By BUZZ RAMSEY
August 19, 2006
From now until Labor Day is when most of this year’s predicted return of 750,000 salmon will swarm into the mouth of the Columbia River.
With rod and reel, the first place you can ambush these fat salmon as they enter the big river is after they’ve crossed an imaginary north to south line extending from the red navigation buoy with the number 10 stenciled on it.
In case you don’t know, Buoy 10 is located south and just west of the Ilwaco channel; but the name “Buoy 10” is also used to describe the entire management zone that extends from the red navigation buoy east to Tongue Point.
This six-mile section is where returning salmon linger before committing to the upstream migration that will eventually lead to the spawning ground or hatchery that produced them.
Most of the Coho salmon are of hatchery origin and thus will return to hatcheries located throughout the lower Columbia basin. Returning Chinook salmon are divided into two distinct groups: “Tule” is the name given to Chinooks that spawn in tributaries located along the mid and lower Columbia.
“Up-River-Bright” is the term used to describe the population that mostly spawns in the last free-flowing section of the Columbia located near Tri Cities - between McNary and Priest Rapids Dam.
Strong river currents and ever-changing ocean tides can make finding salmon, especially biting ones, difficult for those not schooled in understanding when and where salmon can be found at Buoy 10. Truth is: This rather large expanse of water can be broken into three basic areas:
Near Buoy Number 10
From low slack tide through the flood and especially during times when there is a tide exchange of 8 feet or more, (which is the distance from low to high tide) is when the area just east of the number 10 Buoy produces best for mostly Coho Salmon.
If you arrive at low tide or just after, when there is little or no current, you can forward troll the area east of the buoy. Once the tide starts to flood in, your strategy should switch from forward trolling to backtrolling.
The idea is to hold your position (facing west) as fish move into the Columbia with the flooding ocean water. You will find that most fish, especially Coho, will run 10 to 20 feet from the surface.
Realize that low tide at Buoy 10 may not match the time listed in your tide book, and could (in fact) occur up to an hour after the officially listed time.
It just takes that long for the flooding ocean water to slow, stop and finally reverse the Columbia’s massive flow. Arriving here too early can mean that the water near Buoy 10 will be fast moving, rough, and unpleasant.
North and South of Desdemona Sands
If you’re after Chinook salmon you will likely find the best action trolling in the North and South Channel adjacent to Desdemona Sands. This is the area where Chinook salmon will often hold before committing to their upriver journey. Desdemona Sands is the large sand island located in the middle of the river, mostly west and adjacent to the Astoria-Megler Bridge.
Study your tide book when planning a trip here because this area produces best when there is a small tide exchange (7 feet or less from high to low) and when the AM high tide coincides with daylight. During any given day the best bite will occur from just before high tide through the outgoing tide cycle.
The proven technique in this area is to troll downstream, going (with the flow of the tide), parallel to the island in 20 to 30 feet of water.
Since Chinook like to hug bottom, it’s important to keep your gear working there, which can mean you will find the most consistent action following the bottom contours as you proceed west. If you’re after Coho, try moving into shallow water, 12 to 20 feet, nearer the island.