“…below this point the waves became So high we were Compelled to land unload and traw up the Canoes, here we formed a Camp on the neck of Land which joins Point William to the main at an old indian hut. The rain Continued hard all day we are all Wet and disagreeable…” – Capt. William Clark, November 27, 1805.
Lewis and Clark dubbed the unique point of land projecting into the Columbia River, Point William. Yet in reality the honor or naming the projection of land belonged to British Lt. William Broughton, when he named it Tongue Point on Oct. 21, 1792.
Looking up river I had a close-up view of the point and from what I saw, I think Broughton was right on the mark. The point does look a lot like tongue, projecting from the mainland nearly a mile, tipped with a 300 foot high knob.
As interesting as I find Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery it wasn’t history that brought Paul Kneeland and I to the Columbia River this August, it was broad shouldered, chrome bright king salmon and the opportunity to fish with legendary salmon disciple, Buzz Ramsey.
Buzz is an icon in the world of salmon and steelhead fishing. Buzz is a widely published author and appears regularly on television. Not only is Buzz an expert lure designer, but he also has a deep understanding of the fishing industry. As a result, he has been associated with some of the most prominent companies in the tackle business including Luhr Jensen, Yakima Bait and Berkley.
Over the years, Buzz’s list of accomplishments has grown pretty long. His most recent projects include designing Yakima’s Mag Lip Flatfish and his line of signature Air Series salmon and steelhead rods he developed for Berkley.
Growing up one of my fishing goals was to catch a king salmon in what I considered the West Coast’s four marquee salmon rivers, the Sacramento, Rogue, Kenai and Columbia.
Living in California I’ve obviously caught my share of Sac River kings. A trip a few years back allowed me to notch a Rogue River king on my fishing resume. And I’ve landed several huge kings on Alaska’s Kenai, including catching and releasing back to back 40 plus pounders while tossing big Rooster Tail spinners for silvers. I had to release both of those incredible kings, but I’ll never forget the excitement of wearing them down on fairly light spinning gear.
Two years ago, I’d had a memorable fishing trip on the Columbia and Willamette with pro guide Dan Ponaciano, but our target wasn’t salmon, it was white sturgeon. We caught dozens of them up to about 5 feet long. That trip only made me more curious about the Columbia and more determined than ever to pull a king out of its waters.
Last winter I decided it was time to hunt that salmon down so I reached out to Buzz.
“Please, please, please Mr. Ramsey take me salmon fishing…,” I said, or something along those lines.
Buzz must like tangled lines, backlashed reels and snack related crumbs on the floor of his boat, because he agreed to take both Paul and I fishing. I was delighted. We settled on a couple days at the end of August for our trip.
“You can never tell when the run is going to peak in the lower Columbia, but you can pretty much bet on hooking multiple fish there during the last week of August,” Buzz related.
Our itinerary looked like this… Paul and I flew into Portland, Oregon on the evening of August 27, jumped into a rental car and drove about two hours to reach Astoria. As luck would have it, one of Paul’s grade school buddies, Joe Novelli has a vacation home in Astoria and he planned on being there to do a little salmon fishing himself along with Dave Barsi who was driving in from Redding, Ca. Joe offered up his beautiful home to serve as our base camp during the trip.
With non-resident fishing licenses in our hands and packs full of cameras and other gear, we met Buzz, Rob Phillips of Yakima Bait and Justin Wolff of Angler West Television at a launch ramp just upriver of the Astoria Bridge in the predawn darkness of August 28. Justin would be filming the trip for an episode of Angler West.
It was just getting light as Buzz motored us out of the harbor into the Columbia where we joined dozens of other boats filled with excited salmon anglers. There were some huge ships anchored here and there as well. Not only is the Columbia one of the world’s premier salmon rivers, it’s also an important artery for commerce.
“The tide is pushing in and the salmon flow on up river with the current,” Buzz related as he lined up his big aluminum sled for our first trolling pass. “The salmon will all be facing downstream right now, allowing the tide to push them up the system. The water isn’t deep out here with most areas running about 25 feet or so. The bottom is sandy in most areas. We hook a lot of salmon right along the bottom, but we also hook them in the middle depths. There is really no predicting where a salmon might be in the water column.”
“I’d say 90% of the people on the river run herring for their fish, but I’ve found that spinners like our Yakima Bait Toman spinners work really well, especially for larger than average fish. Red and pearl colors seem to be the most consistent producers down here near Buoy 10. I’ve got some herring in the boat too and we’ll probably mix some bait into our spread later in the day. We’ll be pairing everything with Yakima’s Big Al’s Fish Flash Flashers. Fish Flash flashers are super effective and just about everybody is using them these days,” added Buzz.
As with any big river, the lower Columbia features a deep channel, several lesser channels and some shallow shoals where you can beach your boat if you’re not careful. In the midst of all these features, the salmon have several preferred travel corridors and with decades of experience Buzz knows these corridors like the back of his hand.
The first rod to go off was Paul’s and he landed and released a jack chinook on a spinner. Rob’s spinner got whacked next. His fish was a wild Coho, so it went back into the river unharmed.
Time passed and then it was Paul that got hit again and this time it was a big fish. It put up a terrific fight and Paul countered the kings every move perfectly and soon had the 20 pounder in the net. We put that dandy chromer in the box for a later date with the smoker.
My rod was quiet in the morning. Early in the afternoon, Buzz decided we should try a herring bait, so he rigged one on my rod. I dropped it to the bottom and it got smashed almost immediately. I put maximum pressure on the fish. We were using barbless hooks and I knew that the quicker I brought the fish to Buzz’s waiting net the better! Moments later my 12 pounder joined Paul’s fish in the box.
We thought we had stumbled onto a hot herring bite based on how quickly I hooked up, but we trolled for another hour with zero action on herring or spinners and decided to head in to fillet our fish.
The next day, Paul and I had a late afternoon flight out of Portland, so we’d only be able to fish until about noon. Day two was a repeat of day one. Buzz led off with a 20 pounder on a spinner and Paul followed up with a 20 pound class fish of his own.
I got one huge pull down on my rod, but the fish didn’t stick, but that was fine with me. I had my Columbia River king and some great meals to look forward to.
I’ve just scratched the surface in terms of fishing the Columbia. The river offers great salmon and steelhead fishing and of course the sturgeon action is second to none. Heck the river even has a solid population of walleye.
I’d like to thank Buzz, Rob and Justin for taking the time to hit the water with Paul and I. I hope to fish with all of you again soon!