With the Columbia River fall Chinook return expected to be similar to last season’s lower-than-we’re-used-to size, many anglers are wondering what-on-earth to do?
Well, while this year’s Chinook run may be somewhat slim, the party is hardly over.
After all, with nearly 900,000 coho expected to return to the Columbia River along with a few hundred thousand Chinook, the combined 2019 run will still total a million or more fat salmon.
Given the outlook, I’ve already begun to mark the most productive tide times on my calendar, along with the process of gearing-up for Buoy 10 and think you should too, which is what this article is about.
All five species of salmon are big with Chinook and coho likely the ones you’ll catch at “Buoy 10.” Coho salmon, which average 7-to- 9 pounds, must be of hatchery origin to keep and identifiable by their missing adipose fin. Chinook come in all sizes with the average one at Buoy 10 being 15-to-25 pounds with some, a few, dipping the scale at or above the 50-pound mark.
As you may know, flooding ocean tides are what carry salmon into the mouth of the Columbia River, and the best catching usually happens during the latter half of the flood and first half of the outgo/ebb tide.
It’s also true that the big tides are what move more fish further into the estuary—to or past the bridge; and, it is the small tide exchanges that move fewer fish into the tidal-zone.
However, when subtle tides occur for a week or more the lower estuary can gradually fill with salmon, especially during the latter half of August, when the run is beginning to peak. Keep in mind, when tides begin to build after a series of marginal exchanges, those progressively larger tides can move a large number of salmon from the mid-estuary to the upper portion, sometimes all the way to or above Tongue Point.
Understanding the above can make day trips to Buoy 10 a reasonable option when high tides occur between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Since Astoria is a four hour drive from our home (perhaps it’s more like two hours from yours), I’m thinking to make day trips on times of the month having a midmorning to early afternoon tide. That way I can launch two to three hours before the high and troll from then until half way through the outgoing, before heading home.
The days supporting this strategy include August 10-to-14 and 26-to-29.
Depending on the flexibility of your schedule, day trips might allow you take advantage of times of good fishing as compared to pre-planned trips where your schedule is already set, no matter how good the fishing might be.
When high tide occurs late in the day, you should consider an early afternoon launch and fish from then into the evening.
This means skipping the early a.m. fishing time altogether.
Since afternoon winds can make for rough conditions, especially when a big tide is ebbing, you might consider launching at the East Mooring Basin or John Day boat ramp, rather than deal with what might be a rough westward ride to another launch site. Keep in mind that the Astoria Megler Bridge blocks an amazing amount of west wind, at least on the north end, which might be the place to be when high tide occurs during the afternoon to early-evening time period. Ocean tides favoring this strategy include August 1-to-5, 15-to-21 and the last two days of August.
And finally, not wanting to forget the early-morning bite, which is the favorite of many, here is what my tide app says are the best days for early-morning success—a time when you’ll want to be on the water at daylight.
The dates favoring this strategy include August 6-to-9 and 22 through 25. Keep in mind that the best fishing will likely be at or above the bridge, especially when there is a big tide exchange, and perhaps along Desdemona Sands, Hammond, Chinook, or Baker Bay during lesser tide exchanges. What most anglers do is troll upstream when tides are flooding and downstream as the tide ebbs.
Another method growing in popularity is to hold your boat into the flooding tide and let it move fish into your position.
Planning your trips in advance is only part of preparing for Buoy 10 and all fall salmon trips for that matter—the August Buoy 10 season is the beginning of the autumn season that lasts through October in the tidal zones of most salmon bearing rivers up-and-down the Oregon and Washington coast line. In addition to getting your boat motors tuned, which might include switching out your jet pump for a prop, and checking to make sure your bilge pump works, you should give your rods and reels a close look, review your terminal gear, and tie up a fresh batch of leaders.
When it comes to spooling up fresh line, it’s important to make sure the line is spooled tightly on your reel spool, otherwise the line could knife into itself. This is especially true if and when you hook into a big salmon with too tight a drag. And although this can happen with monofilament line, it’s much more likely to occur with reels filled with super line. If knifing does occur, you will likely have no drag and could break your fish, especially a big one, off.
No matter how hard I try I cannot get the line wrapped on my reels tight enough when first filling with fresh line. To get it spooled tightly, so there is no possibility of knifing, I attach the end of the line to a stationary object and walk 90 or more yards away and then reel myself back holding tension on the line with the rod as I go. Only after doing this, am I ready to tackle a big salmon with a reel filled with fresh super line.
In addition, make sure and check all screws on your fishing reels for tightness.
This is a pretty simple procedure but necessary as screws do come loose and could fall out. Another practice worth doing is to flush the worm drive bar on the line guide of your bait-casting reels with WD-40 or a quality gun cleaner, like Gun Scrubber, to expel all dirt and dust. Once cleaned, re-oil the worm drive with grease designed for fishing reels.
A once over inspection to make sure all fishing rod guide inserts, as in ceramic inserts, are tight and not coming loose is worth the effort.
Having a guide insert fall out of the guide frame is something that does happen. You can easily repair these, providing you don’t lose the insert, by gluing them back into the guide frame with a little epoxy.
And finally, check that the ball-bearing swivels on your flashers are working freely. As anal as this might sound, I rinse my flashers with freshwater after the Buoy 10 season and oil the swivels to keep them corrosion free. If you haven’t done this before, you might check to make sure they are smooth spinning and oil them in advance of your next salmon adventure. After all, a corroded or weed-filled swivel will not alleviate line twist.
You might also want to stock up on bait and any favorite gear up to a month ahead of the season as the best pricing and availability often occur prior to the August 1 opener at Buoy 10.
- Written by Buzz Ramsey
Buzz is regarded as a trout, steelhead and salmon sport fishing authority and proficient lure and fishing rod designer. He is a hall of famer for The Association of Northwest Steelheaders and The National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame. Berkley offers a line of “Buzz Ramsey” designed and endorsed “Air” Fishing Rods with actions built for salmon, steelhead and large trout. See them at your local retailer or: www.berkley-fishing.com. Currently, Buzz is Brand Manager for Yakima Bait Company and a member of the management team—www.yakimabait.com. Yakima Bait makes Fish Flash, Spin-N-Glo, FlatFish, Mag Lip, Rooster Tail, and should be delivering an all-new trolling lure called SpinFish in time for Buoy 10 .