Thursday (Aug. 26) is the last day that anglers can keep Chinook in the Buoy 10 fishery happening right now at the mouth of the Columbia River near Astoria, Ore.
The Chinook retention season will shut down early as of 12:01 a.m. Friday morning. That was the decision of a bi-state compact hearing held Wednesday.
The reason for the early closure was the higher-than-expected harvest of fall Chinook salmon during the fishery so far.
The states had set a closing date for the Chinook fishery of Sept. 6, but the states decided that the high catch could push the mortality impact on protected wild fall tule Chinook too high.
The states did leave open the retention of coho salmon in the fishery, with a two-fish daily limit until Sept. 7, when the daily limit of coho will be raised to three.
The news will definitely dampen what had been a festival atmosphere in the communities along the lower Columbia.
Sport anglers were having the best year they have had in many years. The fishery is the largest salmon sport fishery in the lower 48 states, and although the last few years have seen poor runs and tepid fishing, this year was proving much different.
“It’s been pretty good,” said fishing guide Matt Eleazer of Eastfork Outfitters based in Battle Ground. “I’ve been getting my boat limits every day lately.”
However, this isn’t an easy fishery, even when there are plentiful salmon to be caught, and while knowledgeable fishermen do well, less seasoned anglers often struggle.
“It hasn’t been good for everybody,” added Eleazer. “If you aren’t on them when the bite happens, you are not catching fish.”
The Buoy 10 fishery is named after the No. 10 buoy where the Columbia River empties into the Pacific Ocean, but the fishery area is huge. The Columbia River is five miles wide, and the fishery reaches from Buoy 10 up to Tongue Point. That means the schools have plenty of area to roam.
They are prone to collect in good numbers in storied areas with names like The Sawdust Pile, The Church Hole, Marker One, and others. Savvy anglers know how to fish these reaches, and they know how to work the all-important tide changes.
Eleazer had been getting a lot of his fish right at the Buoy 10 itself by working the slack tide ahead of the incoming tides. Fishing has been good, but he has not been alone.
“Buoy 10 really fired off today,” Eleazer said. “The fishing was great right at the tide change, and I’ll bet there was 500 boats out there.”
This year nearly 600,000 adult Chinook were expected, and the coho run could be well over 1 million adults. Anglers can keep one Chinook today as part of a two fish limit. Anglers can keep two coho a day. Only adipose fin-clipped hatchery coho may be retained.
Starting Sept. 7, the daily limit will be three hatchery coho.
Eleazer had been getting his fish by trolling anchovies, herring, and spinners, and he was running both straight flashers and the 360 flashers, with no apparent favorite among the salmon. Both are drawing bites.
Iconic angler Buzz Ramsey has also sampled the fishing recently, and his bites had come while trolling bait or the Yakima Bait Spinfish in 4.0.
“We have been getting about half of our fish on the Spinfish, and half on bait,” he said.
Ramsey has been fishing his Spinfish with a single barbless siwash hook attached with a swivel. All salmon fishing in the Columbia requires the use of barbless hooks.
The Chinook were also running a very nice size this year, as opposed to the numbers of smaller fish in recent years.
Anglers can still fish for coho salmon, and most of the same gears work for them as work for Chinook, but the coho tend to hold higher in the water column. Instead of working along the bottom, anglers’ intent on coho should stick to fishing the top 20 feet. Ramsey suggests fishing 30 feet off a line-counter reel.
Buoy 10 fishing centers on tides, and the recent heavy tides have been bringing in fresh schools. Coho have been showing in stronger numbers every day. Both Ramsey and Eleazer say about half the coho they have caught have been keep-able hatchery fish.
Ramsey said that the main catch at the Buoy 10 itself has been coho, so anglers can still fish that area with confidence. He also reminds anglers that the ocean is still open for Chinook, and the main stem Columbia River above Tongue Point is still open for Chinook. Those waters are also open for coho.
The coho can also be found in shallow water, such as the Desdemona Sands, during the high tide. The schools can move onto those sand flats in very good numbers.
Anglers are advised not to target the Chinook, even if they plan to release them. If the incidental catch of Chinook gets too high in the coho-only fishery, managers may shut the coho season down.
The best news from the closure is that without anglers removing as many fall Chinook below tongue Point, more Chinook will be available for anglers in the Vancouver area, where fishing has already been pretty good.
Boating anglers new to the Buoy 10 fishery should use caution. With so many boats on the water accidents can happen, and often do. Also, keep a look out for fish-stealing sea lions. They love the Buoy 10 fishery, too.
Looking ahead to the next week or so, both men were optimistic.
“The tides on Labor Day look spectacular,” Ramsey said.
Eleazer said it is time to get out there, after a string of disappointing years.
“This is it,” he said. “This is the year we have been waiting for.”
Terry Otto offers a weekly southwest Washington fishing report and forecast online in “The Guide Forecast” at www.theguidesforecast.com
Guided trips: Eastfork Outfitters: 360-687-3474 and online at www.columbiasalmonguide.com