Columbia River Walleye Update
Jacob Munden, August 02, 2017
This summer, as we all know, put a few wrinkles in all our fishing plans! Before summer even got here, we were already hearing about the low steelhead return forecasted for the Columbia, Snake, and its tributaries. The sockeye run was far smaller than needed forcing a closure on that fishery in the upper Columbia. Fortunately, one of the great aspects of living in the Pacific Northwest is that we have options! This year’s summer king fishing has been steady and the Columbia River summer walleye bite has been unprecedented! For Munden’s Rising Son Adventures, we have turned our focus onto the walleye bite this summer and it has our clients filling their freezers with excellent meat, and a lot of action and fish to the boat each day!
Let’s talk a bit about the current walleye situation in the Columbia. Many reading this article are well aware of the political strife the walleye are causing in our groups, and public populations! My goal in discussing this is to present both sides, and let each angler make their own decisions as to which side of the fence they walk….or float! The walleye in the Columbia are an invasive, introduced species. They are not native to this river system. Because of this, and the fact that WDFW and ODFW both agree that their population boom has a negative impact on endangered salmon and steelhead runs on certain sections of the Columbia and Snake systems, they have removed all size and harvest number restrictions for anglers. The layman’s term for this is…..NO LIMITS! In doing so, especially a year into this decision, there has been a widespread boom in the popularity and efforts given to walleye fishing! People have realized the great meat they have, their relatively easy to catch, and they provide a great alternative in angling with the struggling salmonid returns. However, with the increased efforts, we are quickly realizing that the overall population of walleye is much higher than anyone ever imagined!! The low water of 2015/2016 created a perfect spawning environment for the walleye and the population boom of 14-16 inch walleye this year that anglers are catching are a product of these past river conditions.
As with any resource or fishery, there are many different opinions on how an angler should self-manage the lack of regulation that WDFW or ODFW has placed on these fish. Some anglers, with the lack of other fishing opportunities this summer, have taken full advantage of the walleye opportunity and are harvesting VAST numbers of fish. Other anglers are harvesting walleye in a respectable fashion, taking only what they can eat and respecting the resource. Even still, some anglers, I would call them the walleye purist…out of respect…are very limited in the numbers they keep and are very vocal when they see pictures, post, announcements coming from the “meat maggots” on social media! My dad always told me, “no matter how flat the pancake, there are always two sides.” I really believe that is the case here and we can debate and argue proper management until we are blue in the face, but in the end, it is up to each sportsmen to make their own decision what is right for them. My decision for Munden’s Rising Son Adventures is to implement the old rules on limits for my outings. I allow 10 fish per angler/per day, and I release all fish over 26 inches. With that said, some weeks I may have 3-5 trips and end up harvesting a lot of fish. This year, we are averaging….yes averaging 50-60 fish a trip. On a lot of trips in June and July, we were throwing back 40-60 walleye along with the fish my clients kept. We terminally hooked 1 28 inch fish and released many more 26-31 inch fish this summer!
The fishing has been phenomenal, but is primarily made up of these 14-16 inch fish. The bigger 20 inch fish are there and we get a few each day, but my opinion is that there are so many smaller fish that the bigger fish are just not getting to our baits! I also believe that even with all the increased pressure and lack of limits, we will have a tremendous walleye fishery for years to come. I am on the water every day and I can personally testify to the extreme numbers of walleye that are in our river systems. I may eat my words in 10 years, but I truly believe the population will continue to grow, just as the pike minnow numbers have grown, even with the reward fishing program that is in place.
As for catching these critters, it is important to understand their feeding habits. Walleye are ferocious predators, but very lazy. They want current to push food to them, without having to fight current to get to their food. They position themselves on current seams and breaks where they can attack their prey, but also be just into slack water to rest. In most of the pools on the Columbia, the daily fluctuation of the dams effects these current seams and breaks. It is vital that you study the water flow, learn to read water, and adjust by the hour! Anyone can go out and catch a handful of walleye just because of their sheer numbers, but to have a good day and really stack up some numbers, you need to be vigilant of all these other conditions and adjust as the water changes daily.
There are not many secrets as for the offerings that catch walleye. The #1 technique for catching walleye is the bottom walker/worm harness combo. The walkers range in weights from 1-4 oz. depending on the depth and current you are fishing. Any combination of hook, beads, and a small spinner blade will get the job done. Add a fat nightcrawler to your hook and you are fishing! I tend to target the natural forage of the system I am fishing. For me, that is salmon and steelhead smolts on the Columbia. White, purple, blue, and silver are my top colors. If in the Snake or our local reservoirs, there are more perch and crawdads, so your traditional oranges and chartreuses will work. These offerings are trolled on the bottom, downstream with the current along these seams and breaks we discussed.
As Summer progresses to Fall, the plug bite will get better. The water warms up and the fish get very aggressive. Trolling minnow style plugs upstream in the same water can be deadly. This year, the Columbia is closed to night fishing for walleye. In years past, a summer night plug bite was hard to beat for numbers and quality sized fish! Berkeley Flicker Minnows in size 9 and 11, Cabela’s Walleye Runners, Reef Runners, Strike King Walleye Elites, or Rapala Tail Dancers are all good options for plugs.
It is my opinion that walleye are here to stay! We as sportsman have an obligation to be responsible in how we personally manage our harvest. I firmly believe we also have a responsibility to respect others that may have different opinions on how to manage the fishery as well. The one common thread that all anglers have in common is that everyone enjoys these resources and we need to do what we can to preserve and protect for future generations!
If you are interested in a crash course in walleye fishing, or just want a nice relaxing day of catching on the water, give me a call and get a trip booked! I will walleye fish through August, then turn my efforts towards Fall Salmon. I have seats available!
Jacob MundenMunden’s Rising Son Adventures