That’s the only word fit to describe the conditions. Wind gusts were driving soaking rains and chilling us to the bone. We sat huddled in the boat wrapped in as many garments as we could muster. We looked like swollen ticks about to pop.
We were taking part in the 26th annual Spring Fishing Classic salmon derby put on by the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association and sponsored by Fishermen’s Marine and Outdoor, Steven’s Marine, Fred Meyer, and others.
The Classic is a chance for people to get together, catch a few salmon, have fun, and support a good cause.
Our host for the day, Buzz Ramsey, was pulling out all the stops to try and find some fish that would bite. We had trolled until the wind got too rough and now we were anchoring with plugs just below the boat deadline at Beacon Rock.
This was not our first rodeo. We had fished this tournament for years, always catching fish during our pre-fish the day before, and always catching far fewer on tournament day. It was an unwanted tradition, but a tradition nonetheless.
This year’s spring Chinook run has been poor and the fishing overall has been spotty all season. For the most part catch rates have been weak, but we still had high hopes going into the event.
But, those high hopes didn’t pan out.
The NSIA is an industry lobby group that advocates for the sport fishing industry and the fish that they depend on. They have been involved in a full range of fishing and fishery-related issues and weigh in on the spectrum of concerns that can affect wild fish recovery, seasons, harvest and the future of fishing interests in the Northwest.
Most recently the association was involved with a court battle win over “spill”. Spill refers to the practice of allowing water and juvenile salmon to pass over hydroelectric dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers instead of running all of it through the turbines, which kills many young fish.
Increased spill has been touted as boosting the survival rates of young salmon and the numbers of adults that eventually return.
The tournament was held on April 7 on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. In spite of pretty tough fishing conditions, a few nice salmon were landed.
The lower Columbia River was where most of the salmon in the tournament were caught. In particular, the reach from Kalama down to Cathlamet was where the best fishing took place and that is where the winning teams concentrated their efforts.
Team Adrift Again with Jerry Spiess, Sky Masters, and David Haukeli took top honors with a three-fish catch that totaled 34.7 pounds. Their big fish weighed 11.8 pounds.
Second place went to Marshall Strutz, Joel Owens, and Darrel Ehl with three salmon totaling 33.2 pounds. Ehl had the big fish for the tournament, a 12.15-pound springer for which he took home a $500 prize.
Third place went to Spiess’ second Team Adrift Again team. They caught two salmon that totaled 21.7 pounds. Their big fish weighed 11.55 pounds.
Most of the fish were caught with herring fished behind flashers and trolled right along the bottom.
Fishermen in the tournament faced horrible conditions, including very high winds, heavy rain, and cold temps. The weather had one positive affect: Most anglers not connected with the tournament stayed off the river.
Liz Hamilton, the executive director of the NSIA, said she was pleased with the derby.
“The people who signed up came out in spite of the weather,” she said. “They were out there trying to support a good cause.”
The weigh-in and banquet took place at Camp Withycombe in Clackamas, Ore.
Hamilton noted that the banquet was a success but she gave the credit to Fishermen’s Marine who sponsored it. “Fishermen’s always does a good job,” she added.
The event was fun and featured silent and Dutch auctions and a raffle which raised a good amount of money for the association’s advocacy work. While anglers and friends gathered and talked, children scampered around the banquet hall and checked out some of the auction items, which included a kayak and a Willie drift boat.
“I was delighted to see the kids at the banquet,” said Hamilton.
The association hosts two annual derbies: the Spring Classic and the Buoy Ten Salmon Challenge held in August.
The day of the tournament was the last day to fish for spring Chinook on the Columbia River. However, fishing remains open on the Willamette, the Cowlitz, and other Columbia River tributaries.