish count and some local history on the mighty Columbia as he rigs and baits my pole. He explains that the water temp, time of year, the rain and these tasty fish should be abundant this morning. Dan throws a cast off the bow on the starboard side, probably 40 feet. “That’s where we had some good ones yesterday,” he says. Dan hands off my pole. I place it in the rod holder and it’s game on! I turn my face out of the wind and sit down and watch the silence. Big birds of prey are high overhead looking for breakfast. The clouds are low and hugging the Columbia Gorge mountain tops. It’s a sweet site for a desert rat from what I’m used to seeing. Green and more green.

My line has been in the water for 3 minutes and Dan is barking loudly, grab your pole!! On my briefing, during the salmon and steelhead 101, Dan was very specific. He said to me, “when you get one on the line you need to set the hook hard.” So that’s what I did. I set the hook hard and the fun begins. 10 minutes later, I can see the shimmer of silver starting to make its way to the top of the surface. Dan is ready with this big ass net. One scoop and he’s got my fish in the net and on the side of the boat. Once again, this guy is a fishing machine. He pulls the bait and hook out of my fish and very gently lifts the fish out of the water and takes a quick measurement. Yep, we can keep it. 32″ and 22lbs. Let me say this. Super pristine Columbia River water, loads of feed for these monster fish really shows. This one is a Chinook salmon. Well after this one fish, things really changed. It rained more and then wind blew harder. My fishing day got a little quiet. That one salmon was the only fish that we landed for the day. Yes, we had a couple of good hits but couldn’t land the hook. We pulled up anchor and headed down River to the Fishery. The ride back was breathtaking. So green and vast and wide open. It was dawn on the way to the fishing spot. Dark, couldn’t see much. Back at the dock, Dan and I said our good byes. I grabbed my fish and paid Dan. Yes, that’s where the $500.00 salmon comes in. 1 salmon. One great day from work with no cell phone. One great fishing guide.

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