Bill Monroe Jr. nets a salmon for Jake Gregg.
Most fishing guides would agree that the best time to have your line in the water, especially in the Astoria-Megler Bridge area, is during high slack and on the first half of the outgoing tide. If high slack just happens to coincide with the crack of dawn, you’ve hit paydirt. To most experienced Buoy 10-ers, this is not just the best tide to fish, it is the only tide to fish!
When the tide reaches high slack the salmon have, for the most part, been pushed into the river up to or past the Astoria-Megler Bridge by a strong incoming tide. At the turn of high tide, you are going to be fishing either just above or below the Astoria-Megler Bridge, adjacent to Desdemona Sands, either in the north channel on the Washington side or the south channel on the Oregon side.
On the Washington side you might be trolling at Million Dollar Outhouse, Shipwreck, or inside the Blind Channel or Church Hole.
Ebb tide, also known as the outgoing tide, is when the tide reaches high slack and then starts to flow back to sea. During this time, salmon will turn around and face upstream, pointing their noses into the current. This is the time to perform a downstream troll.
The rule of thumb at Buoy 10 is that the best bite of the day is at the turn of high tide and through the first half of the ebb.
For the sake of discussion, let’s put ourselves back at low slack at the number 10 buoy starting at sunrise. You started fishing at 5:30 a.m. at Buoy 10 right at low slack, and you have been deploy-ing a combination of back-trolling and forward-trolling techniques during the last half of the incoming tide. You are now just upriver from the Astoria-Megler Bridge and have the rare opportunity of fishing this special turn of the tide at or around 11:30 am.
This scenario would set you up for fishing the Buoy 10 daily double — fishing both low slack and the incoming tide, and high slack and the out-going tide in the same day.
Given the above circumstances, by 11:30 a.m. or 12:00 p.m. the wind should not be too much of a problem, so you might be able to fish the first or second hour of the outgoing tide. Of course if you see any signs of west winds with white caps, make tracks for home — and the sooner, the better.
That being said, most guides prefer fishing the first half of the outgoing high tide, especially when the aforementioned tide occurs within one hour of sunrise and when the tide exchange is less than 7 feet, with a 4- to 5-foot tide exchange being ideal.
I agree whole-heartedly with this practice. The argument here is that during these “softer” tide exchanges, fish tend to stack up and hold up in the estuary for longer periods of time. And the argument definitely holds water. It is almost a guarantee that most of the salmon that came in with the large incoming tide are going to be at or above the Astoria-Megler Bridge by the time high tide rolls around. On softer tide exchanges, the salmon will not tend to ride a soft tide back out to sea.
Gary Lewis with the best coho of the day. These fish are at the prime of their lives in top condition and fight hard.
With a lot of soft tides in the 3.5- to 5-foot range, salmon tend to stack up in the bay above and/or below the Astoria-Megler Bridge, and they will often stick around for several days. Hands down, this is my favorite time to fish — at high slack and the first half of the ebb, and after several days of soft tides. But with salmon stick-ing around during soft tides, you can often bag these fish by only having to work a few spots near the bridge. I live for these types of conditions.
The old saying that you should be low in the river near Ilwaco or Buoy 10 on a low tide does not always hold water. During the before-mentioned tide conditions you can whack chinook as you approach low tide on the last half of the ebb while fishing the Blind Channel, which is especially favorable during the last hour of the ebb or even when approaching slack conditions. The turn of low to high can also be productive in these spots.
Indeed, when I look back at my logs, most of the fish that I caught at Buoy 10 were hooked during the first half of the outgoing tide on low-tide exchanges. The rest of my hookups came during the last half of the outgoing tide, at low slack, or during the first 2 hours of the incoming tide, and again on low-tide exchanges.
Generally speaking, anglers will follow the fish all the way downriver on the entire outgoing tide starting from the Blind Channel and ending up in front of Baker Bay and breakwater dolphin number 1, especially during a wide tide exchange.
Plan your Buoy 10 trip on a series of consecutive low-tide exchanges, where the fishing up at the bridge should be stellar on both tide cycles.
There are only a handful of days out of the month when high slack occurs within one hour after sunrise. But even though this only occurs a few times a month, you can plan your trip to match this particular tide cycle as well. The folks who put on the Buoy 10 Challenge do exactly that every year!
The point here is that you want your rods in the water with either bait or spinners attached during high slack and during the first half of the ebb, no matter what the time of day. You never, ever want to miss fishing the first half of the outgoing tide.
Excerpt from the book Buoy 10: The World’s Largest Salmon Run by Larry Ellis available at amatobooks.com