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Buoy 10 Salmon Fishing

by Grant McOmie

Bio | Email | Follow: @KGWNews

kgw.com

Posted on August 28, 2009 at 1:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Nov 4 at 2:35 PM

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Grant McOmie heads for the big, broad Columbia River in this week's Grant's Getaways to follow a silver rush - a silvery rush of salmon swimming up the river past a sports fishing mecca called "Buoy 10."

It's a trip full of tips, tactics and techniques to catch salmon safely on a stretch of river infamously called "the deadliest river bar in the world" for its number of shipwrecks, capsizes and deadly accidents.

WATCH THE VIDEO VERSION

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On the Astoria dock at a coal black 4-am, it was hard to say "Good Morning" to my fellow anglers who had gathered - with their lunches, thermoses, rods and reels in hand - to enjoy a daylong fishing adventure.

After all, shimmering stars and a sliver of a gleaming moon held tightly onto night.

But barking sea lions and an inch of daylight squeezing just above the eastern horizon said otherwise.

So did our guide, John Krauthoefer (Firefighter's Guide Service: 503-812-1414,) who told our small group, "Daylight boys - won't be long - so let's button things down, snap up the PFD's and get moving."

We boarded his 25-foot fishing boat and began to slowly motor across the broad-shouldered Columbia, with high hopes for a successful salmon fishing trip.

Despite the early call out, we were bolstered by Krauthoefer's enthusiastic promise of good fishing ahead:

"We're going to start down by the bridge in front of Youngs Bay and try to catch a Chinook and then go out and catch some Coho by Buoy 10. There's a ton of Coho out there this year, so let's go catch fish."

Our fishing guide had been boating across these waters since a teen - more than forty years ago.

But as sunrise brightened our downriver journey John stopped the boat, stared into a stark white wall of fog - and muttered: "Fog comin' in. We may have a problem."

We believed him!

Daylight revealed that a dense fog bank had taken over the lower river.

If we wished to pass through it, we had better be prepared.

"My GPS (Global Positioning System) tells me that there's a green buoy right there - and if you peer into the fog, you can see we're just coming up on it."

I wondered aloud about the fishermen who didn't have GPS on their boats.

He quickly and firmly noted, "Stay on the dock until the fog clears. You're much safer - it's not worth a fish to risk your life - it really isn't."

We slowly trolled and kept eye on the boat's GPS screen, which showed our position in relation to the shipping channel and the surrounding shorelines.

This part of the Columbia River is a busy stretch for inbound and outbound ships.

We certainly did not want to get caught in the middle of it on a busy morning of ship traffic.

All too quickly, John's second sense told him something was just not right.

"Ok - reel in - we're going to move," he ordered.

He wasted little time and moved us a few hundred yards further away from the shipping lane.

It was a good thing!

We heard the ship before we saw it.

And what we saw was gigantic - a massive, two hundred foot long shadow of a ship that moved across the area we had just been trolling our baits.

I looked at my fishing partner, Trey Carskadon, who shared the same obvious expression of relief - then he smiled.

But John was more than a little angry: "That ship is moving in thirty feet of water - well outside the main shipping channel. He's right on the edge - Boys, that was close!"

Carskadon added, "You can just get absolutely turned around in this kind of a fog, so GPS certainly is a must, but even a compass would help. Plus, you better know how to use it. It's essential equipment and I wouldn't come out here without it."

Carskadon is the chairman of the Oregon State Marine Board and he is a boating safety expert when it comes to the fickle Columbia River.

He told me that even in summer, the river conditions often change in a heartbeat:

"Right now the danger is obviously with the fog, but when the wind comes up and you have a lot river traffic out here, it can get downright dangerous. People assume it's like a lake out here, most days it's anything but that."

That much was certain and we'd just experience a good lesson of that fact - but there was another certainty on the river this fine August morning: the river is full of fish.

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"Oh, it's a big Coho," yells John as Trey's rod doubled down and the line screamed off the reel.

"A nice one," noted Carskadon. "Feels all of ten or twelve pounds. A nice hatchery fish too."

He could tell is was a hatchery Coho salmon because it was missing its adipose fin, a small half moon shaped fin that's located behind the dorsal fin.

The adipose fin is clipped off all hatchery salmon babies at the hatchery where each fish is raised.

"I think it's barbeque time at the Carskadon's," noted Krauthoefer with a laugh.

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Trey smiled and then I grinned with admiration for the gleaming salmon as it slipped into the net.

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It has been a remarkable Coho fishing season for the ocean anglers and now, those who travel to fish the Columbia River estuary.

More than a million Coho salmon are forecast to pass through the estuary over the next six to eight weeks.

In fact, right now the angling daily limit is two salmon, but beginning September 1 the limit rises to three Coho salmon a day.

Krauthoefer said there are a variety of baits and lures that anglers use to catch Coho - he prefers a plug cut herring on a diver-flasher rig that's put out 30 feet behind the boat.

Not all of the Coho that anglers catch from the Columbia are hatchery fish.

Many are wild fish that must be released back into the river.

John said there's a "right way" to do that.

"First, don't ever bring them in the boat and don't ever lift them out of the water. Don't just dump them out of your net either. If you can, try to get hold of them by the tail and let them swim out of your hand. If you just dump them out, they often die because they're so tired from the fight, so let the fish rest in your hand and then open your hand so they swim right off."

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As the fog evaporated with the warmer morning, the flooding tide built and hundreds of anglers converged at the famous river marker called "Buoy 10."

But boat wakes, a strong push of current and a rising wind meant that it was a bit like fishing in washing machine - and you want to definitely avoid the spin cycle.

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"People get what I call 'Salmonitis,' explained Krauthoefer. "That is, they'll get a fish on and they lose total track of what's going on around them. You really need to be aware of where your boat is at in relation to other people. Don't assume that the other guy is going to steer out of your way."

"There's another fish," he yelled as my fishing rod throbbed down and then back up and then down once more. This time it stayed down.

I quickly wrestled it from the rod hold and then held on for dear life as the line screamed out of the bait casting reel.

"What have you got there Mr. McOmie" asked the grinning Krauthoefer - knowing full well that my fish was a huge Chinook salmon.

"Oh, something really big with fins on it, John," was all I could muster for an answer.

After a moment, we saw the chrome-sided fish gleam under the surface, just ten yards from the boat.

"Oh, isn't that a beauty? That's a fin clipped hatchery king - and it's big."

The fish ran and I reeled at each break in the heart pounding action.

I 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 toward and then away from the boat.

After fifteen minutes, John dipped the large net under the salmon.

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That is a beautiful fish," said our guide. "Isn't that that something special; just look at the way the sun hits the sides of that salmon."

It was a gorgeous upriver bright Chinook - bound for the Columbia River's upper stretches - hundreds of miles from the estuary.

As the flood tide rose, the fish bite became more frequent and soon we had our limits of fish.

It was a day to remember - one that began on a dance with danger and eventually provided lasting memories and valuable lessons too.

Exciting times in the Oregon outdoors!

For more information on purchasing an Oregon Angling License and locate an Oregon Fishing Guide.

You might even consider making the "Buoy 10" adventure a part of your entry in a unique travel contest. It's called the Oregon 150 Challenge and it offers a unique dream vacation as a grand prize.

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