A Guides Game Plan for Bouy 10 Salmon - by Steve Leonard

A Guides Game Plan for Bouy 10 Salmon - by Steve Leonard

The “Buoy 10 fishery” is the Northwest’s mecca for salmon fishermen on the Columbia River. This area consists of over 20 river miles at the mouth of the Columbia River where the fish first enter from the Pacific ocean. I believe that every die-hard salmon angler should fish this area at least once in their life.


buoy 10 steve leonard salmon fishing columbia river chinook coho fall

Another dandy Chinook comes to the net. There are plenty of fish to be caught, once you figure out where to be, when to be there, and how to rig. Figure it out and come get your share.


When you are there at the right time fishing can be incredible when the fish are on the bite.

Trolling herring, anchovies and spinners with lead or divers are methods of choice for fishing this area. Some years over 1 million fish enter the Columbia and make their incredible journey upriver to their spawning grounds, some as far away as Idaho.

Chinook and silver salmon are the two major salmon species anglers target in this area.

Watching tide flows, the weather and knowing where to be on the tide is critical in this area to have good success. You have to fish where the fish are. In this article I want to break down sections of the river to help you know where you need to be at on different tides. I will also cover fishing rig set ups and safety equipment needed to have a safe and fun trip in this area of the Columbia River.


buoy 10 book fishing salmon coho chinook

Get the Definitive Book on Fishing Buoy 10


The “Buoy 10” fishery is a big area spanning over 3 miles wide in some places and over 20 miles long.

This area is famous for bad weather, and it can go from sunny and beautiful to really ugly in minutes. High winds can churn up the Columbia, creating wind waves that can really challenge small boats. Another challenge to be aware of is the coastal fog that will roll in off the ocean quicker than it takes you to get your lines out of the water and get back to port if needed. With this being said you must be prepared in this section of the Columbia River. Make sure all of your electronics are in working order and you feel comfortable using them. It is a very uncomfortable feeling when you are over taken with fog and need to rely solely on your GPS to make your way back. Practice using your GPS in good conditions so you will feel comfortable with it when you need to use it in bad conditions.


Equipment, be prepared!

Make sure you have these things before leaving the dock. No exceptions!

A full tank of fuel is a must. You will cover lots of river miles when fishing this area. It is farther than you think when you are trolling and chasing fish all day. It’s nothing to travel 30 to 60 miles in a day on the lower Columbia. Always fill your tank after every day of fishing.

Make sure you have a working GPS, and that you know how to use it. If you can afford it take a hand held GPS for a backup, just in case. The fog can roll in on you fast so be prepared. When launching, always mark where you are departing from so you know exactly where you need to enter your port in heavy fog. Life jackets are a must.



When in doubt “jacket up.” If disaster strikes everyone will be happy they had their life vests on. Always make sure you have enough for everyone onboard, and that they fit all your passengers.

If you have children on board make sure their life vests fit properly. Mustang Survival and Stearns makes several reliable self inflating life jackets that are very comfortable to wear all day long.


Just remember the inflatable vests are only considered a life jacket if you are wearing them.

If you are new to the area a quality river map is extremely helpful knowing where you are, and where you are going. Also you can make notes on your maps from previous successes and use them for future trips.

A working flashlight is good to have, along with up to date flares, a compass, a throwable cushion, and a VHF radio. Even a hand held VHF radio can save your life, or get help for another boat if they are in trouble and need help fast. In my opinion a bilge pump with auto float is a must, and if possible add a second bilge pump.

The wind waves on the Columbia come close together, and in an open boat the splash can start to quickly accumulate in your boat, and if not pumped out can make your boat difficult to maneuver and may get you in serious trouble. Make sure you check your boats bilge for debris and clean it out if necessary as bilge pumps will fail if to operate if their impellers get clogged or jammed with leaves, fishing line, etc.

Having a backup assures you that you will have an operational pump when needed. Always carry an anchor with 200 to 300 feet of quality rope. If your motor fails, or you run out of gas, having an anchor will let you get control of your vessel and keep you from drifting into danger.


buoy 10 steve leonard salmon fishing columbia river chinook coho fall

This is why we're here!


Boat launches:

There are several popular launch ramps on the Oregon side. County Line Park east of Astoria on Hwy 30, East Mooring Basin on the eastside of Astoria, Warrenton ramp and Hammond Marina. Most fisherman launch from Hammond Marina since it is the closest and features a 4 lane ramp. East Mooring Basin is good if you are going to fish around the bridge area and its proximity to the bridge area is especially convenient. It’s a great launch site in the afternoon when the winds pick up. If you plan to launch at Hammond Marina be aware the launch lines can be hours long, especially on weekends. Get there plenty early, and you still might have a launch line in front of you.

