Fall-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) on the Columbia River are known for their size—they are arguably the largest fish of the three major runs—and their ferocity on the hook. The fishery for fall-run Chinooks on the Columbia River is defined by Buoy 10, which often serves as the fishery’s namesake.

Because the Buoy 10 fishery is at the mouth of the Columbia River, near Astoria, Oregon, fall-run Chinook salmon are caught as they are leaving the ocean for their long swim upriver to their spawning grounds. They are known as “up-river brights” because they are still bright silver, not yet having developed the rosy “salmon pink” breeding colors they acquire farther upriver. This also means they are particularly full of fight, since they have not been worn down by the long journey up the Columbia River.

Like their spring- and particularly summer-run brothers, fall-run Chinook salmon once ranged over a wider area and reached far greater weights than they do at present: sometimes 60 pounds or more, even 100 pounds or more on occasion.

The entire Columbia River salmon fishery was hit hard with the development of modern canning in the late 19th century. The removal of millions and millions of tons of salmon selected for smaller fish even as mining and agriculture degraded salmonid spawning grounds and river habitat. The damming of the river, especially the Grand Coulee Dam, made matters worse.

Upriver Brights on Columbia RiverThe recovery of the Columbia River fishery is a great triumph for conservationists and anglers alike. Nowadays, hundreds of thousands of Chinook salmon swarm the mouth of the Columbia River near Astoria, making for one of the greatest fishing charter experiences in the greater Portland area. In today’s fishing guide, we’ll look at these remarkable fish and see how you can increase your chances of a successful fishing charter on the Columbia River.

Natural History

As we’ve covered in a previous blog post, Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) are quite closely related to other species of Pacific salmon and to many species of trout, with more distant connections to Atlantic salmon, brown trout, and other salmonids.

Chinook salmon begin life as eggs laid in freshwater rivers or even smaller streams, and the young fish live in fresh water between three months to a year. Thereafter they migrate to the ocean, where they mature and eventually swim upriver to repeat the cycle.

Compared with the spring and summer runs on the Columbia, the fall-run Chinook salmon spawn closer to the ocean. They enter the water later than their conspecifics precisely because they do not have as far to travel. Where the summer and spring runs may travel hundreds of miles to their breeding grounds, fall-run Chinook salmon prefer small coastal streams.

Juvenile Chinook salmon, including the very young fry and the slightly larger smolts, subsist on a diet of plankton, insects, amphipods, and crustaceans while they are in fresh water. However, after they migrate to the ocean, maturing Chinook salmon switch to large zooplankton and especially to baitfish, including herring, pilchard, sandlance, and others. They also eat squid and crustaceans.

As they migrate upriver to breed and die, Chinook salmon progressively lose interest in food. However, since we’re talking about fishing charters for “upriver brights,” fall-run Chinook in the Buoy 10 fishery at the mouth of the Columbia River, this fact is less significant. These fish are still interested in feeding, and that can work in your favor appreciably.

Fishing for Upriver Brights

The standard wisdom when planning a fishing charter for Chinook salmon on the Columbia River, or indeed any river, is to be out on the water with hooks baited and ready to go at first light. Chinook salmon are generally more active in the very early morning, and again at dusk, although tidal changes can also induce significant feeding activity during the day.

The reason tides induce feeding activity is that they have the effect of encouraging baitfish to clump together in dense schools, where they are much easier for salmon to pick off.

For fall-run “upriver bright” Chinook salmon in the Columbia River’s Buoy 10 fishery, the tidal activity at the mouth of the river, coupled with the fact that they are at the very beginning of their journey, means more feeding activity throughout the day. In other words, while it is a good idea to be out on the water at first light, it is not as important as it is with the other runs, particularly farther upriver.

Fall-run Chinook will take bait, such as herring or anchovy, and they are also known to take lures. They have been known to take spinners as well as jig lures that mimic their prey.

While jigs in particular have been known to yield success with Chinook, there are indications that fall-run Chinook are especially responsive to bait, especially herring and anchovy. Because they are feeding preparatory to going upriver, Buoy 10 fall-run Chinook salmon still have access to naturally-occurring schools of the marine baitfish that are their usual prey in the ocean, which may explain the noted success of baits.

As usual with Chinook, it’s important to have strong line, about 20-lb test, and leaders at about 30-40-lb test. Adult Chinook are very powerful fish, and fall-run Chinooks, usually in peak physical condition, are noted for vicious strikes and putting up a terrific fight.

Fishing Charters for the Buoy 10 Columbia River Fishery

Columbia Chinook Upriver BrightsIf you’re looking to experience the Buoy 10 Columbia River fishery, one of the best ways to do it is to hire a fishing guide for a charter. A good salmon fishing guide will have a fish finder and be proficient in its use, saving a great deal of time finding the fish. Other important benefits include the use of a boat and tackle.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has set the fall season from August 1-December 31. However, for adult Chinook 24 inches and longer, retention is only allowed from August 1-August 24. The daily bag limit is one adult salmonid, including not only the fall-run Chinook but also the related Coho salmon and the steelhead.

With such a limited season and with the strict bag limit, it’s important to make the most of your time on the water. The mouth of the Columbia River is large, and as with other large bodies of water may look fairly mysterious. Fall-run Chinook move through the water at different times of day, responding to natural features and to the tides. Chartering a salmon fishing guide in the Portland area is a good strategy for increasing your odds of hooking a large and powerful fish.

Whether you’re a seasoned hand or a first-timer, we’d love to be a part of your Buoy 10 Columbia River fall-run Chinook salmon experience.

To find out more about how we can help you hook the fall-run Chinook “upriver bright” of your dreams, please drop us a line.