Autumn Opps

How have you done squeezing every bit of fishing and hunting opportunity you could find out of 2021? It’s been quite a year. Of course, COVID kept things plenty weird. Near 120° heat in June punctuated how volatile our weather systems have become. Tinder dry forests. Low water. But through it all there’s been surprisingly robust fishing and hunting opportunity around the region.

October opens some exciting doors for outdoors-folk. The high points are easy, Coho, deer, Chinook, upland game birds.

Overlooked, is taking a daytrip to watch kokanee storm out of Odell Lake and into Trapper Creek. Or, taking a fall drive on any one of dozens of scenic byways across the region. Trout are all-but-forgotten this time of year, especially in the high country before the first snow. Then there’s coastal cutthroat to pursue.

If you haven’t done it before, make this the year you do and if you do already…this is just a reminder. The crabbing’s been phenomenal!

Just a couple days ago we soaked half a dozen traps, 3 square ones and 3 round ones. We also dropped a couple crab rings. I host an annual crab trip with friends from the neighborhood and this year was our best effort in a decade of doing these trips. We caught over 100 keeper crab in just 4 hours and kept 7 limits, 84 crab, even though we could have kept more.

Crabbing in Oregon is a fisheries management success story. It’s one of the rare instances where recreational and commercial interests can successfully coexist without exhausting the resource.

Between Oregon, Washington and California, Oregon allows crabbers to keep the smallest sized Dungeness crabs, those that measure 5-3/4″ across the back and are males can be kept. All females must be released. This management strategy has allowed Oregon to have wide open seasons with the only closure occurring in the ocean October 16th-November 30th. There are no closures in the bays or lower Columbia River estuary. Crab populations remain strong and have been that way, even with intense recreational and commercial pressure, for decades.

Washington’s a different story. Where Oregon’s pretty much the wild-west with few closures you will want to check the regs for Washington to see what’s open and what’s closed. For the most part, there’s plenty of opportunity this time of year to toss a trap and mine for tasty Dungeness crab. Here’s where you’ll find info on seasons:

Our trip took us to Hammond, the western-most launch on the Oregon-side of the Columbia, where we made a short run downriver to our first drop, in 30′ of water. Those were our two rings. Then we went another ¼ mile and dropped our square traps in 35′ to 45′ of water. Then we set our last three traps, round ones, in 35′ to 40′ of water down by Buoy 20′.

Our strategy…pull the rings every 45 minutes, the square traps every hour and a half and let the round traps soak the full four hours. The outcome was good, the rings yielded 4 to 6 keepers with each pull. The square traps were the most productive, we pulled them a couple times and on the second pull one of the traps was filled to capacity with all male crab and about 20 keepers. The round traps did well too.

I’ve learned (always the hard way) that if you let those square traps soak too long the crab find a way out. More than once I’ve pulled them and they were empty and the bait was gone with a chicken thigh bone picked clean in the bait bag. Don’t ask me how they do it but I will say that given the chance, crab are very effective in cleaning bait down to bare bones.

Why chicken? No doubt salmon or tuna heads work and work well but seals like that bait too and will, on occasion, get into your traps. They don’t care for chicken but crab do. If you want to step it up a bit you can puncture a can of tuna fish and throw it in the trap or use a garlic scent you’d use for fishing to add some kick to your chicken parts.

Our deep traps, and this is the first year I’ve fished in 45′ of water, for crab did really well. I’m definitely going to do more of that. Just make sure you have plenty of rope.

There’s some nice soft tides on the 12th, 13th and 14th and again on 26th through the 30th. These tides allow you to soak your round traps all day and you can crab for hours and hours because there isn’t much of a tidal push.

This year’s silver return didn’t materialize as forecast on the Columbia. It was substantially downgraded which was no surprise to anyone fishing the Buoy 10 area. There were definitely good days but for anyone that’s fished those big returns of 750,000 or more, you know how incredibly good it can be. The promise of 1.5 million kept a lot of anglers trying and waiting for peak fishing but it never really happened. It was good, and some days very good, but never

“epic”. Still, there are Coho to be had up and down the coast and in the Columbia. Expect good fishing for silvers in the rivers through October and into November. Count the Cowlitz, Lewis, Sandy and Clackamas Rivers all as solid choices.

And pick your poison…bobber and jig, twitching jigs, casting spinners, drift fishing bait, fishing bait under a bobber, casting or backtrolling plugs and backbouncing are all good tactics for catching these wonderful fish.

For hunters its deer season. If you’ve done your homework, scouted, put your time in and have a plan you’re likely done already. And if you haven’t, you’ll learn, that’s the beauty of big game hunting, the lessons are many with lots of sweat equity and time needed to be successful.

For a few hunters, fall is their time to walk vast fields and high desert canyons for game birds.

Whether it’s big game or birds you’ve probably spent the year preparing for it. Very few hunters go on a whim…it’s a year-long process that requires the right gear, physical training, preparation and practice so when that moment presents itself, you’re ready.

Fishing on the other hand can be a spur-of-the-moment decision. Hook the boat up and go. Grab a rod and go bank fishing.

Some fall fishing pursuits may require a bit more thought and preparation. A weekend in the mountains for instance. Be sure you have enough gear so that if it gets cold or you get stranded you’ll be OK. Freeze-dried foods make it easy to load up a couple hearty meals.

Coastal cutthroat are definitely a seasonal pursuit. October’s a good month to chase them particularly in the smaller coastal rivers and streams that aren’t fished for salmon. You’ll have it all to yourself. Spinners, like Roostertails in black, yellow or Coach Dog or Panther Martin spinners in gold (gold blade with a dark body) are killers. Streamers like a Clouser Minnow, Zonker or Black Ghost are all good fly choices.

And no mention of fall is complete without fall chinook. From coastal bays to the Columbia there’s ample opportunity. The Columbia’s been particularly giving this year with trollers scoring using 360 flashers and Brad’s Super Baits on downstream trolls from The Fishery downriver. There’s more fish upriver too. Eastern Washington at the Hanford Reach will see a continual reloading of fish as the run trickles in and pushes upriver through the entire month.

There are hundreds of other great options across the Northwest if you take a few minutes and look. Don’t find yourself saying “if only” when the weather changes, seasons end and everything shuts down.

There’s already snow at timberline so cooling water, rain and seasonal weather systems will activate fish and wildlife as they’re signaled that winter’s on the way. For you it should send the same signal to get out and squeeze what’s left of fall into outdoor activity. Winter will be here soon and with it the choices get increasingly narrow. Bundle up, build a fire and breathe in what’s left of fall as you enjoy the spectrum of choices October offers. The clock’s ticking.