ON THE WILLAMETTE RIVER - As daylight dances through the fog wisps, a stunning sunrise may be one sublime reason to climb out of bed at four in the morning.
Perhaps catching sight of a soaring bald eagle – gliding on early morning thermals – could be considered a good reason for many folks too.
But salmon anglers Trey Carskadon, Carmen MacDonald and newcomer John Fusek agree that rods, reels and a chance to catch one of the premier fish of the region is the best reason of all.
Carskadon explained to KATU: “Well, there's a lot of fish in the Columbia right now for sure - a lot of spring chinook and fishing's been very, very good...”
In fact, so good that Carskadon was stopped with a shout from MacDonald in mid-sentence.
“Oh, I got one – there’s a fish on right now!” MacDonald said.
Carmen grabbed the doubled-down rod, pulled back with a sharp hook set and it was a solid fish-on.
He immediately looked to Fusek and asked, “John, you ready?”
Fusek – a relative newcomer to the northwest fishing scene, shot out both of his hands and answered, “I was born ready Carmen. Let’s go!”
John eagerly took the U-shaped rod as the salmon charged away from the boat and McDonald noted: “Spring chinook have a magic about them; they are the highest quality salmon in the world, and there really is something special about them - they're just that good.”
Fusek – who’s largest fish to date had been a 5-pound bass agreed, “Oh yes - I'm from the Midwest so I’m used to catching largemouth or maybe walleye but this is more difficult than bringing in any bass. Wow! I had no idea – now I see what the big deal is all about.”
The salmon tore line out from the bait-casting reel as it dove down deep immediately under the boat.
“Watch your line, John – don’t let it rub the boat,” coached MacDonald. “He just wants to hide down there – so hold your ground.”
Within minutes, the gleaming spring salmon came to the surface and into the large net.
“Oh, John – that’s a keeper,” shouted Carskadon. “What a dandy! These fish are at the peak of their life cycle," noted Trey. "That's why the springers are such a prize to eat. Their fat content is high and that fat gives them tremendous flavor. Let’s do it again!”
Carskadon added: “All the attention has been given to the Columbia River this spring – and that’s fine, but the Willamette's is going to be open thru May and into June. I think it could surprise people too.”
The preferred bait is a red-dyed prawn that is back-trolled behind a “jumbo” diver on a 6-foot leader.
Carmen explained the technique: “The diver takes the bait down to the bottom and the prawn is just spinning there and we're kinda moving around in the current.”
His best tip for the newcomer: “Oh, that’s easy! Don’t run around! Pick an area of the river and spend some time in it. There are so many places to go abut the people who are most successful out here are the ones I see in the same spots regularly.”
Persistence, it seems, does pay off.
“Hold on a second - there's a fish - right there, there's another fish.”
A mere 20 minutes had passed since the last salmon was landed and now it was Carskadon’s time to catch his first springer of the year.
“Way to go, Carmen! Oh, it’s a huge fish!”
The 15-pound salmon screamed out the line from Carskadon’s reel – determined it seemed - to find it’s way back to the sea.
“They’re so powerful,” noted Carskadon. “They don't look that big, but boy they pull. Yee-haw!!!!”
Within 10 minutes, another silvery salmon was turned to the net, secured and lifted aboard MacDonald’s boat.
A breathless Carskadon admired his catch, “That is so worth getting up at four in the morning - my first spring chinook of 2008! Fantastic!”
Carmen added that time is on the angler’s side because the Willamette spring salmon run doesn’t really peak for a few more weeks.
“However you like to fish, there's some sort of fishing out here for you," he said. "You can fish from the bank or if you like to troll herring you can head downriver to the Portland area. Whatever style or technique that you enjoy you can do it on the Willamette. It’s so neat because it’s so close.”