From 300 feet up, the 4-mile-wide maw of the Columbia River at Astoria is surreal and awe-inspiring. But down on the surface, the scenery gets even better for us anglers as my fishing partner, Trey Carskadon, hooks a salmon.
“Hey, hey, first fish of the day,” he yells.
Another longtime salmon fisherman, John Krauthoefer, slides the net under the 7-pound chinook, smiling as he says, “I think it’s barbecue time at the Carskadons’!”
Trey returns the smile and I also grin with admiration for the gleaming fish. The morning’s flooding tide has reached its peak.
We watch many other anglers develop mile-wide smiles too. The bite right in front of Astoria’s waterfront was most definitely on.
No surprise! The 2016 forecast salmon run is pegged at nearly a million chinook across the Columbia River bar. The annual “Buoy 10” salmon fishery will be strong for nearly two months and it draws anglers from across the planet.
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,” and 5-foot leaders to plug cut herring bait on barbless hooks — three cranks off the bottom — for a simple and effective method.
“I love the fish flash,” notes 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 advises 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,” he says. “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 dances up and down twice and then stays down. I wrestle the rod from the holder and hold on for dear life as the line screams out of the bait casting reel.
“What have you got there, Grant?” asks a grinning John, knowing full well that the fish was a huge chinook salmon.
After a moment, we see the chrome-sided fish gleam under the surface, just 10 yards from the boat.
“Oh, isn’t that a beauty,” says Trey. “That’s a king — and it’s big.”
The fish runs and I reel in an unmatched experience full of heart-pounding action. After 15 minutes, John dips the large net under the salmon.
“That is a beautiful fish,” he says. “Isn’t that that something special? Just look at the way the sunlight hits the sides of that salmon.”
It is 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,” is all I can muster as I gaze with admiration at the gleaming salmon slab, adding, “The Columbia River and Buoy 10 — man, ya gotta love Oregon.”
Trey smiles, saying, “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 Fort 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,” yells John as his fishing rod throbs down, up and then down once more before it staying down. He quickly grabs it and holds on tight. The rod is nearly doubled over as the reel’s drag does its magic against the hard-charging chinook.
He tries 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 dips the large net under the salmon.
“That is a beautiful fish,” says John. “Isn’t that that something special!”
“Being outdoors is the real reward,” notes the longtime fisherman. He brushes his arm across the boat, pointing to the river with scores of bobbing boats and adds, “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. A new salmon fishing season will soon begin.