Editor’s Note: Be sure to read the 2024 Columbia River run forecast summary and 2024 season dates below.
Buoy 10 itself is an unassuming shipping marker at the mouth of the Columbia River, but the term conjures up so much more: Namely, one of the most popular and productive salmon fisheries across the Lower 48.
Buoy 10 draws anglers from Oregon and Washington and across the West Coast and beyond to chase still-abundant coho and Chinook salmon.
First, exactly where is Buoy 10? The navigational marker Buoy 10 sits where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean between Oregon and Washington. On a map, it’s about midway between the jetties on each state’s side of the river mouth.
Here’s a photo. Honestly, it’s not all that impressive just looking at the buoy from a boat.
Among anglers, however, the term “Buoy 10” refers not just to the buoy marking the western end of a fisheries management zone, but really the entire lower estuary fishing area from the buoy clear up to Tongue Point just east of Astoria.
And it’s almost legendary.
Like most salmon fisheries, Buoy 10 is subject to boom and bust cycles. Sometimes both the coho and Chinook runs are great, other years have just one species in tremendous supply, and some years are slower for both.
One way or another, usually there are enough salmon to make the trip worthwhile.
Just two hours northwest of Portland, the sprawling estuary of the West’s largest river attracts anglers by the thousands each late summer but still has plenty of space and fish to go around most years, once you get past the hordes at the ramps.
From the metro area, anglers may drive on highways 26 and 101, through Seaside, or take Highway 30 along the lower river, either picking it up in Portland or by taking Interstate 5 to Longview, Wash., before crossing south into Oregon for the rest of the trip.
A slower but scenic option is Washington’s State Route 4.
Boat ramps, bait shops, overnight accommodations and various supplies and services are located in Astoria, Warrenton and Hammond on the Oregon side and Chinook, Ilwaco and the Long Beach Peninsula in Washington.
Look for a current update below.
This section of the Columbia is defined by an imaginary north-south line at Buoy 10 east to another imaginary line that runs from Rocky Point on the Washington bank to Tongue Point in Oregon, passing through red buoy 44.
This area typically opens for Chinook and adipose fin-clipped (hatchery reared) coho on Aug. 1 each year, along with many Oregon coastal fisheries.
In the Buoy 10 management area (below Tongue Point), Chinook fishing typically will be open until late August or early September, with seasons set annually.
After that, Chinook fishing activity heads up the Columbia and down the coastline, but coho fishing is often productive in the area well into September.
Be aware that fish abundance can result in changes to salmon seasons and bag limits here and in other Oregon fisheries mid-season, after the annual regulations booklet is printed. Always consult the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website for in-season changes.
Regulations protect some threatened upriver runs of wild fish, even though the largest contingent of Buoy 10 Chinook salmon (upriver brights) come from healthy stocks that spawn in a free-flowing section in Washington state.
A tule strain of Columbia River Chinook is the other large group in the run, spawning in lower Columbia and tributaries (or bound for hatcheries there).
While tules aren’t as mint bright for long, they do hang around the estuary and therefore offer anglers more chances at them than the fast-moving upriver brights.
However, the brights are preferred by many anglers and there is some concern about the tule populations in the lower river system.
Only adult salmon may be kept in this zone during the peak months. Adult Chinook must be a minimum of 24 inches, while an adult coho is any over 16 inches.
The usual limit is two adult salmon, but check online for specifics for the season. During particularly abundant coho years, fisheries managers in both states have been willing to boost the daily limit for hatchery coho at mid-season.
Check with ODFW for mid-season closures, bag-limit changes or other adjustments to regulations. Local bait and tackle shops and guides also keep up on changes as they occur.
Boat anglers can have a valid fishing license and harvest tags from either state, regardless of where they launch or take out.
Oregon anglers also need a Columbia River endorsement to fish for salmon, steelhead and sturgeon anywhere in the watershed.
Anglers also should note some relatively new closed areas for sport anglers.
Know Before You Go
The Columbia River estuary can get rough in a hurry. Wind often kicks up in the late morning or afternoon hours but can do so at any time.
Outgoing tides also can make boating dangerous.
Smaller boats are safer in upstream areas, where water conditions tend to be calmer than closer to Buoy 10.
You must carry life jackets, and while many anglers fish without wearing them, keeping them on is a good idea.
Inflatable life jackets are growing in popularity and often worn by anglers who want to stay safe while fishing in unpredictable waters like Buoy 10, Ramsey said.
