Buoy 10 Salmon Trolling Tips

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Buzz Ramsey’s Buoy 10 Salmon Basics

When we asked Buzz Ramsey — himself an icon of salmon and steelhead fishing — which fishing guides know the most about trolling with herring at Buoy 10, Mark Lytle’s name was one of the very first that came up. Ramsey said Lytle is well-known among the guides for carrying hundreds of dollars’ worth of well-cared-for herring so he has just the right bait for whatever it is the salmon want that day.

“The fish will speak to you” by being more willing to bite a particular type of herring on a given day, Lytle said. “The biggest secret is not to fish lazy.”

What follows are some other suggestions from Lytle. We were specifically talking about the Buoy 10 fishery at the mouth of the Columbia River near Astoria, Oregon, but most of these tips also would apply to trolling herring for salmon in other places.

Herring, Herring Everywhere

Lytle carries not just a tray or two of blue or green label – the two most commonly sold sizes for lower Columbia River fishing – but also stocks plenty of purple labels. Yes, these might be roughly the size of a stocked trout, but they often are the hot bait, especially when plug-cutting and going after bigger chinooks.

“Especially when fishing chinook,” Lytle said, “bait is king.”

Whether you buy your baits close to home or in the lower Columbia River’s many bait shops, stick with high-quality herring, Lytle said.

Colors and Cuts

Besides using different sizes, try different colors of baits. Lytle uses Pro-Cure brines to tint his herring blue, chartreuse and other colors. He also brines some in the natural (no dye) formula.

As a guide, Lytle said plug-cutting herring tends to be most effective for groups of anglers who have different skill levels. However, he knows several experienced anglers who fish herring whole with outstanding results.


Lytle takes a cue from commercial salmon trollers and uses larger hooks on his mooching rigs (fixed hooks for plug-cut herring). He typically uses 7/0 for both hooks, and almost never fishes with hooks smaller than 6/0.

Yes, those big hooks look out of place stuck in a 6-inch herring, but Lytle said he has found no evidence the larger hooks deter salmon from striking. He has found that his clients – like those commercial fishermen – land far more fish on the larger hooks.

Depending on the action he wants to impart on the bait, Lytle either runs his hook close to the herring’s backbone (tighter spin) or not so close (slower roll). Some days, one action is far more effective than another.

Divers and flashers

Lytle typically fishes with a diver at Buoy 10, like most anglers around him. True, some very good anglers prefer lead (especially for deep chinook), but divers will get to the fish, they are consistent and they get results for anglers of all skill levels.

If he’s depths fishing below 50 feet, Lytle often will fish without a flasher. Otherwise, a flasher is usually (but not always) attached to the diver. Flashers are most critical for coho (silver) fishing but also are used by anglers trying for chinook. Lytle also employs many colors of flasher, with chartreuse being the most reliable. Red can be a red-hot option at times. Carrying a few additional color options is a good idea.

When he first started fishing at Buoy 10, Lytle used long leaders. But experience now tells him that 4-foot leaders are ideal most of the time. He’ll shorten leaders so his bait runs 30 inches behind the flasher when the water looks dirty.

Try Different Things

Lytle said the biggest secret is to be adaptable. He often fishes with four to six anglers on board, giving him the luxury of being able to try different baits, flashers and riggings at the same time. If one setup starts performing, he’ll boost their odds by switching other anglers to whatever is most effective.

Captains with fewer rods in the water should still try different approaches until they catch fish, Lytle said. Also, successful anglers keep an eye out to see what is working for anglers landing fish around them. Those with friends on the water also keep in touch by cell phone to share the hot spots and best baits.

Usually, if there’s a crowd of boats, it’s because there are fish to catch. If you don’t know where else to fish, often the best idea is to fish among other anglers. They’ve been drawn in by catches as well. The estuary is a big place, and there will be room.  “When in Rome,” he said, “do as the Romans do.”

Put Away the Bait

While Lytle believes trolling herring is the most effective way to catch Buoy 10 salmon (especially chinook), there are times when he will switch to spinners.

This is particularly true when tide exchanges are bigger than 7 feet. Those stronger tides will rip herring right off. He fishes spinners rigged much the same way he fishes bait – in fact, an angler may simply snip off the mooching hooks and tie on the lure and be back in business in a minute or two.

Find more Best Salmon Fishing in Oregon

Mark Lytle of Lytle Charters (formerly Chance of a Lifetime) has been a fishing guide for about a decade and fishing for enjoyment much longer. These days, he primarily guides for salmon and other sport fish from his dory boat out of Pacific City. He can be reached through his website.

Oregon Resources

ODFW Weekly Fishing Report
ODFW Trout Stocking Schedule
Oregon Fishing Regulations
National Weather Service