Bitten at Buoy 10

Coho anglers face hurdles on lower Columbia, and then there are sea lions

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ASTORIA, Ore. — “There’s a sea lion heading your way!”

The warning was shouted from a neighboring boat, so I really put the pressure on the Chinook I was fighting to bring him to the net. However, he was a big one, and he wasn’t to be horsed.

Once the reel started screaming I knew the big pinniped had the fish, and once that happens it’s usually over. After a while I realized he was going to win. So I clamped down on the line until it broke.

Sea lion 1, myself 0.

Sea lions are a fact of life when you are fishing at Buoy 10, the mark that divides the mouth of the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. When the salmon show up, the sea lions are sure to follow. While it has happened to me before, it still stings when they take your fish.

My host for the Aug. 30 trip, legendary Northwest fisherman Buzz Ramsey of Yakima Bait, offered condolences, and then we tried again. A 10 hour day resulted in just one Chinook kept, two lost, and one released. We hooked no coho that day.

Chinook fishing is now closed at Buoy 10, but the coho fishery will stay open and extend into October. For the fishermen that stick with it, the coho bring relief from the crazy crowds that chase the larger Chinook. Coho, or silvers as they are sometimes called, average only about 6 to 12 pounds, while the Chinook can run up to 40 pounds.

There are two runs of coho, an early run that passes through Buoy 10 mostly during the first two weeks of September, and a late run that moves through in late September and into October. About 231,700 early silvers, and another 154,600 late returning coho are expected. These runs are significantly lower than the million fish return of 2014.

Early catch rates of coho at Buoy 10 have been low so far this year, and many fish caught were wild and needed to be released. Keep-able hatchery coho have a clipped adipose fin.

ODFW Biologist Jimmy Watts says anglers shouldn’t worry yet.

“Catches at Buoy 10 are not necessarily a good indicator of the coming runs,” Watts said. “The count at Bonneville Dam is the best indicator.”

Watts reports that the Bonneville counts this year are slightly higher than this time last year.

Early run coho spend their time at sea south along the Oregon Coast. The late run feeds to the north. Watts says that ocean seasons along Oregon only caught about one quarter of the quota, but ocean coho along the Washington coast did well, taking almost the entire quota.

“That may suggest that the late component maybe the stronger of the two runs,” Watts said.

If you fish for Chinook, you will have to change your tactics for coho, according to Ramsey.

“The coho are shallower and are at 15 to 20 feet deep,” Ramsey said.

He says they like a slightly smaller bait, too. Instead of the standard 6.5 Mulkey Spinner, he suggests downsizing to the 5.5 size. When it comes to colors, he says coho like pink.

While the runs are low this year, there will be fish available at this fishery for another month. However, if you go, keep your distance from the sea lions if you want to take home your catch.