A Flame Run To Buoy 10

If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you’ll know that from time to time I make flame runs to far-flung fisheries.

Yesterday, it was Buoy 10 again.

If I’d been a little more on the ball, I would have just stayed in the area after my flame run down from Seattle on Saturday afternoon for a friend’s wedding in St. Helens, Ore., but … forethought is not my specialty.

But despite a lack of sleep, I did manage to make fairly decent mental notes about Monday’s fishing trip with Buzz Ramsey of Yakima Bait and Pure Fishing, Rob Phillips of the ad firm Smith, Phillips & DiPietro which handles Yakima/Worden’s, and the angler/writer/fish biologist Terry Otto. Buzz has been fishing these waters for decades, and Smith and Otto are good salmon anglers whose bylines I’m quite happy to provide space for in Northwest Sportsman.

As for myself, well, the weak link in the team can sort of write an OK story, so here’s an account of what turned out to be an epic fishing day (time wise) that I’m still recovering from.

1:02 a.m.: Alarm goes off — Madre de Dios, why am I doing this again?!?

1:08 a.m.: Turn coffee pot on. Vehicle’s already packed, so while java brews, pull on sweat pants, shirt, shoes and plop down in front of TV; discover fascinating and beautiful bucolic island of Sark, in the English Channel.

1:15 a.m.: Coffee done, pour mug, briefly consider running away to Sark, but realize there aren’t any Chinook or coho runs there, nor deer to hunt.

1:40 a.m.: Time to leave, destination Astoria’s East Mooring Basin. Realize don’t own thermos, so just take rest of coffee pot with me, put in level spot in back seat, hope it doesn’t spill. Hit I-5 southbound.

2:20 a.m.: The Fish Gods are with me! Highway workers in Tacoma apparently on lunch break, sail through without slowing below 65 mph. Booyah!

3:20 a.m.: Losing Seattle radio signals, so switch to CDs; resist temptation to play The Veils’ seemingly appropriate “The tide that left and never came back” for a fifth time at top volume.

4:55 a.m.: O, the joy! The lights and fumes of the Kelso-Longview industrial complex in view — time to exit I-5 and head west on U.S. 30.

5:14 a.m.: Arrive at East Mooring Basin parking lot; see a large man in some kind of rubber suit wandering around in dark, then disappearing into bathroom; decide to delay parking for a moment or two.

5:16 a.m.: Rearrive at East Mooring Basin parking lot; coast is clear. Open trunk, throw on rain jacket, waders, backpack with food, drinks.

5:17 a.m.: Approached by large man in rubber suit — phew, it’s just Buzz Ramsey in his Grundens.

5:20 a.m.: Jump into Ramsey’s sled with Otto and Phillips. Buzz has been here since Friday for the NSIA Buoy 10 Salmon Challenge derby, landing seven that day, 17 on Saturday and four on Sunday — as well as 10 on Aug. 18. With perfect tides (6.2 high at 5:30 a.m., 1.8 low at 11 a.m., 8.1 at 5 p.m.), hopes are very high as we put out of the harbor heading upriver in the rain.

Sometime later: Arrive 7 miles above Astoria, in the channel between Altoona, Miller Sands and Rice Island. This is where late last season Ramsey wailed on the salmon, and our hope is that our Toman squid spinners in red-and-white, etc., (which have been working well for Buzz who has also been handing them out like candy to area guides) will yield similar results. We’re running them behind a mix of divers, flashers and salmon bungees — basically an 8-foot-long getup — on linecounter reels and Berkley rods (naturally, since Buzz is a pro-staffer), and the fishfinder is thick with salmon-sized marks. Dunk our gear so it runs a bit off bottom (35 feet of line out in 20 feet of water, 60 in 30, etc.) and then head for what was once the world’s largest colony of Caspian terns — Rice Island.

Still later: There is next to nobody else around us as we troll downhill into the faces of thousands of fish — just us four, piles of dredge tailings on Miller Sands, and the lakelike Columbia. Rain/drizzle quits, soon we can see the broad, flat face of Oregon’s Nicolai Mountain, where the basalt layers dip to the river as part of a syncline, and the well-named Saddle Mountain; make note to check on why it’s so unusually steep, very odd for the coast ranges.

Later yet: As we head south-southwest off the western end of Rice Island, Buzz’s rod goes off, but the fish somehow throws the hook. A bit further along, Terry and Rob’s setups do unusual tricks — salmon? That, all the fish on the finder and the fact that two guide boats go racing up river lead us to make another pass, tho not quite so high up and more in the scum line.

Along around then: Between working his cell phone to find a better bite, Buzz tells us his very funny skunk story. Involves a small skunk, a live trap, a good solid spraying of said fisherman by said skunk, the application of quite a bit of tomato sauce, repeat. Lots of ducks flying around this a.m.; one long-ass skein of cormorants head up into Baker Bay. We troll up the “mother of all” grass patches.

