Jason Brooks - 1/16/2012
As you make the turn from highway 97 to the entrance of Wells Dam just north of Chelan, WA there is a rest area and overlook of the Dam and the Upper Columbia River. I had just finished lunch and was lying on the manicured grass under one of those trees at the entrance trying to recover from our early morning launch at 4:00 am. The mid-morning sun drove us off of the water and my Dad and I decided to take a nap before heading back out onto the water for the evening bite.
The need to launch so early during this summer Chinook fishery isn’t because of long lines at the boat launch or a need to claim parking, as their seems to be little competition for the launch and there is ample parking in the dirt embankment along the river, the need is because of that July heat and bright sun. Were talking temperatures that reach 100 degrees and there is no shade on the water. The fish know it too, and it seems that once the air heats up, and the sun is bright, the bite is “off”. That’s why the number one “tactic” I can recommend for targeting these fish is to fish early and fish late, when the sun is not directly beating down on you or the fish.
To get to Well’s Dam is fairly simple, to get to the launch can be a bit frustrating, but nowadays you can utilize internet maps, such as “Google earth” to help you out. Obviously you can’t miss the turn off for the dam, so once you make the turn, head to the right, and at the bottom of the hill turn right again, away from the dam and hatchery. While driving down the road and keep an eye out for dirt road to your left that looks like it is an access road through an orchard. There is a telephone pole with a small white sign pointing to “Carpenter Island”, and really there is no “island” but a large dirt flat that is along the Chelan County side of the Columbia. This little dirt road will wind down to the river and the launch at the hatchery outlet. This is also where bank bound anglers can park and walk down to the river with ample access to fish.
For those with boats, you get two main fisheries as both sides of Wells Dam have fish ladders. On the Chelan County side there are also fish heading into the hatchery right at the dam, along with the fish heading upriver to other fisheries, such as the Brewster Pool or Okanagan River mouth. On the Douglas County side is a fish ladder for those same upriver bound kings.
On this day we were fishing from a boat equipped with a downrigger, well two downriggers actually, but I had wound up the cable on one a bit too tight and snapped off the rigger ball and without a spare, we were down to one downrigger. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it forced me to use another tactic on that bare rod, which also led to a fish that I wouldn’t have got, since the rigger’s weren’t the ticket this day.
The water can run from 20 to 30 feet deep and fluctuate with water flows from the dam at any given moment. On the rod without the downrigger I was using a Storm Mag Wart in black with silver flake (also known as the Michael Jackson), long lined straight behind the boat.
On the downrigger we were using your standard 11” Hot Spot green flasher with a plug cut herring behind it. This set up has counted for most of our Salmon, but also for most of our headaches as well. Since the water temps are very warm, and the flows fluctuate from a soft current to rip roaring in a matter of minutes, trying to keep the herring from falling apart is almost impossible. At times we were checking the plug cut bait every 10 minutes. This is where Brad’s Super Plug Cut Bait will shine. It gives off the same action as a plug cut herring without the worry of it falling apart or when you have a missed strike, you know the bait/lure is still there. Fill the cavity sponge with Pautske Krill and you’re in business, and another nice thing is that you can fish these behind a fish flash or kone zone with a Jet Diver (I like using the 50 “Jumbo” diver to keep a constant depth no matter the flow of water let out from the dam). Another popular option is the Mag Lip plug with a herring wrap, and with the new UV models out the early morning/late evening bite can only improve. Favorite colors are hot orange, tiger, and double trouble. Another tactic I stole from the infamous Drano fishery other than long lining plugs are to run a prawn spinner and cured prawn. I make sure to use a rubber band around the head of the prawn to keep the shell from being ripped apart and again check the bait often. I like green or green/yellow blades with the hot pink dyed prawns, and yes, when I cure my prawns I sprinkle powdered Krill on them; it just seems to really turn on a bite for these kings. If you don’t know how to make your own prawn rigs don’t worry, Mack’s Lure has come out with a new prawn rig that is basically their double whammy wedding ring spinner with smile blades on steroids!
Jeff Witkowski of Darrell and Dad’s Family Guide Service (509-687-0709) likes to fish the Brewster Pool but will head to Wells as an option, and ads “Top rigs are Super-bait originals, Hot Tamale, Hot Lava and Lemon-lime in that order.”0" chrome dodgers in front of the Super-bait has gotten me lots of fish but I switched to fishing mostly flashers, which seems to get bit a little better.” He also keys in on the morning bite saying “Day-light is the time to be on the water although fish can hit anytime during the day” but his clients “have had enough sun by noon or so” and the hot weather drives him off of the water.
With all of these options from the boat, one of the most important things to remember is to fish is slow, almost stagnant. Due to river flows, other boats, and the bottom consisting of potato sized rocks you don’t want to anchor. Instead, back down slowly, allowing your gear to stay in front of the fish that are kegging up at the dam. If one side of the river seems to be dead, head over to the other side and give it a try. You will also notice that fish will be jumping and rolling all around you, especially before or after the sun is off of the water. This is when flat lining the diving plugs seems to work better than the weighted or rigger rigged options as the fish seem to be more active and aggressive.
Bankies too! There is a long reach of bank access on the Chelan County side of the river just below the boat launch. The nice thing about this bank fishery is that it is right where the fish are waiting to go either into the Wells hatchery or the fish ladder. I must admit that it looks intimidating, standing on the shore of such a large river, hoping a fish comes along, but it really is better than it looks. After motoring along the same slot the bankies target in our boat we noticed kings stacked up waiting for their turn to go up and over the dam. If you can get a spot at the head of the “run” or “bank” then plunking is your best bet. The standard spin and glow with either a gob of eggs, or a cured prawn are good options. Also, if your in a spot where others won’t be throwing over your line try a side planer and a plug, but make sure you use highly visible line on the planer (and a highly visible planer) and don’t let it out too far, as boat anglers will be backing down the slot your fishing as the fish seem to hold just off of the bank. Otherwise if your stuck along the bank amongst others make sure you follow the typical bank etiquette and do what all the others are doing which is pitching spoons or buzz bombs.
When to go: Witkowski says this fishery is good right from the opener in July and seems to peak about the 3rd week of July. But these fish will continue to arrive clear until September. Watch the damn counts and any day where 500 fish go over the damn is a day to be fishing. You are targeting upriver “bright’s” so don’t expect a massive migration all at one time. These fish run all summer long and well into the fall. Also any day that it is overcast or raining you better be fishing! Those rare cool days really get the fish going and as they are getting closer to their final destinations they really get aggressive if they can get a chance to cool down from the summer’s heat.
Remember to fish early, fish slow, and get out of that hot sun. The shade trees at the rest area and overlook are great for a picnic, and a nap before heading back out onto the Columbia below Wells Dam for the evening bite.