by John Childs
Well, I have to say this has been a wild ride of a year so far for me! I've begun to feel spread pretty thin, between running tuna trips and then trying to race up to Astoria to fish clients there as well. Sometimes just getting fuel during open hours has been a major hurdle to overcome! The up side has been fishing has been stellar in both locales! A year when either fishery can dependably put up 25-30 bites a day. I expect that tuna fishing, but when salmon fishing is almost as consistent I feel I have to pinch myself once in a while, just to make sure I'm not dreaming it!
Sunrise over the Astoria West Basin Marina
I thought with the season winding down at Astoria, and with a few minutes to actually poke my head up for a breath, I'd recap the Buoy 10 season. There have been a few things that have helped make it more successful, and I thought I'd share them for any late season anglers, but also for anybody already planning next years fishing.
An outsized Buoy 10 king!
In seasons past I always liked running larger baits. I've felt the larger baits cut down on the bites from jacks, and also produced larger Chinook on average, but this year I've started fishing green label herring. My first couple of trips I ran both blues and greens, and the greens got bit noticeably better, so why not go with consistency? The real capper to the decision was our use of anchovies when we could get them. I've bought the fresh anchovies before, and I have to admit on being less than impressed with them for the most part. Once anchovies have sat on ice over night they become fairly fragile bait. I need baits that are hardy to withstand some of the big current pushes we fish at Astoria, and the day old anchovies just don't get it done. Last year I caught my own anchovies with Sabiki rigs, but this is the year that anchovies really fished for me. During the first couple weeks of the Buoy 10 season, when the anchovies were plentiful and I could get an easy days supply jigging in the morning, I found these baits were producing bites at a much faster rate than herring. I think it probably has to do with the fact these are the baits the fish were feeding on prior to hitting the river. As the season progressed the anchovies became harder and harder to catch, meaning I had to rely on herring more often. With the consistency of the anchovy fishing, it seemed the correct move to stay with a bait that was relatively the same size, so we kept using green label for the balance of the season.
Happiness is another beautiful salmon to the boat!
Another thing I've always noticed is how your baits can really get banged up at Buoy 10 from the force of the large currents we are often fishing. The first couple days I was watching my baits get blown out a bit prematurely, so Zach (my fantastic deck hand!!) and I started using sea salt on our baits to toughen them up. Zach would plug cut a couple of trays of bait in the morning and throw them in a zip lock bag with sea salt. This gave our baits a tremendous advantage on toughness. They lasted and lasted! Another advantage seemed to click as well. The fish acted like they liked their herring with a bit of sea salt!! It made for some extremely kick butt baits!!
Nice silver to add to the box!
At this point I should talk about trolling speeds. I read on Internet boards, and hear anglers talking about trolling speed all the time. The problem I consistently notice is they are talking speed over ground trolling. Speed over ground, derived from most GPS units is exactly what it says, the speed you are covering ground at. The problem is if you're traveling with the current your speed over ground is whatever the current speed is PLUS your trolling speed. How do you know what the current speed actually is? You could take your boat out of gear and float with the current a while and see what speed you traveled, and then add your trolling speed to it, but current speeds change as the velocity of the tides increase or decrease. What I'm leading up to is the need for a water wheel speed sensor. I have one on my transducer that gives me trolling speed THROUGH THE WATER, not OVER GROUND. This takes away the uncertainty of speed whether you are going with the current, or against it. Your speed will always be the same.
What a smile!!
For the most part this allows me to keep an amazingly stable troll speed. It's also let me determine the exact speed at which I troll most effectively at Buoy 10. In my boat trolling between .7 and .8-mph is the ticket to success. When we trolled this speed I knew it was only a matter of time before another rod was going to fold. It also showed me how important my line angles are. We ran 16-ounce weights on the back of the boat, and 20-ounces in the middle, and 24-ounces on the front rods. I had a great view of the middle and back port side rods, and when we were trolling the right speed the line angle was just less than 45-degrees. The line angle would occasionally get steeper when we were travelling with a ripping current, or straight up and down if we were trolling against a heavy current. This is when I would deviate from the .7-.8-mph speeds, and would troll whatever was necessary to get back to the fish catching line angle. I guess my real point is that watching my GPS speed over ground readout seemed rather useless. I think any angler would be more consistently effective if they knew exactly what the speed through the water was when they were catching fish.
Another fat silver comes aboard!
It's always been well know at Buoy 10, that when fishing the deep water, suspended baits kill the fish. What I found is that suspended baits kill fish no matter where you're fishing! I love fishing the checkerboard, and the Washington side from the Church to the Shipwreck, and have found that suspended baits are just as equally effective when fishing in 30 feet of water as when we are pushing into the current at Hammond or the Saw Dust Pile. My only adjustment is fishing my back 3 rods very close to the bottom, and then suspending my middle and front rods. What's truly amazing is how often the middle and front rods are the hot tickets when fishing these shallower locals. The fish don't always have their noses in the dirt! When we were fishing 30 feet of water, the back rods where set at 35 feet, the middles at 30, and the front rods at 20 feet on my Tekota 500 line counters. It was amazing how often those 20-foot rods folded!
Leopard spotted chinook about to be released
Spinner fishing was outstanding most days, and for some of the big tide swings in the middle of the season, spinners out fished bait quite substantially. I've been fishing blades from #4 Cascades, all the way up to #7's, but the 4's and 5's have been my go to sizes. UV Hoochies definitely seemed to add to the success of these blades, and any color combination that included pink, white or red seemed to be absolutely effective. All season Zach and I went back and forth on our favorites, but in the end it was probably the ½-white, ½-red blade that saw more time and more fish than any other. Still, ½-red, ½-brass with a blue dot, and ½-yellow, ½-brass with a red dot also fished exceptionally well. These last two blades seemed to excel at finding the silvers when they were around!
1/2 White, 1/2 Brass with a Pink Dot on a Lucky R blade gets it done!!
Finally, I have to call 2013 the year of the double! We had doubles most days, and more often than not multiple doubles every single day. It was nothing short of insane. The biggest trick to hooking doubles is to not reel in your gear every time you hook a fish! We watched as most boats cleared all their lines when they got hooked up, while we only cleared the rods we needed to in order to land the fish we currently were fighting. This allowed us to keep anywhere from 3 to 5 or more rods trolling while we were fighting the fish, and this ended up turning into more doubles than I could possibly count!
One of the many doubles landed this year at Buoy 10!
The biggest key to this is to watch the line angles and move rods out of the way of the rod with the fish on. If the front rod hooked up, we would simply lift the lines below it either over or under the line with the fish on, and then move those rods up the gunnel to the rod holders above, letting the angler with the fish on to move to the back of the boat to land the fish. Every morning with a new set of anglers this took a little work to get everyone to figure out how to do it, but once they saw how easy it was, we kept most of our rods trolling while we fought and landed our fish.
The added benefit to this whole set up was keeping a tight line while we fought our fish. With the new barbless rules in effect we lost more fish than we should have, and keeping the boat in gear and continuing to troll allowed us to keep the line with the fish on tight most of the time, which relates to more fish in the box. It really helped our landing ratios once we started maintaining forward speed.
A nice limit of kings caught above Tongue Point
Overall, with amazing numbers of fish entering the Columbia, the 2013 Buoy 10 season has to go down as one of the most memorable fisheries I've experienced in the last 20 years. I can only say I hope we see more years like this in the future!!