A Brief History of Buoy 10 - An excerpt from the book Buoy 10

A Brief History of Buoy 10 - An excerpt from the book Buoy 10

The iconic Buoy 10 fishery has the greatest Chinook and coho salmon fishing in the world — from the mouth of the Columbia River, upstream 14 miles to Tongue Point, Oregon and Rocky Point, Washington. Historically several million wild Chinook and coho salmon  passed through this area each year to their spawning grounds in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and British Columbia. 


Horses were often used to pull the heavy nets full of salmon onto the sandy beaches of the Lower Columbia River.


Today about one to three million Chinook and coho salmon — of both wild and hatchery origin — return to the lower and upper Columbia and its tributaries each year to provide us with some of the finest sport salmon fishing on earth.

Pre-Lewis & Clark, native peoples harvested millions of Columbia salmon each year from the mouth to far upstream tributaries. Starting about 1870, early American settlers established a huge commercial river interception fishery based in Astoria and surrounding communities to can salmon for world export. Up to several thousand small commercial river fishing boats were used, along with gill nets, set nets, and seine nets, to harvest millions of wild salmon per year.



Environmental degradation of the Columbia’s watershed by scores of dams, water withdrawals, logging, mining, industrial, agricultural and municipal wastewater, etc., reduced wild salmon runs to about 10% of their original size. Through much experimentation and study, hatcheries help bring back large numbers of salmon and steelhead in the millions each year.

Intense wild-fish management reduced commercial and sport kill of these most valuable fish to a small percentage of the run, mostly by tribal fishers with treaty rights. Thankfully, intense scientific salmon management by Oregon, Washington, and the federal government has come close to maintaining the historic run size of both Chinook and coho salmon runs. The departments of Fish & Wildlife in Oregon and Washington are to be thanked, as well as the various federal fish agencies.

Today the biggest threat to salmon (and especially sturgeon) in the Columbia is not man, but under-regulated seal and sea lion populations which rip apart wild salmon and sturgeon before they can spawn. Their populations have increased dramatically since the inception of the Marine Mammal Protection Act in the 1970s.


A log raft tied together with heavy chains (AKA "cigar raft") ready to be pulled via steam-powered tug boat across the Columbia River Bar headed to the Bay Area for building new homes in San Francisco.


In addition to supporting our state and federal fish agencies we must support public-spirited fishery groups like the Association of Northwest Steelheaders and the Coastal Conservation Association whose members contribute to protecting wild salmon, hatchery population numbers and continued good fishing near home.

I hope you have many great and safe salmon fishing trips to the Buoy 10 fishery. Wear your lifejacket at all times and be extremely careful!

—Frank Amato


 •     •     •     •



Two words — incalculable fishing adventures! Every year from August 1 through Labor Day, the words “Buoy 10” are on the tip of every fisherman’s tongue. It is after all, the largest salmon run in the world!


A large, rusty old barge on the Washington shore is one of the landmarks of the Shipwreck Troll. Exercise extreme caution here and do not get too close to the shoreline. As seen from the barge’s point of view, the water is very shallow and numerous pilings abound, many of which will be underwater at high tide.


And that makes the other 11 months out of the year pure torture for all of the dedicated Buoy 10 devotees, because it is during that time when the Buoy 10 fishery, for all intents and purposes, will be completely shut down. All fishermen can do during this closure period is dream of next year’s season when they will once again be participating in this world-class blue-ribbon salmon fishery. 

In the interim, you can bet that fishermen will also be struggling to get their hands on all the reading material they can find regarding the Buoy 10 fishery in order to prepare themselves for the upcoming season. This book contains everything that the consummate salmon warrior needs to guide them through all aspects of the Buoy 10 experience.

To be more precise, the Buoy 10 fishery specifically defines a particular section of the Columbia River. It refers to a 14-mile stretch of river that extends from an actual red can buoy named Buoy 10, and travels upriver eastward to either Tongue Point on the Oregon side of the river, or to Rocky Point on the Washington side of the river. And depending on where you are located, the fishery varies between 4 and 6 miles wide.

To the neophyte Buoy 10 fisherman, this large expanse of river can be overwhelming and intimidating. Initially, it strikes as being an impossible piece of water to read. But it is not an impossible river to read to the millions of fishermen who have caught limits of fall chinook and coho within its boundaries year after year. In fact, the more anglers familiarize themselves with this fishery, the smaller it becomes.


Channel marker 1 (not a buoy marker) is in the lowermost section of Sand Island Troll just off of Sand Island. Located in the deep North Channel on the Washington side of the river, the North Channel is also known as a false channel because it suddenly shallows up from very deep water into flats not too far away from this marker. Keep your eyes on your depth finder for shallow water.


With the tips, tricks, maps and riggings contained in this book, it won’t be long before you too will be looking at Buoy 10 in the very same manner — as a well-defined piece of water that is extremely easy to read and very easy to pluck salmon from.

The numbers of salmon that are produced from natural spawning and those that are stocked into the Columbia from hatcheries staggers the imagination. The numerous hatcheries from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) and National fish hatcheries release millions upon millions of fall chinook and coho smolts, pre-smolts and fingerlings into the Columbia River system every year.



