From 300 feet up, the 4-mile wide maw of the Columbia River at Astoria is awesome, while down on the surface, the scenery gets even better.
Fishing partner Trey Carskadon hooked a salmon and was having a blast. “Hey, hey, first fish of the day,” he yelled.
As longtime salmon fisherman, John Krauthoefer, slid the net under the 7-pound Chinook salmon, he smiled and said, “I think it’s barbeque time at the Carskadon’s!”
Trey smiled and I grinned with admiration for the gleaming fish as the morning’s flooding tide reached its peak.
We watched many other anglers develop mile-wide smiles too! The bite – right in front of Astoria’s waterfront - was most definitely on!
Krauthoefer said there are a variety of baits and lures that anglers use to catch Chinook.
He prefers 11-foot rods manufactured by St Croix Rods. He uses 10 ounces of lead – a green attractant called “Fish Flash” - then five foot leaders to plug cut herring bait on barbless hooks – three cranks off the bottom – it’s simple and effective!
“I love the fish flash,” noted the longtime pro. “It’s such an easy pulling flasher that spins in the water without any drag to it. They’ve really become a staple in this lower river fishery too. It picks up the light and reflects off to the side – sends out a horizontal beam of light and attracts salmon.”
John also advised that if you decide to come here, don’t forget safety starting with life jackets. His are inflatable.
“You don’t even know you’ve got them on and they’re inexpensive. Also be sure you have a good GPS machine because you must know where you are and stay out of the shipping channel.”
Suddenly, my rod danced up and down twice and then stayed down! I wrestled the rod from the holder and then held on for dear life as the line screamed out of the bait casting reel.
“What have you got there, Grant?” asked the grinning Krauthoefer – knowing full well that the fish was a huge Chinook salmon.
After a moment, we saw the chrome-sided fish gleam under the surface, just 10 yards from the boat.
“Oh, isn’t that a beauty,” said Carskadon. “That’s a king – and it’s big.”
The fish ran and I reeled in an unmatched experience full of heart pounding action.
After fifteen minutes, John dipped the large net under the salmon.
"That is a beautiful fish,” he said. “Isn’t that that something special; just look at the way the sunlight hits the sides of that salmon.”
It was a gorgeous 25-lb bright Chinook – bound for the Columbia River’s upper stretches – hundreds of miles from the estuary.
The big fish nearly wore me out too! “Oh baby, oh baby,” was all I could muster as I gazed with admiration at the gleaming salmon slab. “The Columbia River and Buoy 10 – man, ya gotta love Oregon.”
Trey Carskadon smiled and offered: “I’ve been coming down here since I was a kid and there’s more to do here than ever. Many visitors choose to visit the Astoria Column where you can really see the whole community in one 360-degree glance. You also have the have the wreck of the Peter Iredale and Fort Steven’s State Park, plus Ft Clatsop National Memorial and so many new and fabulous restaurants in town and the backdrop to all of it is this world class fishery.”
“There’s another fish,” yelled John as his fishing rod throbbed down and then back up and then down once more and it stayed down.
He quickly grabbed it and held on tight. The rod was nearly doubled over as the reel’s drag did its magic against the hard charging Chinook.
He tried to keep the fish close by the boat, never allowing slack line to develop from the fish’s erratic yet hard charging bursts, first directly at and then away from the boat.
After 15 minutes, Trey dipped the large net under the salmon.
That is a beautiful fish,” said Krauthoefer. “Isn’t that that something special!”
“Being outdoors is the real reward,” noted the longtime fisherman. He brushed his arm across the boat, pointed to the river with scores of bobbing boats and added, “It’s the anticipation we all come for - the hunt, the choices we make to try and catch something elusive. And then the challenge, the fun really that comes with landing the fish. These are the good old days – there’s no doubt about it.”
The peak of the Buoy 10 salmon fishery is the third week in August, so get there soon.
(Note: Only fin-clipped chinook can be kept on Sundays and Mondays this year west of Tongue Point. Both the left-ventral and adipose fin-clips count.)
And it isn’t just the Columbia River either. Fall Chinook salmon fishing is forecast to be better than ever along the Oregon coast in estuaries like Nehalem Bay, Tillamook Bay, Siletz and Coos Bays – where salmon fishing seasons will soon begin.