It’s usually non-stop action for Salmon all year long in the Pacific Northwest, but the finest fishing is without a doubt at Buoy 10.
Just two hours northwest of Portland, at the mouth of the Columbia River, bobs a humble shipping marker. But that unassuming red hunk of floating metal isn’t just a shipping marker; it’s the symbol of the most popular and productive salmon fishery in the Lower 48.
Every late summer the expansive Columbia River estuary, bordered by Washington on the north and Oregon on the south, entices anglers by the thousands, but there usually is plenty of space and fish to go around once you get past the hordes of enthusiastic salmon-seekers. If you live nearby, bring your boat (16-foot Deep V minimum). Boat ramps, bait shops, overnight accommodations and various supplies and services are located in Astoria, Warrenton and Hammond on the Oregon side and Chinook, Ilwaco and the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington. If you live far away and plan on vacationing in the region, pick an experienced fishing guide from a local website and spend some time learning about the area. You won’t regret it.
Graveyard of the Pacific
The Columbia River Bar is the most dangerous in the world, and has been dubbed the Graveyard of the Pacific by river pilots. But don’t let that scare you off. The very same massive tidal exchanges that create the treacherous bar conditions are also the same tidal exchanges that bring in the fish. But because of that, the estuary can get rough quickly. Wind frequently picks up in the late morning or afternoon, but that’s just a general rule. The wind is fickle, and can start blowing at any time. The outgoing currents can make boating dangerous. upstream areas are safer for smaller vessels, where conditions tend to be calmer. No matter what, this is a place of unpredictable waters, where you should always wear a life jacket, no matter how dumb it makes you look.
Fishing Buoy 10
Each year, fishing for Chinook and adipose fin-clipped Coho opens on August 1st, but the Buoy 10 fishery can start out slowly, before salmon numbers have has a chance to build up. Most anglers don’t rush out at the opener. However, early Coho fishing can be good near the buoy when clusters of fish flush in with the tides. Some large chinook always seem to wander into the estuary and are snagged near the Astoria-Megler Bridge on day one.
Then things start getting hot around mid-August, and often remain quite productive until well after Labor Day. In fact, the Coho continue to bite until late September, usually after most anglers have abandoned the area in favor of other salmon fisheries.
Fishing usually is best in low-light, during the golden hour, but salmon can be legally taken during all daylight hours. More important than the numbers on the clock are the ones on the tide table. Much of the time, anglers begin a low slack at Buoy 10 and progressively troll inland as the incoming tide carries in the fish. Usually the first half of flood tide is better than the second half. Fishing frequently gets better again at high slack, when the river begins to ebb. Troll downstream with the outgoing tide. The first half of ebb tide also is usually better than the later stage.
According to the experts, fishing is a little better closer to Buoy 10 during large tides, while a smaller tide can ignite better fishing upriver.
Most anglers troll herring or spinners and plugs. Many seasoned anglers preferthe green label size of herring because the fish tend to strike it harder than the bigger baits.
Spring chinook and steelhead pass through the estuary but are more commonly caught upriver. The estuary also is one of the best places on the Columbia to catch sturgeon.
For more on how thrilling the fishing can be at Buoy 10, here’s a quick video:
Sources: columbian.com | buoy10salmon.com | salmonuniversity.com | bestfishinginamerica.com