Fish numbers are increasing as Buoy 10 season progressesOn a cold and windy Thursday, seven hours after an early morning start from the Hammond marina, Bruce Buck saw the tip of his fishing pole start to dance. The boat sprang to life.
"Feed it some more line," suggested Bob Rees, the fishing guide for this expedition, as he grabbed a net in preparation for scooping up the fish.
Joanne Buck, Bruce's wife, jumped up and reeled in her line, and suggested that the novice angler in the boat do the same to avoid tangling lines or catching too many fish at once.
Everyone crowded to the port side to watch as Buck reeled in a shining coho salmon.
"It's a nice fish, it's beautiful," Buck said with pride in his voice. Then he got the bad news.
"That's the fin we were hoping to not have," Rees said, pointing at an intact adipose fin on the salmon's back that indicated the coho might not be a hatchery fish. So, after documenting the catch on film, Buck let the salmon continue on its journey up the Columbia River, put another piece of herring on his hook, and sat back down to wait for the next bite.
"We've finally got a wet net, that's good," said Joanne Buck. Added Rees: "Our next goal will be blood in the box." Although Thursday's fishing party only got four nibbles and two wild coho that had to be released, when the Bucks went out the next day with Rees the boat caught its limit of chinooks and coho.
LORI ASSA - The Daily AstorianFishing guide Bob Rees sorts out the fishing poles and baits the lines for his passengers.The Buoy 10 salmon fishery is now in its fourth week, and anglers and state agencies alike report that the fishing is good, especially for chinook. While the weekend rain might have kept some anglers away, the influx of cool fresh water that it brought should coax more salmon into the river. The chinook runs are expected to be at their peak later this week and the coho numbers are increasing.
On track"Right now, Buoy 10 is behaving about as we expected it to," said Pat Frazier, the program leader for the Region 5 fish management program with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Last week, more than one angler in every three caught a chinook on average.
"Those catch rates are about as good as it's gotten in the last couple of years," he said. The catch rates for coho salmon are improving but still aren't as stellar. A good catch rate for coho is at least one per rod in the water, and it's now at about one coho per five rods.
"This year the fishery will be based on chinook," Frazier said.
According to figures from the agency, so far anglers in the Buoy 10 fishery have taken 26,000 trips and caught 7,700 chinook and 3,800 coho. These numbers are slightly higher than the trip and chinook numbers from this time in 2003.
A large percentage of this year's trips and catches occurred last week; between Aug. 16 and Aug. 22 there were 16,000 angler trips that resulted in a catch of 6,000 chinook and 3,200 coho salmon.
The department is keeping an eye on the composition of the chinook stock, however, to see how many of those caught are upriver brights, some runs of which are listed as endangered.
"We're seeing a higher proportion of brights than we modeled pre-season, which is not really what we want to see," said Frazier. The department is meeting later this week to get a more definite count of the number of landed chinook brights, and determine if further regulatory action is necessary.
For now, though, the fishery is in full swing.
Even with the rain, there were between 3,000 and 4,000 anglers fishing in the river each day during the weekend.
"They braved the storm and still caught fish," said Frazier. "When the fish are out, the fishermen aren't concerned with the weather."
Two apieceBoats seem to be catching about two fish per trip, said Andy Dobner, an experimental biologist aide with Oregon Fish and Wildlife who was checking boats as they came in to the Hammond marina. Saturday the marina was packed with anglers, but when it started to rain there was a bit of a rush to come back in; Dobner said he saw two people fall in the water, but no one was seriously hurt.
Rich Horner of Salem timed it right - he and his friends had started heading in to the marina Saturday when the heavy rain started. By 1 p.m. Sunday they had caught their limit of chinook, including a 37 pounder, by fishing near Hammond; they didn't go towards the mouth because they "don't like that choppy stuff," Horner said.
Eddie Carlson of Beaverton was cleaning three coho at the Hammond marina Sunday afternoon, and noted that the rain will probably be a good thing since it could cause chinook lagging in the ocean to venture into the river. He said he fishes every weekend during the season, and has high hopes for this summer.
"It won't be as good as last year, but this will be a good year," he said. "Definitely above the average."
While the fishing is good, some businesses are still having a slower summer than was hoped for.
LORI ASSA - The Daily Astorian
Pelicans and a fisherman look for their catch in the Columbia River on a recent gray morning. "Business is down a little from previous years," said Kasey Rogers, owner of Free Willy Bait Tackle and Charters. He attributes the drop in business to changes in fishing rules that confuse potential anglers.
"People don't know the regulations and can't keep track of what's open," said Rogers. "They're afraid of getting a ticket."
Still, he said that he expects business to pick up over the next couple of weeks. On Saturday, he sold 700 dozen bait herrings, and had a crowd of eager anglers lined up at the door at 4:30 a.m. Bait sales were down Sunday, probably because of the rain, said Rogers.
Down the road at Kampers West campground and RV park, business is booming.
"August has been wonderful, we have to turn people away because we just don't have any room," said bookkeeper Karen Brunmeier. She said the campground is almost booked solid through much of September, and people are reserving space for next summer.
From far awayPeople come from all around to fish with the masses at Buoy 10. The Bucks drove from Jaffrey, N.H., in their RV to catch salmon on the Columbia River and trout in British Columbia.
"We don't have anything like the Columbia River in New England," said Bruce Buck, after a skull-jarring trip across the choppy river to get to the fishing grounds. He is a retired airline pilot and his wife has her own temp agency; every year they come out to fish with Rees.
"It's the whole experience, it's not just catching the fish," said Joanne Buck. "We just enjoy it, we like being outdoors," added her husband, who admitted he doesn't like to eat the fish he catches.
Still, he sounded a little disappointed as he watched the fish he caught swim away.
"I don't remember throwing any back last year," he said.