Buoy 10 is the sportfishing deadline on the Columbia River. On calm days with a flat bar many anglers choose to fish the ocean as both the chinook and coho are outside gorging themselves on bait. Once you pass the Buoy #10 marker you are entering the “Columbia River Bar.” From this point it is approximately 6 miles long before you actually get into the Ocean. If the swells are questionable at Buoy 10 they will only get bigger as you get closer to the river mouth. This bar is rated as one of the most treacherous in the world. It is unlike any bar crossing in Oregon. For example at Newport the bar crossing is less than a half mile. The bar at the mouth of the Columbia is six miles long. Therefore it is imperative to choose the right tides to go out and come in on. It’s best to cross at the end of a low tide, or the beginning of the incoming tide. If you are fishing outside, and you see the charter boats and guide boats pick up and run inside, it is time for you to leave too. That fishery is a blast, but never lose track of your surroundings. Always pay attention, or you could get yourself into trouble.


Areas to fish on different parts of the tides.

Typically you want to fish on the lower river at the end of low tide to catch fish coming in on the incoming tide. The incoming tides usually bring in a fresh batch of fish out of the ocean, and for the most part they are still feeding aggressively. You may want to start your fishing near Buoy 10. As the fish migrate up the lower river pick up and run upstream. This way you are fishing where the fish are, or about to be. It’s no good fishing where they used to be. So follow these fish upstream, and finish out near of just above the Astoria Megler Bridge. The fish that have come in on the tide will mill around in the channels and flats, trying to acclimate from salt water to the fresh water before moving further up into the Columbia River on the end of the high tide. If it is in the morning and towards high tide, fish just below and above the bridge on the tide change. These fish have already come in during the early morning on the flood tide and will be in this area at day light when you are ready to fish.


Sections of River;

Washington side above the bridge:

In mid-afternoons when the winds traditionally pick up this is a great area to fish as the mountain range protects you from the northwest winds. Just remember where you have to go to take out, because it will be a lot worse conditions once you leave this protected area. Fish this area the end of the incoming tide and during hide tide change. It will fish well as the tide starts to run out for a few hours. You can troll on the Desdemona Sands in 20-30’ feet of water near the bottom. There are different channels that run through the flats so look at your charts and fish those channels. If you get bit run back up upstream and troll down the same path again. GPS units will leave a trail so you can troll the same line again. You can also troll the deeper water near the rest area on the Washington shore upriver to what is called the ship wreck. The spot gets its name from the abandoned ship on the shore. 


Oregon side above the bridge:

This is a good area to troll just below and above the bridge, and all the way up to Rice Island. Primarily your will be fishing from Tongue Point down to the bridge on the Green Can line and up onto the edge of the Desdemona Sands. The 20-30’ of water depth in this area fishes well. Always troll with the current or cross current in this area. The area above Tongue Point up to Rice Island fishes well towards the end of August. It also fishes well on hold over tides. Holdover tides means there is a small change from high tide to low tide, usually around 3 to 4 feet. If this holdover tide (small change) happens around mid morning it’s a good place to be fishing. Some of the larger tide swings can be 8 to 11 feet.


chinook salmon king fishing columbia rivert

A smiling group of Steve’s clients with a day’s catch of Buoy 10 Chinook.


Young’s Bay area:

We wanted to still talk about this area even though in 2014 this area will be closed for Sportfishing and allotted for Commercial Gill Net/Seiner Net fishery only. Hopefully this affront to sport anglers will be corrected by 2015, and reopened to sport fishing again. This area consists of a line from what is called the “Saw dust pile” where they chip up logs out to the Green Can. Follow the Green Can line up stream to the bridge and then back down river along the Oregon shoreline to the Saw dust pile. All of Young’s Bay is included. This area will usually fish well in early August, before the Columbia River fish show up in big numbers. The Young’s Bay fish usually come in early. You can still catch these fish if you fish from the Saw Dust Pile up to Hammond. It is deeper water and these fish are running an average of 15-30 feet down. Schools of fish come through this area making their way in from the Ocean. Hold into the current on the floods tides and wait for the fish to show up. When fishing the mouth of the bay this area is more shallow so you want to run your gear near the bottom. It is an average of 20-30’ deep.


