The year is pushing relentlessly toward autumn, and if you haven’t yet participated in this Summer of the Salmon, your choices are dwindling.
The current chance, and one of the best, is a short one. The “Buoy 10” chinook fishery at the bottom end of the Columbia River, should peak this week and next, and will continue as a coho-only season after Sept. 1. So it’s move butt, buddy, if you want a shot at these fall chinook averaging 16 to 20-plus pounds and the occasional jumbo king in the 40-pound class.
The fishery this year should be gunnysack. Biologists predict a run of some 650,000 adult fall chinook, which would be the second-largest return in recent history, behind only the run of 750,000 fish in 1987. Action started slowly on the Aug. 1 opener, as expected, but has been building quickly. State creel checks early last week showed 42 boats and 106 anglers with 7 chinook and 2 coho. You can monitor the creel checks at www.wdfw.wa.gov; then fishing, then fishing reports and fish counts, then fishing creel report, then southwest Washington buoy 10.
The fishery is not complicated in the sense that tackle and techniques are relatively simple, but fairly sophisticated in the sense that crucial factors such as finding the schools of chinook in 15 miles of big water and learning channel and sand bar locations, plus handling often-rough wind, current and tide conditions, can require a fairly extensive degree of know-how. The best way to learn buoy 10 is to hire a charter your first time out, and there are a number of guides and charters available in the area (see the accompanying sidebar for suggestions).
The fishery years ago concentrated on a mile or so of water at the very bottom end of the river, from the channel off Ilwaco out to the deadline at buoy number 10 in the line running oceanward, thus the name. Crowds of boats would anticipate fish coming in on the flood tide and be waiting at the buoy, fishing them upriver as the tide moved in, and running back to do it all again.
That still happens, but knowledgeable anglers have learned the big kings can be taken not only at the mouth, but way upriver as well, and they’ve learned where and how to do it while getting away from some of the crowd. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Joe Hymer in the agency’s Vancouver office said probably the most popular fishing pattern involves the last half of the flood and the first half of the ebb, starting somewhere down around buoy 10 on the flood and working upriver to the area above the Megler-Astoria bridge, then following the ebb back downstream. The fish, Hymer said, tend to go up and back with the tides, waiting for the first fall rains and water temperature changes to shoot on upriver.
There are launch facilities at the Ilwaco boat basin and at Cape Disappointment State Park, both close to the river mouth; a hoist and ramp at the town of Chinook; and, Hymer said, a pay launch for small boats above the Astoria bridge, at Deep River.
The fishery is a trolling show, close to bottom in the channels and along the edges of the sand bars, in water anywhere from 15 to 45 feet or deeper. Not many fishermen use downriggers, preferring divers — Deep Six, Dipsy, Jet Diver and others — or a mooching or drop sinker of 4 to 12 ounces, to get down to the comfort zone. A standard setup, Hymer said, would be main line; diver; a Fish Flash, Kone Zone or other attractor about a foot behind the diver; 5 to 6 feet of 15-pound or heavier leader; then bait or lure. A plug-cut herring, dyed and cured, on a standard 2-hook mooching rig, is effective, and barbed hooks are okay in this fishery, Hymer said.
Large spinners of various types are very popular, he said, in red/white, green/blue spots, or any of a lot of other colors and combinations. Shawn Davidson at Ted’s Sport Center in Lynnwood said by far his best Buoy 10 seller is the Bob Toman spinner, a single-blade lure with three different blade styles. The Thumper and Cascade blades are the most popular, he said, in sizes 5 and 7. Colors vary widely, but Davidson said red/white is good, along with yellow/chartreuse and the new black/red and black/white combinations.
“Dress it up by adding a mini-squid in green glow, chartreuse, red or pink, and you should be in business,” he said.
Knowledgeable buoy 10 fishermen say the choice of bait or lure is less critical than finding schools of chinook and putting your gear in their faces. If you’re new to the fishery, go where the crowds are. Follow the guide boats. Watch what successful anglers are using. But be aware that this is not a scenario for careless amateurs — the big river kills people every year who were under-boated, or who didn’t pay attention to weather and tide conditions.
The limit is 2 salmon daily, only one chinook, either hatchery or wild, and clipped hatchery coho only. Remember that you’ll need the Columbia River endorsement on your license. Coho generally offer good fishing in September and on into October, but the run this year is expected to be a mediocre one.
Shore fishermen gather on the Cape Disappointment jetty each year, casting and drifting a setup consisting of a big float, a mooching sinker and herring, mostly on the flood tide. They catch a few chinook, Hymer said, but the coho fishing is the better of the two. This year, however, the Corps of Engineers is doing repair work on the jetty, and only about half the area will be open to anglers.