The day, a crisp morning in late September, began at an old boat dock on the south side of the Columbia River, less than a mile from Beacon Rock. The plan for the day was to meet a fishing guide who specializes in Chinook (commonly called king) salmon. We were to fish downstream from Bonneville Dam in hopes of catching some kings on their fall migration journey up the Columbia River to their breeding grounds.My guide for the day was a young man named Jess Zerfing of Always Catchin’ Fishing Charters, LLC. His cousin Rob was also on board for the day. Let me just say that the professional manner in which Jess conducted his guide trip for the day was exemplary. As an outdoor writer I have had the opportunity to fish with many guides — none any better than Jess. He gets it. He politely mixes his easy going manner with a passion for catching fish, or in this case, putting me on some fish. “We like to get comfortable and let the fish come to us,” Zerfing said with a smile. “The fish are coming up river, on a mission, so sitting in a prime spot like this is very effective.”
“Here’s how it’s going to work,” Zerfing explained. “We’ll put three lines out. One directly behind the boat at 100 feet, and one off to each side at 60 feet and 80 feet. We’ll be using a lure called a Kwikfish, made by Luhr Jensen, right here in the Columbia River Gorge. The current will provide the action. To enhance the lure, Zerfing tied tuna (straight from the can) to the lure with light fishing line. The lures are attached to a leader, which is attached to a 10 oz. round sinker. The sinker weight holds the lure in place at the desired distance off the back of the boat, and the leader (we were using about 4 feet of leader) allows the lure to wiggle freely off the bottom. The rods are then placed in rod holders. It was about 7:00 a.m. by the time we got all set with three lines in the water. Sunlight was streaming through the Columbia River Gorge and glistening off the east wall of Beacon Rock. Absolutely beautiful. At 7:50 a.m., a king took the bait. As I grabbed the rod out of the holder, Zerfing and his cousin Rob quickly reeled in the other two lines. At that point, Rob ran to the front of the boat and released the line from the anchor buoy and the boat began drifting downstream with the current as I battled my first king salmon. These fish are strong. After a battle lasting some five minutes, I worked the fish alongside the boat and Zerfing netting the salmon. It weighed an impressive 15.5 lbs. And so it went all day. As a fish was hooked, we would release the anchor line, drift downstream to land the salmon, and then motor back up to our anchor position — all within a few hundred yards of Beacon Rock, on the historic Columbia River, right in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge. In all, I was able to land seven Chinook salmon during approximately seven hours of fishing. My two biggest were the 15.5 pounder and a 13.7. I also caught a 12.5 lb. fish, and several smaller “jack” salmon. Spending a day fishing for king salmon in the Columbia River Gorge is truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many anglers. Before going, I was pretty sure this would be my only chance at this exciting fishing opportunity. However, after experiencing the history of the area, and making new friends, I can’t wait to go back. Check it out — you will be forever in awe.