Red can line from Hammond to Buoy 10:

The average water depth is 25-45 feet. This is a good area to fish on the end of the outgoing tides and through the beginning of the incoming tide. As the fish make their way through, work your way back towards Hammond and hold into the current to intercept them again. This area can be quite rough at times depending on the ocean conditions. Once you start to work your way past Hammond towards the ocean the water conditions can change quickly on tide changes, increasing winds or both.


Buoy 10 area:

Average depth is 60-80’ of water. The farther you go towards the Washington side the deeper the water. That is the main channel where the ships first enter the Columbia River. It’s a good area to fish on the end of the low tide and the beginning of the incoming tide. Most anglers will hold into the current as it starts to flood in from the ocean. This is a very dangerous area due to ocean fog that can come in quickly, along with heavy rip tide currents once the tide has started to come in and SW Winds that pick up in the mid day. Be prepared in this area with your GPS unit and know how to use your equipment.


Baker Bay/Chinook, WA:

This area is located on the Washington side of the lower Columbia River. Average depth is 80’ of water until you are upstream of the entrance to Chinook, Washington where it will shallow up into the 60’s. Fish are suspended in this area. Average depth to fish is 20-40’ down. Fish this area on low tide and incoming is best. However with the deep water this area should fish through out all parts of the tides. Best time is beginning of the incoming tide.


Washington side Desdemona Sands to Washington’s shore up to the bridge:

Most angling is done on the edge of the Washington side of the Desdemona Sands. Trolling up to the bridge in the average depth of 18-35’. It is over 60’ deep along the Washington shore line, which will also hold fish. Best time to fish this deep water is on soft tides. On bigger tides hold into the current near the bridge on the incoming tide. Fish 20-30’ deep. You will hook up on fish coming in with the tide. There are different sections in this area. If you look on the Washington shore there is a trailer RV park, a Red Roof barn or and a Church. The holes in front go by those same names. These are all land marks that guys use to tell their fellow fishing buddies where they may be on that troll on the Washington side of the flats. There is a black and white diamond on a piling at the end of the flats. This marker is representing the end of the flat. Any area above that is dangerous and can only be crossed in certain spots on the high tides. You can cross anytime from the Diamond upstream to the next piling located on the Oregon side of the flats. The normal depth is 9-12’ of water in this area.

On big minus tides the salmon will hold in this area due to the fact there is less current flow caused by the flats up river. You can troll with the current or cross current to pick these fish up in this area.


  • These are my personal preferences, but any rods, reels, leaders that are the same specs will work.
  • Rods Lamiglas XCC934 (9’3”) or the XCC1064 (10’6”) 15-30# rated rods. Great herring and spinner rods.
  • Reels: Shimano Tekota 500 Line Counter
  • Line: Izorline 25# Platinum Green or Hi Vis. Your choice Braid 50-65# Power Pro Braid
Set ups;
Herring or Anchovies
  • Dropper weight line length 12-20” on a slider
  • I run 20 inches of 30# Izorline Platinum monofilament from my main line bead chain to my Konezone flasher


chinook fishing salmon flasher

This is Steve’s preferred set up for fishing cut bait.  Pound test, hook sizes, leader lengths, size of weights are all in this article.


My leader off my flasher is 4-6’ long, made from 40# Izorline Platinum Clear monofilament. I will tie #60 pound swivels on all my pre tied leaders for quick changing and no knot tying while on the river. Put these leaders on a foam roll so you will have several ready to go for the day.

Hooks: Depending on bait size run 6/0 and 5/0 for frozen Blue label herring, 3/0 and 2/0 for Green label. When fishing fresh herring or Anchovies use two 2/0 hooks. I like running a Gamakatsu finesse wide gap hook for my top hook due to a shorter shank which reduces your center point and gives the bait a nice tight roll.

If using divers tie your flasher directly off the back of the diver. You can add a size #054 duo snap connector to the bead chain to make it easier to change out flashers or divers as needed.

When using flashers, let your gear out very slowly to avoid any tangles. Make sure before letting your flasher and leader down that nothing is tangled and everything is working properly. Make sure your herring is rolling, and your flasher is turning properly. Be aware of very aggressive seagulls stealing or tearing your baits if you spend too much time with your baits near the surface. With everything rolling correctly slowly strip line off your reel until you get to your desired depth. This will avoid any tangles while letting out your gear.


diver fishing flasher coho chinook salmon rig

When Steve fishes Delta Divers he ties his flasher directly to the diver.


