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July 06, 2010

Columbia River Salmon Run

Columbia River fishery highlights success and concern for coveted kings and coho

Tricks of the Trade
The dark of the dawn grew gray with fog and spitting rain. We motored away from Astoria; its hills sparkled as if strung with Christmas-tree lights. In minutes, we had reached the edge of the Desdemona Sands, a series of midriver bars where we'd started trolling the previous day.

Martin decided to change tactics slightly. He opted to shorten one of the 5-foot leaders, placing a spinner blade with a treble hook above it and finishing it with a Brad's Super Bait filled with tuna.

Martin usually customizes the region's standard rigging methods to suit his taste and experience. The first day we used 65-pound Berkley FireLine Tracer Braid main line tied to a 3-inch spreader bar. The spreader helps keep the bait and weights from tangling.

To one arm of the bar, Martin fixed two feet of 20-pound mono and 12 ounces of cannonball weights. Many anglers use 6 to 8 ounces, but Martin likes the weights to bang the bottom. To the other arm, he tied 5 feet of 40pound Trilene Professional Grade fluorocarbon dressed with a bead swivel, gold spinner blade and green beads above two hootchie skirts, one green glow and one pink, over two solid-tie, snelled 4/0 Owner J hooks.

To sweeten the deal, Martin fastens a small chunk of herring, anchovy or dried shad to the forward hook and doses the whole rig with either anchovy Smelly Jelly or Berkley Gulp! Alive herring spray.

Our tackle arsenal included three 10½-foot Berkley AIR IM8 Buzz Ramsey rods fitted with Ambassadeur 7000i line-counter reels.

Grand Finale
Stiff winds began blowing us off our trolling path and stirred the water so vigorously that it rocked the 21footer. But the fish began to hit: For more than an hour, coho assaulted the lines. The three of us worked the small cockpit, reeling, netting, clearing, stumbling and highfiving.

Several of the coho proved wild, literally; wild fish must be released in water if at all possible. Eight fish later, we had a two-angler limit and released wild and smaller coho. Martin headed for Chinook Alley.

The alley, just north of Desdemona Sands, featured a procession of boats slowly trolling toward the mouth of the river. At a certain point, near the Megler/Astoria Bridge, the boats would turn back upriver, run to the head of the alley and set up again.

On our first pass, the bite erupted. One small fish hit the port line, then three in a row. Martin released one fish as a second jumped on the line. A third shook loose at the boat.

On our second pass, the frenzy doubled. Most of the coho were unmarked wild fish, quickly released. We were fishing just off the bottom in 26 feet of water and had found the mother lode of hungry pre-spawners. But just as quickly, on the third pass, the bite slowed.

The ebbing tide pushed us farther out of the estuary, and we followed the cooler water. Regrouping, we assessed the morning bite. But before we could mentally wrap our minds around the day, something big and solid wrapped its mouth around the starboard mooching rig.

Martin picked up the rod and watched line melt away. "Oh my God, it's a slab!" We held our ­collective breath as Martin worked what we now assumed must be a big chinook. The fish ran five times, showing itself once near the boat.

We nervously cleared all tackle and positioned the net for a pickup. The chinook came aboard with a thud. It weighed 41 pounds. The legend of Buoy 10 continues.