The rising sun glowed over the eastern hillsides near the lower Columbia River mouth, but the early morning scenery isn’t what lured us to this place where the Lewis & Clark expedition ended in 1805.
The excitement was all about a forecast of 689,900 chinook and 501,500 coho staging where the mighty river feeds into the Pacific Ocean, commonly known by anglers as “Buoy 10.”
The red navigational buoy near the Port of Ilwaco marks the western boundary of this nearly 20-mile fishing area that heads east upstream to the Tongue Point-Rocky Point boundary above the Astoria-Megler Bridge.
As we ventured out of Ilwaco, our first stop was one of a series of pathways that parallel a place known as Desdemona Sands, which is located in the middle of the river above and below the bridge.
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This long, sandy, underwater bar that is exposed at low tides is the divider where migrating salmon headed upstream into the channel need to choose between the Washington or Oregon side.
We dropped our weighted divers with KoneZone Flashers tied to a leader with a whole herring in 30 feet of water, and could see the huge schools of baitfish everywhere as we trolled downstream.
The plankton-rich waters are filled with schools of anchovy, a main part of the salmon’s diet.
After just 10 minutes, Clyde McBrayer of Olympia was hooked into a feisty 8-pound hatchery king. Soon after landing that fish, we lost a few more salmon, including one to a poorly tied leader.
Our friends on the northern side of the river near Baker Bay at “The Wing Walls” — a stretch of barren pilings that used to house old salmon canneries — informed us about a hot bite.
“Time of day is not as important as knowing where to fish the river during certain tides,” said Tony Floor of Olympia, who has fished here in late summer for the past three decades.
During a low-tide change many anglers will work the lower stretches, and then move upriver toward the bridge as the tide begins to flood. Each flood-tide series pushes more fresh salmon into the river from the ocean.
After arriving on the upper section of pilings, we let out 14 to 18 pulls of line off the reels and set them in the rod holders and began trolling.
It didn’t take long for one of the rods to bend as Floor was latched into a 20-pound king.
The dance continued at nearly a nonstop pace, and by 10 a.m. we had four kings and two hatchery coho in the boat.
This scene will be played out numerous times in the days ahead, and it’s not too late to hook into the great action of this legendary late-summer/early-fall fishery.
In fact, king fishing has been so good that state fishery managers decided this past week to implement a new rule requiring anglers to release all wild king salmon through Sept. 1. Only hatchery-marked kings with a missing adipose fin or left ventral fin can be kept.
Through Aug. 19, about 28,300 Buoy 10 angler trips produced 13,300 chinook (20,000 is the expected catch) along with 2,000 hatchery coho.
Managers will meet Tuesday to make any possible changes to the fishery.
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Fishing opportunity isn’t limited to just the Buoy 10 section, but extends about 350 miles up to Priest Rapids Dam and the Snake River area.
“The catch has been decent below Bonneville Dam for this early in the season, and the counts are starting to ramp up,” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife department biologist. “The number of chinook going over Bonneville is twice as high as the 10-year average and off to a pretty quick start. Everything looks positive.”
The last free-flowing area of the Columbia between McNary and Priest Rapids dams should see an upriver fall bright chinook return of more than 400,000, and if that pans out it will be a record run.
That run of upriver chinook should generate decent fishing in the Hanford Reach area and the Snake clear into September and October.
Mark Yuasa: 206-464-8780 or firstname.lastname@example.org