Here is Tony Floor’s Tackle Box report for August:
Webster defines the word crescendo as a gradual increase in loudness or intensity. Now that August is here, it’s time to take this year’s summer salmon fishing into a crescendo, especially at the mouth of the big Columbia River as king salmon will be pouring into the system in a few weeks. Mercy!
A month ago, I took a swing at a recommended salmon fishing menu for this summer, in terms of what’s expected to be hot by incorporating places and timing to intercept king salmon, my favorite fish on the planet.
To date, I’ve invested days in July up at Tahsis, on the outside of Vancouver Island, a sprinkling of days at Westport when the weather and fishing whispered my name and a full week at Neah Bay. I do not expect sympathy when I tell you that both arms are currently re-cooperating in slings. More mercy!
Now, here comes the king salmon parade of all parades at the mouth of the Columbia River. Maestro, let the music begin!
I started salmon fishing the lower Columbia back in 86, during the biggest coho return of the century, followed by big chinook salmon returns in ’87 and ’88. I became a convert.
Clearly, there are important strategies to learn to enhance an angler’s success in fishing this region, known as Buoy 10 at the mouth of the river upstream to and through, the Megler-Astoria Bridge. There has been a lot written and spoken about this fishery during the last 25 years. For starters, I recommend getting your hands on the June/July issue of Salmon & Steelhead Journal immediately which has an awesome and comprehensive piece on the Buoy 10 fishery, written by Andy Schneider. In fact, I vote for the story as the best I’ve ever seen offering the when-to-fish specific areas during the fishery, relative to tide. Time of day (daylight to dusk) means nothing at Buoy 10. It’s all about where to be fishing relative to the ebb and flood tides and making the right decisions.
Fundamentally, terminal fishing gear is critically important in this fishery. By tradition, fishing with herring trolled behind a diver or a drop sinker has been the menu for decades. In more recent years, large spinners, introduced by savy Oregon anglers can be extremely effective in some of the shallow productive areas immediately above and below the bridge. Today, these shallow regions, particularly above the bridge are as popular as fishing at Buoy 10 was back in the mid/late 80’s.
Unfortunately, when fishing in the lower Columbia, you can only be at one place at one time. For years, I like the early flood tide trolling a herring with a diver and Kone Zone off the wing walls at Sand Island on the Washington side of the River between markers 1 and 5, with 17 pulls (35 feet) of line. I’ve had great success using chrome and violet or chrome and chartreuse tied immediately behind my diver. I’ll pound this zone until midway through the flood, then, move upstream to work Desdemona and ultimately the Blind Channel above the bridge during the last few hours of the flood and into the beginning of the ebb. Preferably, I like this combination during the morning, before the afternoon winds raise havoc.
While the Sand Island zone is a mid-depth show, as the fish are migrating up the River, Desdemona is an on-the-deck fishery, along with the Blind Channel. My drop sinkers are not less than a foot to 14-inches long as the strategy is to get my whole herring or spinner right on the chinook’s snoot.
Make no mistake about it, angler’s from throughout the Pacific northwest by the thousands will be migrating to the Buoy 10 fishery in the next few weeks in anticipation of the record forecast of 1.6 million chinook salmon entering the Columbia throughout August and into September.
Turning back the pages of time to the 1988-89 era, fish biologists from Washington and Oregon estimated 2,500 boats and 7,500 anglers during a peak day of the fishery in the third week of August. During the last 13 years, the number of boats peaked on August 22nd, 2009, when 1,850 boats and 5,400 anglers were counted in the fishery. I anticipate similar or greater numbers of anglers will be in the game during prime time this year too. Combat fishing, baby, which means bring plenty of fenders!
For the most part, this is a big boat sport fishery, as the water can become very choppy from boat wake or currents colliding in the lower river. Boats under 19-feet are pushing the envelope, in my opinion, and understanding the limitations of an individual’s boat is important to stay right side up!
While I expect the big Buoy-10 fishery to be the marquee show for king salmon fishing this month, there are other fisheries to consider. Neah Bay, La Push and Westport, for example, should be in good shape, in terms of ongoing catches toward their summer quotas. That is not the case this month with the Strait of Juan de Fuca and north Puget Sound.
If the combat fishing conditions at Buoy-10 don’t work for you, never overlook the Willapa Bay fishery during the last 10 days of August as it can be a real sleeper while boats on trailers scream by the Bay enroute to the Columbia. Focus on soft tides and stay away from minus tides escorted by heavy current. Eel grass and a variety of grasses pour out of the Bay with enough volume to pave eastern Washington during the hard tides. It’s nearly impossible to fish effectively in these grassy conditions and the chinook will not perform (bite) very well either. Further, pay attention to WDFW’s gillnet schedule during August in Willapa Bay too, which can be as disruptive to fishing success as the hard tides.
However, mid-August can really heat up for chinook salmon fishing outside the Bay, particularly out and around the entrance buoy to Willapa known as the whistle buoy. Running out of Willapa is risky and I recommend considering accessing the whistle buoy fishery by running out of Westport. This fishery is somewhat of a forgotten frontier. Think about it. Outer Willapa Bay can be a staging area for a lot of Willapa bound king salmon as well as Columbia River king salmon cruising past the Bay on their way south down the Long Beach coast before hanging a left into the Columbia. Hello? Trust me, the kings are there and very few anglers invest their fishing time in this area, largely due to the distance out of Westport or the risk of crossing the outer Willapa.
For this cat, it’s time to regroup from July and put on my August salmon fishing helmet. I’m tying leaders now, getting ready for combat fishing in the lower Columbia! Get the net, as my fishing buddy Jimbo likes to say! See you on the water.
(Tony Floor is the Director of Fishing Affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA) and a former 30-year veteran of state Fish and Wildlife. NMTA advocates for and promotes recreational boating and fishing in the region.)