The Buoy Ten fishery, the largest salmon fishery in the lower 48 states, will finally get going Friday at the mouth of the Columbia River.
In good years the fishery starts on Aug. 1, but this has not been a good year for salmon. Projections for this year’s fall salmon runs are weak, especially for coho, and because of that anglers will be working within a two-week season, and a one-salmon daily limit.
The Buoy Ten Chinook retention season will end on Aug. 27. Anglers may fish for coho salmon through Sept. 22.
The two-week season for Chinook is the shortest in decades. Managers were forced to limit seasons in the Columbia River in response to the poor projections.
About 438,300 fall Chinook should enter the Columbia this year, a slight improvement over last year. Those should include 233,400 Upriver Brights, a high-quality fish headed for the Hanford Reach. Only 181,000 coho adults are expected to return to the Columbia this year.
Coho returns last year came in at about one-third of the projected 905,000 adults that were expected.
The ocean salmon seasons were better than expected this summer, which has given some guides and anglers optimism that the Columbia returns may also be better than expected.
“I am not afraid to say the coho projection is way off after seeing our performance from the early fisheries out in the ocean,” said fishing guide Bill Monroe Jr., of Bill Monroe Outdoors. “I think that we are due for a lot more than what they forecasted.”
There is also some optimism for the Chinook run. The Alaska and Canada commercial fleets fished very little this year, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Columbia River stocks often spend time up north and many are intercepted by commercial fishers. That lack of pressure could mean more Chinook returning to the Columbia.
Even so, Monroe laments the fact that even if the projections were way off, anglers will see little benefit from any extra fish.
“(Fisheries managers) made it very clear that we are not going to get any extra days,” said Monroe.
In fact, the ultra-conservative approach that managers necessarily took to manage the poor returns will mean possible closures and short daily limits for many fisheries, not just at Buoy Ten. It has also left anglers to try and figure out the fishing sections and open seasons along the Columbia. Anglers are looking at a confusing array of regulations this fall.
While the projections are fair-to-poor at best, and the season is short, most fishermen are still looking forward to this fishery.
This is a trolling show, with guides and anglers pulling a variety of flashers and baits designed to lure the salmon into biting, and tides are a key component to that bite.
Monroe reports that the tides are pretty good for the first few days, with small tidal exchanges. However, the tides will run big during the middle of the fishery, which makes for tough fishing.
“It’s very difficult to get them to bite with all that current,” said Monroe. So, he is looking forward to those first small-tide days.
That is also the case for guide Dan Ponciano of Dan Ponciano Guide Service, who is sure we will get an early preview of the fishery within those first few days.
“We’re going to find out how good it will be in the first two or three days,” said Ponciano. “I’m hoping for the best and expecting the worst. We’ve got some good tides. They haven’t been fished on yet, too.”
Monroe expects to spend his early days targeting the mouth of the Columbia out by the Buoy Ten itself, while Ponciano will probably look to the channels above the Astoria-Megler Bridge. Both areas are well-known locations that give up a lot of salmon each year.
Other good spots to search include the Church hole along the Washington side, the sawdust pile near Hammond, Ore., and the channel in the Astoria East Mooring Basin. All will produce with the right conditions.
Most anglers target the larger Chinook salmon, which return earlier than the coho. The one-salmon limit may discourage fishers from keeping any of the smaller coho. However, if anglers do catch a big, hatchery coho that resolve may be tested.
While anglers may only keep one salmon a day, they are allowed to keep their gear in the water fishing until every angler in the boat has their limit. Barbless hooks are also required for all salmon fishing within the Columbia River. Only adipose fin-clipped hatchery coho may be retained.
For a list of river sections and their respective open days, anglers can check the ODFW Columbia Zone fishing reports at: https://myodfw.com/recreation-report/fishing-report/columbia-zone
Anglers are reminded that state officials will keep an eye on this usually-crowded fishery to see if everyone is following the COVID-19 guidelines on social distancing to prevent the spread of the disease. People should avoid crowding at the boat launches and cleaning stations whenever possible. There is a risk that state officials could close the fishery if anglers do not follow safe practices.
Dan Ponciano, (360) 607-8511, http://columbiariverfishing.com/
Bill Monroe Jr, (503) 702-4028, https://billmonroeoutdoors.com/