Chinook

Mid-August Buoy 10 update: Go with whatever you have confidence in

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Paul Fisher hoists a 31 pound Upriver Bright Chinook caught at Hammond

Mid-August Buoy 10 update: Go with whatever you have confidence in

What a ride it’s been the first two weeks of the Buoy 10 season.  Depending on whom you ask, the bite has been either gangbusters, or the sky is falling and the Columbia fall Salmon run has totally collapsed.  As with most things in life, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. 

The downside to last year’s spectacular opening weekend is that all of the sudden the masses seem to think they can expect that on an annual basis.  Reality is, that may have been a once or twice in a lifetime occurrence, and even on a good year the bite will be inconsistent for the first half of August.  Thus far, getting on a good bite has simply been a matter of being at the right place at the right time.  Red hot but short-lived flurries of action have been the story this year.

One of the indicators I look at when tracking the Astoria fishery is to keep an eye on reports from Westport, WA.  Those are Columbia River fish making their way down the coastline that get intercepted at the last major port in Washington before turning the corner at Ilwaco. Once the fishing gets good there, Buoy 10 is about a week away from good consistent fishing.  At last glance, the creel survey at Westport was yielding close to 1 King per rod, which should translate to a solid bite at the red can in the coming week or so.

This week the tides are transitioning from a classic ‘holdover’ series to big tide sets by next weekend.  Though these aren’t typically thought of as traditional Chinook tides, sometimes it helps to have a bunch of water pumping fish into the river to spark a bite.  This could also trigger the first meaningful slug of Coho into the river which would help liven things up a bit.

The first few days of the week will feature a morning incoming tide.  This is a good time to work the lower sections of the river, trying to intercept fresh arrivals from the ocean.  I would start out either around Social Security Beach, or ‘A Jetty’ near Ilwaco then work my way up with the tide on the red line or at the checkerboard.  The one trend I have noticed in a season that has lacked trends is above the bridge on the Oregon side near the ship anchorage has been productive around high tide, so keep that in mind.

There hasn’t been much consistency in regards to what is catching fish, either.  Herring, Anchovies, Spinners, they’re all catching fish when the bite happens.  Frankly, right now what works is whatever you have confidence in.  The same goes whether you prefer divers or lead.  Pay attention to those electronics and locate the fish.  If you’re in a crowd not getting bit, you might as well leave the crowd and search for virgin waters.  Sometimes these fish don’t swim where they are supposed to and you have to go find them in unusual areas.

The coming week will say a lot about what to make of this season.  The 3rd week of August is a good indicator as to the overall size of the fall run so time will tell.   This is also the time of the season when the masses show up, so if you don’t want to wait at the ramp for an hour, either get there ridiculously early (4:00 AM) or sleep in and go mid-morning.  Otherwise, have patience with each other and keep in mind that we’re all here to have a good time.  Good luck and be safe out there!

Ten rules for Buoy 10

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Ten rules for Buoy 10

1. Be safe.

This is number one for a reason.  Having a vessel that is well prepared for the conditions it could face out here is a life or death matter.  Inflatable life jackets should be checked and recharged if outdated.  Flares, fire extinguishers, electronics, and motors should all be gone over to help minimize risk.

2. Dress for the weather

One rainy day a few years back I learned the hard way that it’s up to the Captain to make sure the crew is properly dressed.  I was faced with dropping off my crew at West Basin so they could walk up to Englunds to get rain coats and bibs.  I made a couple fruitless passes on the Green Line while my phone blew up with tales of a wide open bite at the church hole.  I reconnected with my crew and made it across the sands just in time to watch the last remnants of action dissipate.

3. No tying knots on the boat

Knot tying is done in your garage, or at camp.  Everything should be pre-tied and connected via duo-lock snaps.  Even if you somehow break off at your mainline you need to have at least one extra rod set up and ready to go.

4. Know the tides and how to fish them

I could write and entire blog on this one alone.  In fact, I have.  Any attempt at this topic in the short form would be woefully inadequate so hopefully you’ve caught some of our past blogs one this subject.  If not, find a seminar at a local tackle shop, or hire a guide and bludgeon him with questions.  In regards to catching fish this is easily the most important facet to learn about this fishery.

5. Know your weather

If you don’t already have it on your phone download ‘Fish Weather’ right away.  This will give pinpoint wind forecasts at several weather stations in the area and across the region as well.  Having this information as well as how the tides and wind react to each other will also affect safety.  For example, an outgoing tide couple with a West or Northwest wind spells trouble.

6. Bring good bait

Whether it’s fresh or frozen doesn’t really matter as long as it’s quality. I brine everything be it Herring or Anchovies just to help toughen them up a bit. Keep them cold throughout the day too.  Mushy bait won’t hold up here.

7. Plan your day, but be willing to adjust.

My first day out last year I made a fool proof plan for success based on research and intelligence. We left Hammond Marina and put our lines in at the Jetty Lagoon.  By the time we hit marker 20 we had 2 fish in the box on 5 hookups.  A wiser Captain would have turned around to make another pass through that group of biters but not me.  I stuck to the plan which was to troll all the way to Marker 10 and wait for the tide change.  It took 4 hours and about 8 river miles until the next fish would hit the deck.  The following day I learned from my mistake and changed my plan once we found the bite.  We returned with our 8 fish boat limit at 11:30 that morning.

8. Tackle prep.

Remember that lucky spinner you whacked fish on all season last year?  Chances are it’s been sitting in your spinner box, not seeing the light of day since September 1st and now the hooks are dull and rusted.  Take the time to go through and rebuild those killer blades.  Lubricate reels and make sure they are filled with fresh line.  Re-stock on hooks, leader, flashers, duo-locks, bead chains, divers and whatever else you might use.

9. Fish ID

This is one that I can’t stress enough.  Sport impact on wild Tule Chinook is the number one limiting factor on our season each year.  Learn to identify these fish so they can be released unharmed and make it to the spawning grounds.  With record or near record Chinook returns over the last 5 years there is no reason to think we shouldn’t have a 2 Chinook daily limit through September.

10. Bonk ‘em, bleed ‘em, get ‘em on ice. 

Don’t let your hard earned bounty spoil in the sun.  The river is 65-70 degrees so hosing them down periodically won’t help.  Fisherman’s regularly has great deals on kill bags so pick up a couple before you go.  Even the small cheap ones will hold two Chinook and two Coho plus ice.

There was a good bite above the bridge this week so expect a decent opener.  I’ll have plenty of updates and info coming so stay tuned and be safe out there.