BREWSTER, Wash. - Over 300,000 sockeye are heading for the Okanogan River near Brewster on the upper Columbia River. There’s a six-salmon limit per day. Wanna go?
That’s right, kids, the fish ladder count at Bonneville is nearing 400,000 sockeye as you read this. Over 300,000 are heading to one place: the Okanogan River, which dumps into the Columbia at Brewster. This is the second consecutive year of this plethora, as we saw some outstanding sockeye bites in Brewster Pool late last July into August.
Add over 150,000 more salmon, you have this year’s opportunity.
Edgar needs to kill. So we towed him east of the big hill and turned him loose for three days.
Setting the table
I am here to change this, fellow Wild Country listeners. We’ll get into depth on tackle and technique shortly, first a bit on the Brewster Pool itself.
Formed by Wells Dam, this backwash is approximately 1 mile by ½ mile, right at the mouth of the Okanogan River. Averaging 30 to 60 feet, the main “honey hole” is no more than 50 yards in diameter. Just look for bumper boats, you can’t miss the spot. These still-bright 3- to 7-pound salmon finally stop swimming after nearly 500 miles and school up at the mouth.
Here is the only glitch in the machine: The Okanogan river is running 3 to 4 degrees cooler than last year. The sockeye are just slowing enough to make a left. When a school moves through, "bing bing bing". Then nada. Not like last season which featured a warmer Okanogan and reluctant salmon. Bigger schools of holding fish, therefore a crazier bite.
The only reason the bite is holding up well is the sheer numbers of salmon swarming over Wells Dam.
When they finally stop, they bite. And you will not be alone. During our stay there was approximately 100 boats trying for these ultra tasty little salmon.
Rods firing off all around you, someone playing a fish everywhere you look. My son and I showed up the first morning, trolled 50 feet and both rods went down.
For a kokanee freak like me, this is Disneyland. The following, my fellow freaks, is how its done.
Sockeye trolling 101
Lighten up, Jack!: Most of the tackle I've observed here is better suited for Sekiu kings than little sockeye. I’ve found that light steelhead rods (9’ 6”, 4- to 8-poind X96 LL Lamiglas or 1141 Loomis) are ideal, and I’ve built two 5-weight 9-foot fiberglass blanks into ultralight trolling rods, the same ones I use for kokanee trolling. Lighten up the tackle and enjoy the fish!
Reels should be filled with quality natural-toned 10-pound test.
Getting down to business!: Now for the business end, terminals. Yes, you may take your used-once-every-10-years Lake Washington outfit - a #0 chrome dodger, 14 inches of 20-pound test tied to one or two 2/0 red hooks - and catch Brewster sockeye. But this place is very different, and so are the techniques.
You name it, we saw it being trolled. Giant flashers, mini dodgers, leaders from 6 inches up to 6 feet tied to U-20 redFlatfish, Brads Super Baits, etc. Each boat seemingly had something off the wall that was hooking fish. But to consistently hook sockeye, a few terminal setups were getting bit five to one.
Here are some setups that I guarantee are sockey slamming muthas:
Brewster Rig #1 - I call it the "Rasticle"
Hey, kokanee love a blade (see Wedding Ring spinner). Also tied to the lead hook is three 2-inch strands of pearl Crystal Flash. Around the bead, mold a peanut-sized portion of hot pink Pautzke’s Fire Bait. Dip the trailing hook in crawfish XXX Smelly Jelly. This will be your number 1 or 2 go to setup.
Brewster Rig #2 - Borrowing from the kokanee krowd
These are the two go-to riggings we’ve been smoking Brewster sockeye with, sometimes over 20 hookups per day. But as we anglers know, each season sees different techniques and setups do better than past seasons. This one is no different, as my son River and I found out last week.
Here are two other options for terminals that at certain times of the morning, like from 8:30 until 11, the sockeye seemed to favor a bit more than my two go-to outfits.
Brewster Rig #3 - My first backup
Theater of the mind on this one, kids: I forgot to get a picture of it.
Brewster Rig #4 - "The Stoplight"
Sockeye love bright colors, and The Stoplight has that in spades: A clear UV mini-squid with four colors of fluorescent tubing and/or beads inside (chartreuse, kelly green, fluorescent red and fluorescent orange). The dodger is something I custom-painted, but it's basically a #00 dodger with fluorescent red, fluorescent orange, and fluorescent chartreuse. Run a 14-inch 15-pound leader to two 1/0 hooks.
Brewster Rig #5 - Super Secret Shazam
On the top of the lead hook (this next step is time consuming and a bit tricky, but well worth the time when you have 50 guys in boats staring mouth open at you because the sockeye are lashing at this while no one else can buy a strike) wrap a small head with some hot orange thread (easiest if you use a fly-tying vise) and three 20inch strands of pearl Crystal Flash. The swimming action of tandem 4/0 dodgers looks exactly like a rapidly swimming salmon.
Doo, dah, dippity. You’re welcome. Don’t tell nobody.
The extra ju-ju juice
Take a bottle of Pro Cure’s Wizard Kokanee corn cure in hot red. Empty ½ of the bottle onto a pound of raw shrimp. Add a cup of Pautzke’s Red Kokanee Fuel. Marinate overnight, shaking vigorously occasionally. Pour out the mixture the next day, drop each shrimp on newspaper/paper towels then re-pack the shrimp into a clean ziplock or jar.
Kokanee love the Pro Cure corn cure and they slobber over Kokanee Fuel. You’ve been ... Thunderstruck.
Serving it up right
Now for the presentation ...
Set your terminals 15 feet behind the ball off the downrigger. Sockeye aren’t especially ball-shy, plus due to the great number of other anglers cutting in and out in close proximity you’ll want to position gear close to the boat. Set your gear down 15 feet one side, 20 feet on the other.
Do not troll in a static line, even though there are many boats close by there is still enough room to do a slight serpentine troll. This allows your gear to rise and drop. Sockeye (like their landlocked brethren) key on a rising/falling lure, especially when everyone else is trolling horizontally. Do it this way and you will double your strikes.
Play the salmon with a gentle hand. Like kokanee, sockeye have soft mouths and an aggressive tug-of-war results in many lost fish. I watched way too many lost near the boat due to anglers impatience and horsing.
And in closing ...
There are two other spots well worth trying, at times these areas produce better than Brewster. First is immediately above and next to Wells Dam. Sockeye traveling through the fish ladders will take a breather there. The next spot is immediately below Wells, a small corner area where more than twenty boats would be uncomfortably crowded. Sockeye do pile up below the dam, and some of the best fishing has been down here.
See you there next week. Meantime, I’ll be making sockeye patties for the entire neighborhood.
Metal To The End,
PS - Just back with some SCREAMING-good photos from Baker Lake. Stay tuned.
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