It also pays to consult a map and learn the locations of channels and sand bars, including the huge Desdemona sands off Astoria and Warrenton, which produce potentially dangerous shallow waters during the lower end of each tide cycle, especially for boat drivers that speed across them unaware.
A fish finder is very valuable, not just in finding fish but in staying safe.
Best Time to Fish – Consult Your Tide Table
When the season opens Aug. 1, many anglers focus their attention closest to Buoy 10, the first legal place to ambush salmon making their way into the estuary.
Some salmon shoot straight upriver while others pass in and out of the estuary, fattening up on anchovies and other baitfish.
The Buoy 10 fishery can start slow in the early days of August, when salmon numbers haven’t always built up yet.
Look to your tide table for the first big tide exchanges to push decent numbers of fish past Buoy 10. “Most people don’t rush out there at the opener,” Ramsey said.
However, coho fishing can be good early near the buoy some days, when groups of fish sweep in with the tides.
Also, some big Chinook always find their way into the estuary and often are caught around the Astoria-Megler Bridge beginning on day one or shortly thereafter.
The fishery often gets hot (or at least reliable) around mid-August, depending on tides, and often stays very productive until well after Labor Day.
In fact, the coho bite can stay good until late September, usually after many anglers have moved on to other salmon fisheries.
Fishing usually is best in low-light conditions, with the first hour or so of legal fishing often the golden time, but salmon can be caught (legally and literally) during all daylight hours and, with calm seas, in the waning hours of daylight when few anglers are out.
More important than the hands on the clock are the peaks and valleys on the tide table. “The tides have everything to do with it,” Ramsey says.
Many anglers will start a low slack at Buoy 10 and gradually work their way inland as the flood tide carries fish in.
Boaters will often point west, toward the Pacific Ocean, but actually get pushed inland while essentially back-trolling against the incoming tide. Usually the first half of flood tide is better than the second.
At high slack, fishing often improves again. When the water starts ebbing, troll downstream with the outgoing tide and river current. The first half of ebb tide also is usually better than the later stage.
Generally speaking, fishing is a bit better closer to Buoy 10 during large tides, while softer tide series can turn on the better fishing upriver, such as near the bridge, Ramsey noted.
If Ramsey always could pick the ideal tide and time, he would pick a high tide that occurs close to first light.
He would start his day near or above the Astoria-Megler Bridge and then work downriver with the outgoing tide, probably focusing on deep-running Chinook salmon in those upper areas.
Where to Fish
The most popular areas for coho salmon are close to Buoy 10 and inland from there, where the water is the most ocean-like.
Coho also are caught in good numbers on the Washington shore off upper Sand Island up to Chinook, Wash., and also around the north (Washington) end of the Astoria-Megler Bridge.
Chinook salmon often inhabit deeper waters.
Fishing for them is popular in channels closer to the Washington shore, including off the Church Hole (below the white church up on the Washington shore) and upstream well above the bridge.
Chinook also are quite commonly caught in the deep shipping channel that runs along the Oregon shore from Buoy 10, off Hammond, Warrenton and Astoria and on up to Tongue Point.
While coho will often strike baits just deep enough to drop from sight (and even will nab bait or lures within view) and frequently are caught in the top 20 or so feet of water, Chinook salmon are more commonly caught deeper.
Ramsey often seeks chinook at depths of 25 to 30 feet, but they also can be caught in shipping channels down to 70 feet or so.
On the flood tide, the colder ocean water comes inland beneath the layer of warmer river water.
Turn the sensitivity up on your fish finder and you often can spot the line between the two types of water, often at about 20 or so feet deep. Ramsey said fishing within about 5 feet of that break is often the best.
How to Troll
“Herring is the go-to bait at Buoy 10,” Ramsey said. Few would argue, although there is a healthy debate about whether plug-cutting herring is more effective than leaving them whole.
Most Buoy 10 anglers like to fish behind a diver, such as a Delta or Deep 6. Most, but not all, anglers add a flasher as an attractor.
Ramsey ties a snap on the leader about two feet behind the flasher. To this he adds a bead chain swivel and then ties on four more feet of mooching leader.
Ramsey likes to fish different sizes of herring, both whole or plug-cut, because salmon preferences seem to change often.
“I’ve had times when if it wasn’t a plug-cut purple label (large herring), you couldn’t catch them,” he said. “I always take a variety and let the fish tell me.”
Blue and green label herring are sold in biggest numbers, especially for coho, but the big purple label baits are often ideal for Chinook, Ramsey said.
After herring, spinners are most popular and gaining in usage, Ramsey said.