Later: Head for the middle channel above the Astoria-Megler Bridge — and find the fleet. The lack of rigs pulling boats west on U.S. 30 while I’d sped towards the boat ramp, few trailers in the parking lot there and quiet water had led me to wonder if, on the second to last day for Chinook at B10, anglers had abandoned the fishery. No, they have not. Jump into conga line of around 50 boats trolling downhill towards the middle of the bridge. Not much action up high, but deeper into the pass, nets begin to flail. Begin to realize the difference between a so-so fisherman (yours truly) and someone of Buzz’s caliber — everything in his boat is perfectly organized and labeled, there’s plenty of extra lures, the rods and reels match, it’s a system, not a hodge podge, and I’m lucky enough to be tapping into a wealth of knowledge here.

Later yet: We’re below the bridge now, on the north side of Desdemona Sands, it’s around low tide and another large fleet has gathered. They’re just beginning to switch from trolling downhill to trolling east with the first of the flood. Buzz’s rod again goes off, but out of literally nowhere a giant-ass sea lion blindsides his nice Chinook and steams north with it. The line snaps and marine mammals are disparaged — choke on that treble, big fella! Terry lost a salmon to another sea lion here in mid-August with Buzz.

A short bit later: Terry’s rod goes off, and fortunately there’s no sea lion or seal around, but his leader breaks — argh! It seems like if it weren’t for bad luck, we’d have no luck at all today. Pleasant out under partly cloudy skies, no wind.

Not much later: After a second pass, Buzz takes us above the bridge against the Washington shore where there’s been a little Chinook bite right at the start of the flood tide recently. Dunk our gear around the Megler rest stop and head up past the wrecked ship for a pass.

Awhile later: Clouds parting, northwest wind building, seas getting bouncier during long ride to west of bridge for more passes upstream on the flood. Somewhere around here we learn of Buzz’s hellion days on Portland interstates. Back when there wasn’t quite the traffic volume, he’d take his El Camino out, stop on the freeway and do burnoffs. (Fortunately, the statute of limitations has run out.) Columbia begins to redden, as if Chateau Ste. Michelle just held the world’s biggest grapestomp on the Astoria-Megler Bridge. Actually, it’s an algae bloom. Fleet seems to be dwindling.

Sometime later: Realize just how big the Columbia is here — like 4 miles Oregon shore to Washington shore. And even though we’re “down at Buoy 10,” the actual buoy at the mouth of the river is nowhere to be seen, even as I peer sharply at the waters between the orange bluff of Fort Canby on the north side and the flat forest on the south.

Later: Decide to try north channel again, on other side of bridge. Set gear down around the rest area, troll with the flood upstream.

4 p.m.: Off the wrecked ship, my rod goes off, I grab it, check for sea lions over both shoulders and reel, reel, reel. Coho leaps beside boat, Buzz dips his net, checks for a fin, sees it’s a “smoothie” — a fin-clipped hatchery fish — and the salmon comes over the rail. Yeah, baby! Andy Schneider, step aside, there’s a new AndyCoho in the Northwest!

4:15 or so p.m.: After a mess of pics, loop around for another pass.

Later: As tide begins to change, bounce back out to the middle ground above the bridge, well above some sort of triangular yellow buoy allegedly out in the channel for “research” purposes, and make a couple passes. Very few boats now. Watch pelicans dive for baitfish; Buzz’s fishfinder is the color of a tie-dyed T-shirt there’s so much bait here. As sun sinks to the west, wind begins to die.

6:30 p.m., roughly: Give up and shoot back to the mooring basin 13 hours after it all began.

7:02 p.m.: Shake hands with Buzz, Rob and Terry then hit up Safeway Starbucks for go juice; discover the java fountains have been closed for the evening; recall coffee pot behind seat, glug the last of it cold, head west.

7:20 p.m.: Nice! — discover someone has installed satellite radio in car while I fished. Just out of Astoria, Seattle radio stations KNDD, KISW, KZOK and KMTT come through quite clearly (cool, Little Lion Man’s at No. 2 on The End’s nightly 7 at 7!); sounds as if NPR has been reprogrammed from thoughtful blather to light classic rock/pop.

7:45 p.m.: Radio stations fade due to hills blocking signal; can’t wait for mountaintop removal mining to hit area so can continue listening on future flame runs.

8:00 p.m.: Back onto Washington ground: fuel up at gas station with extra-tall cup of warmish coffee.

9 p.m.: Honk at Frito-Lay semi truck that may or may not be driven by Glen Bayer, of Gamefishin’s Fshn2gether4ever fame.

10:30 p.m.: Arrive home, fillet coho, stuff in fridge.

11 p.m.: Crash in bed.

UPDATE: 10:34 a.m., Sept. 1: Buzz was back at it yesterday, on the last day of Chinook retention, hooking five, landing four, keeping two, but he says the weather was flat-out awful. “It was an adventure. The weather was terrible — wavey, blowing really hard.” His bilge pump went out and his crew had to bail with a cooler. “It was tough … but I was having fun.”

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