Chelan Falls and Wells Dam Chinook

by Jason Brooks, July 04, 2018

Pulling up to the boat launch in the pre-dawn I noticed how warm the morning air was. It was going to be another hot July day in North-central Washington. Un-latching the tie down straps to the boat and making sure the plug was installed it was time to get out on the water before the sun came up. I had grown up here, near the small tourist town of Chelan, and the cool water from Lake Chelan ran down intake pipes to a power plant on the Columbia river. It is the cold water that makes this area a great place to intercept Chinook. To add to this fishery, net-pens have been placed here for more fish to call home and return to each fall specifically for sport anglers. If we didn’t catch any fish then a bit further upriver was the Wells Dam fishery that is home to another hatchery and where the fish will “stack up” before climbing the fish ladders on their way to the famed “Brewster Pool”.

Most anglers drive right by the Chelan Falls and Wells Dam fisheries on their way to Brewster and they are passing by some of the best fishing. Chelan Falls is a relatively “easy” place to fish, including launching your boat and getting to the fishing grounds. With two launches nearby, with the “BeeBee Park” as the most popular having two lanes and camping. There is single ramp launch across the river nestled beside an apple storage shed. Both parks offer ample parking and day use facilities.

The net pens located inside of the Chelan River outlet to the Columbia came about several years ago. In 2009 the Chelan County PUD decided to move the fish rearing facility at Turtle Island to Chelan Falls. Turtle Island is located two miles upriver from Rocky Reach Dam near Wenatchee and the hatchery was to mitigate any lost salmon due to the construction of the dam. Construction began in 2010 and the net pens were operations soon after. This created a new fishery and locals kept it quiet for a few years. Now it is becoming popular with the short drive from the tourist town of Chelan and the calm waters without needing a big boat or worry of turbulence created from the dam’s.

Chelan Falls is a trolling game with in-line flashers such as the “Big Al’s Fish Flash” in red, green, chartreuse, and gold being popular colors. The use of a Superbait is standard but don’t overlook cut-plug herring that you have soaked for a day in Pro-Cure’s Brine-n-Bite Complete and then covered in rock salt and kept on ice. The water temperatures of the Columbia here is very warm which is why you need to brine your baits. Colors for spoons, plugs and Superbaits should be hot orange, red, or chartreuse with the “Hot Tamale” Superbait being the most popular. Another option is to use a Double D Dodger with a short 18-24 inch stiff leader of 25-pound Izorline Platinum to a Mack’s Lure Wiggle Hoochie in hot pink UV. This set-up also works for Sockeye when the fish arrive in enough numbers to target them. As of late June the run was updated to 209,000 and WDFW announced a season starting July 1st. Be sure to check the WDFW website for updates.

Another option is pulling plugs such as the MagLip 5.0, 4.5’s and Brad’s KillerFish K14’s. Again try bright colors such as orange, fire tiger, fickle pickle, kandy korn or double trouble. For either option, flasher/bait or plugs fish them with a sliding dropper in 8 to 12 ounces. This allows you to get your gear down to the fish and no downriggers are needed for this “easy” fishery. Watch your depth finder and you will also notice fish rolling around you. This can make it a bit confusing on which depth to fish but once you figure out where they are holding near the cold water being dumped into the Columbia from Lake Chelan you will notice the fish stacked up. Drop your gear to the fish here but if you are out in the main Columbia and away from the outlet then vary your depths. Run one rod at ten feet and stagger them five feet until you get to within ten feet of the bottom as weeds can grow here due to the warm water and mess up your gear. Once you start catching fish then adjust the other rods to that depth. You can use two rods with the endorsement and also make sure you have the Columbia River endorsement as well.

You will notice where the boat will congregate around the outlet of the Chelan River but don’t think this is the only place you can catch fish. Right out in front of the boat launch on the Douglas County side is a great place to troll, as well as the Chelan County shoreline near the old bridge supports.

This is an early morning fishery because the bright sunlight in July will force the fish to dive deep and hug the bottom where the weeds make it difficult for you to fish. The heat also pushes most anglers off of the water. Come back in the evening once the sun goes behind the hills and creates a shadow over the river for a few hours of good fishing on the evening bite.

Since you’re in the area don’t overlook Wells Dam later in the month as the river level start to regulate with the snow runoff complete. But be aware this is a high turbulent fishery with the dam putting out water which can rise and drop quickly. Most anglers target the Chelan County side as this area is the outlet and intake for the hatchery located here. But the dam has fish ladders on both sides so you can fish either as long as you stay below the markers that define the fishing boundary. The Chelan County side also offers a unique bank angler opportunity for Columbia river summer chinook.

Bank anglers are very successful here as you are fishing right were the chinook are staging to either go up the fish ladder or go into the hatchery. Again, stay below the fishing boundary markers. A long and stout casting rod is your best bet with a 5000 series reel spooled with fifty-pound braid. Plugs and spoons are cast out as far as they can be thrown and then retrieved. Most shore anglers wade out to their waist as the water here is fairly calm, warm and the bottom is large rocks about the size of a softball. This allows anglers to fish the hardware without worry of getting them stuck in the rocks and losing gear. One of the most popular spoons is the “Pot-o-Gold” hammered gold with orange stripe. Be sure to only use single point hooks for this fishery. Other options are buzz bombs or a Superbait with a 2-ounce “banana” weight two feet in front.

You don’t need to go all the way to Brewster to catch “Brewster Pool” bound Chinook. Instead, save the extra hour drive time and head to Chelan Falls or give Well’s Dam a try. You will be surprised as the ease of the Chelan Falls fishery and how productive it can be. Wells dam provides an opportunity for those that might be vacationing in the area but didn’t bring the fishing boat as it has great bank fishing.


Jason Brooks hails from North-Central Washington. The son of a fishing guide, Jason is an avid hunter, angler, outdoor photographer and published writer. He resides in Puyallup with his wife and two boys.


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