Some days spinners equal or out-fish natural baitfish. Red and white spinners are a good all-around choice, and chartreuse/green dot are very good as well, especially in early morning and overcast low-light situations.
2024 Columbia River Salmon Run Forecast
We don’t yet have a full forecast for the 2024 Buoy 10 salmon season, but a brief report from ODFW and WDFW suggested that at least the Columbia River’s 2024 Chinook run coming to Buoy 10 could be similar to the excellent 2023 run. We will update this section when additional information is available. Until then, the remainder of this section is from our 2023 update.
Overall, the 2023 season looks promising if the fisheries biologists’ predictions are in the right ballpark. The Chinook run forecast I would rate as “good” and the coho run prediction I would rate as “potentially great.”
First, let’s look at Chinook, often called “kings” and the largest of the Pacific salmon.
The run of “upriver bright” Chinook salmon expected to return to the Columbia River is 272,400, which is a modest improvement over last year’s excellent fishery, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s forecast.
These fish are bound for the river basin above Bonneville Dam and beyond, and they truly are the brightest and most prized of the river’s fall Chinook runs.
The forecast for the next biggest fall Chinook run of interest to anglers, the Bonneville Pool Hatchery tule run, is 136,100. That’s about 50 percent above the 10-year average return of this segment of the Columbia salmon run, but less than the big 2022 return.
The lower Columbia River wild tule runs are projected to be about the same as recent years.
These are the fish that are protected (you must release them) and tend to lead to tighter fishing restrictions, including last year’s early closure at Buoy 10 that pushed lots of anglers including me above Bonneville Dam. (No worries, we got our upriver brights and big hatchery tules in September!)
Now to coho: The silver salmon prediction run matches the coho color: Bright!
WDFW projects that 886,000 coho are bound for the Columbia River this late summer and fall. That’s better than a strong return last year and nearly double the averages logged over the past decade.
So there will be lots of silvers to go around when they arrive in force in the Buoy 10 estuary zone.
Buoy 10 Fishing Regulations
Note the general guidance to this fishery covered earlier, including the definition of the zone area.
For 2023, fishery managers will open the Buoy 10 fishery on August 1 as usual. (And these rules actually extend up to western tip of Puget Island farther up the lower river.)
With a few exceptions that we’ll note in a moment, the area will be open to fishing for both hatchery Chinook and hatchery coho through Labor Day on September 4. That’s right, both of these species must be fin-clipped to keep, and you can’t keep more than one chinook per day during this period.
Now the exceptions: In a 2023 twist resulting from last year’s controversial early closure, the new plan is to have a couple of brief closures during the typical peak of the Chinook fishing, to help reduce overall harvests and try to keep the season on track to Labor Day.
Therefore, there will be no salmon fishing at Buoy 10 from Aug. 21-23 (a Monday to Wednesday) and another closure early the following week, Aug. 28-29 (a Monday and Tuesday).
As long as the plan holds and an emergency closure isn’t needed, fishing will remain open later in the weeks and on weekends, including the entire Labor Day weekend.
But wait: There’s a second season at Buoy 10.
Starting the day after Labor Day (on Tuesday, Sept. 5), chinook fishing closes but coho goes wide open. Anglers can keep up to three hatchery silvers (with healed fin-clips).
While it certainly can vary year to year, there are seasons when the coho fishing really doesn’t get all that great until we turn the calendar into September.
I’ve personally had my best Buoy 10 coho days between Hammond and Warrenton along the Oregon side or above the bridge on the Washington side around the second week of September, for what it’s worth.
A Final Pro Tip
Learn to switch things up.
Successful Buoy 10 anglers try different things on your boat and notice what other anglers a boat or a cell phone call way are doing differently to catch fish.
Once one approach starts hauling in fish, run with it until the success shuts off. Oftentimes, a specific lure or color seems to outshine all others, whether it’s for an hour, a day or a given season.
Several lures that have been introduced in recent seasons and found plenty of fans at Buoy 10 include Brad’s Super Cut Plug lure and spinners with hootchies on the hooks.
Find more Fishing in Astoria
Find more Best Salmon Fishing in Oregon
Learn more about the river’s other angling opportunities in Columbia River Fishing.
Buzz Ramsey is among the Pacific Northwest’s most widely recognized experts in salmon and steelhead fishing. He has helped design and market many fishing lures and related products and has become a brand name himself. Besides being a fixture on the water and at fishing seminars, he also appears on televised angling shows and writes for newspapers and magazines.