If you don’t think sport fishing, and particularly salmon fishing, is important to people in the Northwest, then you should spend a day or two down at the mouth of the Columbia River near Astoria, Ore.
Over the years an extremely popular late summer fishery has developed there, in a fishery known as Buoy 10, with anglers coming from near and far to try to catch a big bright fall chinook salmon or a feisty coho salmon.
Every year the fishery is different, mostly with different closing dates depending on what the run forecast is for the fall chinook. Normally the season for chinook opens on August first, and will run well into August. This year, because run numbers are predicted to be down a bit, the fall chinook season opened on Aug. 15, and will only remain open for two weeks.
So, effectively the season dates put three weeks, or a month’s worth of anglers all into a two week fishery. And it showed.
Even with the pandemic cloud shrouding everything, the first weekend of the season was absolutely crazy. Hundreds and hundreds of boats would take to the water each morning. In the popular fishing areas on both the Washington and Oregon side of the river it was fishing boat for literally as far as the eye could see.
Each boat had at least two anglers and most had three or four. Many of the guide boats had six eager anglers on board, most paying a minimum of $200 to have a chance at catching a nice salmon.
On Saturday, the second day of the season, I counted 22 different guides working the Columbia near Astoria. And that was just on the Oregon side of the river. People like to catch fish, particulary salmon, and are willing to pay for it.
Of course all the businesses in the area get a huge spike in customers as people flock to the area to fish for a day or two. Rooms that might rent at a two star motel for $59 a night during March or October, go for $189 during the Buoy 10 season. And if you are looking for a little nicer room, well, be ready to pay over $300 a night. Supply and demand.
Tables at the local restaurants are at a premium too. Still under the COVID protocols in Oregon, with limited seating six feet apart, it was difficult to get in for a bite to eat. The grocery stores were crazy busy and lines of trucks and boats clogged up the gas stations.
Sports anglers have an economic impact of hundreds of millions of dollars in Washington state each year. And this year in particular, with people wanting, needing to get out of the house, it seems like fishing is even more important. License sales are up and if you have spent any time looking at the fishing tackle aisles at some of the local stores, you will see they can’t keep many items on the shelf.
There are several different boat launches that feed the Buoy 10 fishery, on both the Washington and the Oregon side of the Columbia. You can just imagine what it is like at an hour before sunrise at these launches. Each has long lines of rigs pulling boats, all in anticipation of getting on the water and heading out to see what the day will bring.
And if it floats, you will see anglers fishing out of it at Buoy 10. We saw everything from rubber rafts and kayaks up to catamaran sail boats and 50-foot yachts. All were trolling Fish Flash or Pro Troll flashers with a plug cut herring or a lure of some kind.
I fished with my friend Doug Jewett the first three days of the season this past weekend. We caught fish, but I wouldn’t say the fishing was fast and furious. We worked hard for the bites we got. The fall chinook were all nice fish, weighing 15- to 21-pounds. We caught one coho, too.
Some boats did better than we did, and others really struggled. There’s lots of water in that part of the river, and the fish can be anywhere.
Another factor is the tides. Fish get flushed in on the incoming tide, and while some stay and start their journey upriver, others go back out on the outgoing tide. Trying to figure all that out is a challenge at times too.
The water and weather was really nice when we were there, but it can be nasty at times. Plus, you can pretty much count on the winds picking up in the afternoons, and combine that with the tides and the current of the river and the water can get very rough, sometimes very quickly.
To say that the Buoy 10 salmon fishery is popular is an understatement. Who knows how many anglers will fish there during the two week season? Thousands and thousands for sure. It’s a perfect example of just how important and how desirable fishing is to Washingtonians. Especially salmon fishing, and especially this year.
• Rob Phillips is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer who has written the Northwest Sportsman column for over 25 years. He can be reached at email@example.com