Buoy 10 Salmon Fishing- Make your move
Great anticipation is an attribute that makes many talented athletes great. It allows the linebacker to be there before the offensive play develops. It makes for a fast break opportunity with a stolen pass in basketball. And for anglers fishing Buoy 10 on the Lower Columbia, great anticipation may put a boat consistently in the bite, making the whole fishery look easy.
It’s one of the great fisheries on the West Coast, but for many it’s big, intimidating and success often times accidental. Fishermen can become concerned with the location and don’t necessarily understand the when and why part of the occasion. Let’s take the Church hole for instance. For Columbia River fishermen the name brings visions of insane bites where a couple hundred nets might fly in mere hours. You might say, “if a couple hours fishing at the Church is good, then four, five, six, even a whole day must be better”. Sure, there are days when the Church lasts more than a couple hours, but most of the time, it’s just a small window of opportunity and then the fish are gone, or the drift has become unfishable.
Unfortunately, many fishermen will simply hang out in an area that they know to be good and simply keep at it until they get their opportunities. Chances are that if you stay in one place long enough, fish will eventually move through, but why not move with the fish and end up with a more productive day? Rather than hanging out in the Church all day you could begin figuring out the pattern. What routes are these using? Are the fish coming off of Desdemona on the outgoing, meaning that a bulk of the fish are ending up on the sands during the incoming? Are the fish running tight to the Washington Shore and then settling in on the sands as they run into depth resistance above the bridge? These are questions that need to be asked and getting them answered requires a bit of moving around, or friends in every drift to do the moving around for you.
Over the next several paragraphs I’m going to outline a typical day of movements. This isn’t the only pattern I’ll use, but one that works when the fishing is hot on the Washington side. The movements are based on an approximate 12 hour tide cycle (incoming to outgoing) and I’ve tried to provide time relationship references throughout. How far I fish off the sands and which routes I’m dialed into above the bridge might change, but this layout will provide you with a starting point to build upon.
In that we started the article with the Church Hole as our example, we’ll start on the Washington side and begin fishing the last hour and a half of the ebb tide. On a hard outgoing tide I might fish the tide all the way out to A jetty. I love this troll and love what happens as the up-welling of fish takes shape on my Garmin 6208. If I run out of room and run into the deadline between Buoy 10 and the yellow buoy along the Washington shore, I’ll simply pick up and run back up the river a ways and start the troll out to the deadline again. As the exchange begins to happen, the graph will begin to light up and in a matter of minutes there’s action. If you fish this pass enough, over the years you’ll begin to time your arrival to this area so as to be most efficient.
From A jetty my next move will either be to the mouth of Baker Bay or onto Desdemona Sands in the vicinity of the Desdemona Marker. You can fish into the tide at this point, but my M.O. is to typically to troll with the tide. Why? I fish lead and it doesn’t have the ability to stay down like a diver does and I never fish more than 16 ounces, so I turn and go the other direction. Like many I’ll work the sands with continued passes working to get on a line of fish and using my GPS to hone in on the pods as I rerun my routs. My snail tracks on my Garmin are a big weapon and I use them all the time. My passes will start further and further east over the next several hours until I’m to the Astoria Megler Bridge.
From the bridge there are a couple of different route choices. On the Washington shore you can fish tight right up along side the ship wreck. Another route option is to fish the 30-40 foot ditch that runs off at a ESE angle from the arches on the Washington side. This particular ditch is the beginning of Blind Channel. And the final choice are the “bumps” that fish get stuck on right on the sands. If you run this series of bumps straight, you’ll eventually run into Blind Channel as Blind Channel runs at an angle towards Rice Island and your paths will intersect. With the three choices, I’ll run one, but keep my eyes open and move to the various locations until I feel like I’m on fish. I don’t spend long in an area as I believe they’re either there or not 5 hours into the incoming. These fish aren’t hard to catch if you’re on top of them and fishing your gear correctly.
At high slack I’ve likely worked my way into Blind Channel, or one of the fingers that make up Taylor Sands. Depending on the strength of the tide, I might fish a little lower and hang a little tighter to the Rest Area, just above the bridge. Strength of tide at this point is critical and being able to mentally measure the distance that a ball of fish might push into the river is the name of the game. Instinct after years of fishing helps a lot, but the bottom line is, if you’re not on fish, move! There are only so many places they can be.
As the tide starts out, I’ll begin to work my way off of Taylor Sands and eventually get below the bridge. I like to start high on Desdemona looking for fish on my graph and nets in the air. Often times the bite will move and start in one part of the sands and migrate to another. The Trailer Park, the Red Roof, the Church and the Tunnel make up the markers along the Washington side of Desdemona Sands. The bite could be anywhere in this area, but the Church is often times ground zero. Of course anytime you run into a pile of fish, the “rinse and repeat” tactic of picking up your gear traveling back up above the fish and then trolling back through the ball of fish is a must. The act of trolling is all about finding this “ball of fish” and I’ve never really understood why folks just keep trolling along after having had some success in a small area. Always pick your gear up run back up, drop your gear in and expect success as you troll through the area again.
Unless the tides are such that the bite doesn’t stop around the Church Hole, I’ll eventually work my way out towards the Buoy 10 area again starting the whole cycle over again.
So in 900 words we just covered about 12 miles of river, but the point to the story is move! Learn to move with the tides and your experience at Buoy 10 will become a lot more productive. This is just but one scenario, but hopefully the layout of these moves can become a template for your own patterns and program. You’ll very likely discover your own twists that garner success and find yourself anticipating fish movements with more and more success.
Lance Fisher is the owner of Lance Fisher Fishing a guide and charter service serving Oregon, Washington and the Columbia River.