The great thing about the Buoy 10 fishery is that the returns of all the salmon that naturally spawn in the mainstem Columbia and all of its tributaries, as well as all of the returns that were hatchery produced, must enter the jaws of the Columbia River. It is the biggest little funnel fishery in the world! Here’s how the funnel system works.

The large part of the funnel would be the Columbia River and all of its tributaries, well over a thousand miles of various river systems. The narrowest part of the funnel is represented by the short 14-mile span of the Buoy 10 fishery itself. So naturally, the largest concentrations of fall chinook and coho are always going to be in the shortest, narrowest part of the funnel, and they are going to be in their thickest concentrations in August. Looking at the Buoy 10 fishery is that easy!


In a good year, several million returning adult chinook and
coho salmon produced from the aforementioned releases will make their debut in the Buoy 10 arena.


It is in this 14-mile stretch of river that fall chinook and coho tend to stage, or rest up, for a spell before continuing their journey up the Columbia and to its many tributaries. So not only is the largest salmon run in the world going to be funneling through this narrow area, the salmon are also going to be stacking up in copious quantities and taking up residency for a few weeks — and they are all just waiting to inhale your offering. This funneling effect is what the Buoy 10 fishery is all about!

Whether you are an accomplished fisherman or new to the sport of fishing, there is no doubt that at some time during the day your line is going to make direct contact with a chinook or coho salmon. So how do you get these salmon to bite?


Also included in the book are multiple two page maps of the area showing the boat launches, buoys and the names of the holes. 


The Buoy 10 fishery is the most wonderful salmon fishery I have ever experienced – period, exclamation mark, end of story! Once you become cued-in to the nuances of this fishery, all of which will be explained in detail in this book, you will find that catching salmon from Buoy 10’s numerous venues is an extremely easy task.

Since Buoy 10 is hands-down the most-popular salmon fishery in the world, you can also expect throngs of anglers trolling alongside you. It is without a doubt the most crowded fishery that I have ever experienced, both on the water and on the road. So if you don’t like fishing around crowds, this is not the fishery for you. On the other hand, it might just be your cup of tea, because these are the friendliest crowds I have ever encountered.

The local roads that lead to the many boat ramps are always jam-packed with cars that are often lined up several miles long. For many people it will look like rush hour traffic in Los Angeles or Portland. But don’t let those long lines prevent you from experiencing this fantastic fishery.


Hookups are quite common near channel marker 1, which is right out front of the entrance to Ilwaco Harbor. The area is quite scenic around the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse which is seen at the right-hand side of the picture. The jetty straddling the left-hand side of the picture is the popular “A” jetty, at the lowermost end of the river at Sand Island Troll. This is a great place to troll if the outgoing tide has not hit low slack at Buoy 10 itself, where you will find ample baitfish and copious quantities of coho and kings.


The only difference between the Buoy 10 fishery and rush hour traffic is that one situation occurs over land while the other takes place over brackish water. In fact, this book could have been titled, “Rush Hour Over Brackish Water,” because Buoy 10 contains both freshwater and saltwater that are either layered or are a combined mixture of the two—hence the brackish-water connotation. These brackish conditions occur primarily between the borders of the Buoy 10 fishery, although they do occur upriver somewhat above the upper Buoy 10 border to a degree. Certainly, you will not get these high densities of saltwater concentrations near Bonneville Dam and most definitely they will not be in the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam at all. As a side note, salmon bite much more aggressively when the river contains a fair amount of saltwater influence.

You are dealing with tens of thousands of anglers who live in the nearby metropolitan cities and suburbs of Portland and Salem. That being said, I can tell you with confidence that although you will experience lines miles long at times, you will not experience the same road rage that goes along with rush-hour scenarios that occur in the asphalt jungle.




Start or renew today - click on the card!


On numerous occasions, I have asked questions or inquired about directions with many people who were either waiting in line to launch their boats or to pull them out of the water. With very few exceptions, almost everyone had smiles on their faces and folks were more than willing to answer questions or share their favorite hot spots of the day. These are by far the friendliest crowds in the fishing world that I have ever experienced.

The closest thing to road rage that you might encounter in the Buoy 10 stadium might be called ‘route rage’, because you will be vying to intercept salmon that are swimming in specific travel lanes en route to their native birth water — and you are going to be the person doing the catching!


Choppy water at the mouth of the Columbia. Gary Lewis photo


And man, are these fish tasty! The vast majority of these fi sh are entering the estuary fresh and frisky straight from the ocean, just loaded with fat containing those omega-3 fatty acids that are so good for your heart. And that is also what makes Buoy 10 chinook and coho the best-eating salmon specimens to bake, smoke or can.

All the tools that you need to put the serious hurtin’ on chinook and coho from the Buoy 10 fishery are contained within the pages of this book. It won’t be long before you will be completely familiar with this fishery. In a matter of time you will be the person calling the shots, advising fellow compatriots to do things like, ‘fish by the Million Dollar Outhouse’ or ‘start your upstream troll at the Green Line’. Whether you are an accomplished fisherman or new to the sport of fishing, there is no doubt that at some time during the day your line is going to make direct contact with a chinook or coho salmon. So how do you get these salmon to bite?

—Larry Ellis




Back to blog

1 comment

I’m a retired fisherman. I would love to read the book

Mike Gelfond

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.