Divers: Delta or Deep six divers are the most popular at Buoy 10. Divers work well on softer tides and especially when targeting suspended fish in the deeper water.

On big tides, divers will create a big surge of pressure on your rods to where you will have to tighten the drag on the reel to keep from having line come off. Because your reel’s drag is so tight on these heavy tides it will cause you to loose fish, especially if they hit hard, turn and take off on a hot run. If you are quick enough you can back your reel’s drag off once they bite to help prevent this from happening.

I often run lead instead of divers on heavy tides so I can fish my reels with moderately set drags. Using lead allows me to set my drags much looser than using divers on a heavy tide, and works much better on the heavy strikes. On the big tides try running 12 to 24 ounce cannon ball weights. If fishing the shallower water the fish will be near the bottom. If fishing deeper water the Chinook will run deeper than Silvers. Fish 15 to 40’ deep for Chinooks and 10 to 20’ deep for Silvers.


Herring cured in Pro Cure Brine-N-Bite

In my opinion Pro Cure has the finest bait cures and brines and bait scents on the market today. Their bait scents are made from real fish oils and real bait that they grind up to make the most effective scents on the market. They have come out with their herring Brine-n-Bite Complete formula. It comes in clear for natural color baits, and a Blue and Chartreuse color if you choose to fish dyed baits. This is a great product and is a fool proof one step process. Add baits to brine the evening before and they will be firm and ready to go by morning. They also have Bad Azz dye powders and liquids for dying baits in your own cure.


Steve’s Herring brine (for an extra tough, heavy water herring)

  • 2 qts. distilled water
  • 3/4 cup sea salt
  • 3/4 cup rock salt
  • 2 cups Pro Cure Brine-n-Bite Powder
  • Add dyes if necessary
  • Mix well in container then add to 2 trays of Herring.

    Just like fishing different spinner color combinations, it seems on some days these salmon prefer different colored baits. What gets fish to bite on every day is different. I run my herring in their natural color, the Fluorescent Blue and the Fluorescent Chartreuse Pro-Cure brines. It is an extra step, but some days the colored baits really outfish the natural baits.

    If using frozen Herring make sure and cut a hole in the plastic before thawing out on vacuum packed baits. This will prevent discoloration of baits from sucking the blood from the gut cavity onto the scales. 

    My most productive scents are Pro-Cure Anchovy, Sardine, Herring and Bloody Tuna. The scents come in Super Gel, bait oils or the new water soluble fish oils. Injecting your baits often will help increase your chances of hooking up. I inject with different scents and scent combinations until I find one that is working on that day.


    Spinner fishing:

    I tie my spinners directly to 5 feet of 40-pound Izorline platinum leader behind a Konezone flasher.

    All size spinners work at Buoy 10. Most of the popular blades are in size 6-7 Cascade style. In the smaller blades size 3-4 works well to in the Cascade, Bear valley or CV7 style. Spinners with Hoochie bodies or feathers tied to the treble hooks also work very well to.

    Colors: Red, pink and Chartreuse beads.

    Blades: Red & White, Chartreuse /Brass Blue Dot, Chartreuse Green Dot, Pink Rainbow, Orange/Brass Blue Dot, Brass & Rainbow tipped.


    spinner fishing chinook coho salmon astoria columbia river

    A selection of Steve’s most productive Buoy 10 spinners. Add a dab of fish attractant and some days the spinners will out produce plug cut bait.


    When guiding I will usually have 4 to 6 rods in the water, so I will fish some rods with bait, and some with spinners. On some days the bait works best. On other days the spinners will outfish the baits.

    For many years the popular belief was that the baits were for chinook, and the spinners were for coho, but that really is not the case. Many big chinook come off my spinners every year.

    On tough days I will add a little scent to my spinners. Not a lot, but just a light smear of Bloody Tuna, Anchovy, Sardine or Herring Super Gels can really get a tough bite going. Another suggestion I have is Pro-cure has put out a DVD almost two hours long on Successful Plug Cut Techniques, and also a booklet that covers much of the same material. If you are a novice or intermediate angler, getting either the booklet or the DVD will go a long way to helping you be more successful at Buoy 10.

    In closing I will once again remind unfamiliar anglers that Buoy 10 and the Lower Columbia River can be a fishing memory that will last a lifetime, but it is no place for the careless or brain dead.


    Make sure your boat is in good shape, your motors run well, and your gear is up to speed.

    I look forward to seeing you at Buoy 10, with your net out!

    —Written by Steve Leonard: full time Oregon / Washington guide.





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