CHINOOK — Here’s what makes the late-summer Buoy 10 salmon season at the mouth of the Columbia River so special. Here’s the reason the daily boat count in the lower miles of the big river will swell into the hundreds within a couple of weeks.
“You go out expecting you’ll probably catch a fish, maybe several fish, and you likely will,” said John North, a Columbia River fishery manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Yeah, the weather’s normally great and the Columbia estuary in the early morning has its own magic.
But fall chinook salmon are big, tasty and not-too-hard to catch at Buoy 10, the name given to the 16 miles between Buoy No. 10 at the Columbia River mouth and the line between Tongue Point in Oregon and Rocky Point in Washington.
The chinook season opens today and is scheduled through Sept. 1, although could close early if fishing is too good. A big fall chinook run of 678,600 is forecast to enter the Columbia between today and November.
Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said anglers are projected to catch 20,000 adult chinook and 13,600 hatchery coho. Coho-only fishing stays open in September after chinook retention ends.
A year ago, 19,500 chinook were taken.
Robert Moxley of Newberg, Ore., a member of the bistate Columbia River recreational fishing advisory group, said good fishing begins as early as today at Buoy 10 without the crowds of mid-month.
Moxley said there are Rogue River-origin chinook that return early to Youngs Bay. He called them “13-pound footballs.”
Shallow water at the entrance to Youngs Bay causes those fish to fall back on ebb tides to the green buoy line and Warrenton Fiber sawdust pile area on the Oregon side.
“You can hammer them in the first week of August on small, outgoing tides,” Moxley said. “Blind Channel (on the Washington side upstream of the bridge) will also be good and the fish are bigger.”
Jack Glass of Hookup Guide Service in Troutdale, Ore., said he starts at Buoy 10 about Aug. 10.
“I used to start Aug. 15 historically because I knew the fish would be there,” he said. “But with these selective fisheries (in Youngs Bay) that Rogue stock moves in earlier.”
Glass said he expects the Columbia River to be a bit warmer this August and that often makes for a good bite on spinners.
“It’s good to fish half and half (half herring, half spinners) to start, but years of low to medium snowpack the spinner bite tends to dominate.”
North said plenty of chinook get taken on spinners.
“I haven’t used herring in 10 years,” he said.
What’s the most important thing for anglers to remember?
“You got to use barbless hooks this year,” Glass said. “Be sure your hooks are sharp.”
While using 16 ounces of lead, or even 20 ounces, reduces the fun of fighting the fish, it greatly improves the bite by keeping the offering close to the bottom, he said.
“I use a 24-inch lead line and it’s not dragging, but it’s tapping bottom,” he said.
Tides are key, said Glass.
On a strong incoming tide, he fishes near Hammond on the Oregon side, or the “church hole” or upstream of the Astoria bridge on the Washington side. On an ebb tide, the Oregon side upstream the bridge is hard to beat, he added.
Guide Lance Fisher of Oregon said the first good day of chinook fishing at Buoy 10 will be Aug. 14.
“Tides are everything down there,” Fisher said.
And don’t become too enamored with a piece of water because a few fish were caught.
“You fish different parts of the river at different points in the tide,” he said. “Lots of people get on a location and don’t want to move. That’s part of learning Buoy 10 is learning when it’s time to move.”
Fisher agreed with Glass that 2013 is likely to be a good year for spinners due to lower, warmer water.”
“You’ve got to be flexible with your bait,” he said. “I think this will be a spinner year and I’m a herring fisherman.”