Lower Columbia River Estuary from Buoy 10 through Cathlamet and Gray’s Bay

The lower Columbia River is rich with American History.  Robert Grey named the Columbia River after sailing his ship the Columbia Rediviva into the river in 1792.  The Lewis and Clark Expedition followed Robert Grey’s visit to the Columbia River establishing our nation's claim to Pacific Northwest. Astoria is the oldest permanent American settlement west of the Mississippi River and was founded by the Pacific Fur Trading Company in 1810.  The company sent two parties to establish a trading post at the mouth of the Columbia River. One party sailed around Cape Horn to establish Astoria and one party was sent overland establishing the Oregon Trail. John Jacob Astor was the leader of the expedition that established the trading post Astoria.

  Known as the Graveyard of the Pacific the Columbia River bar is the most dangerous to cross on the Pacific Coast. More than two thousand ships have sunk attempting to cross the bar.  Only venture onto the Columbia River Estuary in boats greater than 20 feet in length that are fully equipped to handle ocean conditions. 

  Safe boating is always your first priority.  The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary offers variety a classes that skippers of small boats, their families and boat mates should take before considering boating in Oregon's coastal waters.

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary courses provide instruction to boaters at all levels, from the fundamental to the advanced. Our courses are taught by experienced and knowledgeable instructors committed to the highest standards of the U.S. Coast Guard..

  The safety and comfort of everyone onboard is your responsibility once your family and guests board your boat.  Before getting underway go over your procedural check list each and every time making sure all hatch covers are secure, the engine compartment vented, check the engine oil levels, test carbon monoxide alarms, do a radio check and secure all loose gear etc…  Make it a practice to fill the fuel tanks before leaving the marina or boat launch.  Never consume more than half of the fuel onboard before the boat is back at the dock. 

  Each person onboard should be required to wear a life jacket for the duration of the trip.  Always wear a life jacket when crossing the bar.  In an emergency you will not have the time to put on a life jacket.  A life jacket stored away in an inconspicuous location or laying just inches away from your grasp will cost you or your loved ones your lives should the boat sink or roll over.   

  It is strongly recommended that you include the purchase of survival suits when you finance the purchase of your boat.  It is foolish to cross the bar into the open ocean without survival suits on hand for all those onboard.  Practice putting them on and do not hesitate wear them if you believe you may need them.  If your boat sinks or you have to abandon it because of fire the Coast Guard may not be able to find you and pull you from the water before your core body temperature has fallen lower than your ability to survive like my friend, Randy Bacon, in the water 45 minutes, RIP.  

The dynamics of fishing in the ocean, bays and the tidal reach of river channels underscore the importance of marine electronics to anglers.  A Loran C and GPS Chartplotter for pinpoint navigation are necessary for safe boating; a fathometer fish/finder to monitor water depth when boating in sallow water and radar to facilitate safe boating in the fog or entry into a harbor.  To assure a safe boating trip the boat should also be equipped with a marine radio tuned to monitor channel 16, a CB radio, cell phone, a compass, navigational charts and a skipper knowledgeable in their use.    

Always check the tide and extended marine forecast when planning to go boating in the open ocean or in the jetty channel of Oregon's Bays. Resist the desire to cross the bar when small craft advisories or warning are posted and the ocean is calm.   Ocean conditions can change faster than your ability to return to the harbor or before the Coast Guard restricts the length of vessels allowed to cross the bar or closes the bar altogether. 

  The decision to cross the bar begins before launching the boat or departing the marina by accessing current ocean conditions at the bar and the extended marine forecast off shore by calling permanently manned Coast Guard stations at Cape Disappointment at 360-642-3565 for the Columbia River Bar, 503-322-3234 for Tillamook Bay, 541-765-2122 for Depoe Bay, 541-265-5511 for Yaquina Bay, 541-902-7792 for the Siuslaw River Estuary, 541-271-8417 for the Umpqua River, 541-888-3102 for Coos Bay and 541-469-4571 for the Chetco River Estuary.

  A report of current ocean conditions and the extended marine forecast are available over the internet on www.wrh.noaa.gov/pqr/marine.php.   Select National Weather Service - NWS Portland to display the Pacific NW Coastal Marine Data page; then under Current Forecasts select S Washington/N Oregon for the COASTAL WATERS FORECAST of the northern Oregon coast or S Oregon for the COASTAL WATERS FORECAST for the southern Oregon Coast.  After reading the status report for current ocean condition and the extended marine forecast, select Buoy/SeaData to display the Pacific NW Coastal Marine Data page and select the nearshore Buoy Station for the bar you plan to cross.  Select Buoy Station 46029 – Columbia River Bar to display current ocean conditions at buoy station 46029. 

  Radio Stations KVAS 103.9 FM (1230 kHz) and KAST 99.7 FM (1370 kHz) gives bar condition reports for the Columbia River Bar 15 minutes before and after the hour.  The current marine weather forecast is broadcast on VHF Weather channel 3 or 4.  If you are on the water heading outbound or inbound monitor VHF-FM channel 68 or 69 and CB channel 13 for a report on conditions at the Columbia River Bar or contact the Coast Guard Station via VHF-FM Channel 16 and ask for a report of ocean conditions at the bar.

  Recreational boaters in possession of cell phones can call Dial-A-Buoy at 1-228-688-1948 for the status of current ocean conditions at the nearshore and offshore buoys located nearshore at: 46029 (Columbia River), 46089 (Tillamook), 46050 (Stonewall Banks 20 NM West of Newport), 46015 (Port Orford), 46027(Pt St George) and Offshore Buoy Station 46002 - OREGON - 275NM West of Coos Bay.  Listen and follow the menu instructions exactly to hear the status report for the buoy station you requested.  After listening to the Buoy Status Report of ocean conditions at the buoy station requested, follow the menu prompts to listen to the recorded message providing offshore Coastal Forecasts for S Washington/N Oregon or S Oregon for the region of the buoy station requested.

  What is Dial-A-Buoy?  NDBC, a part of the National Weather Service (NWS), created Dial-A-Buoy to give mariners an easy way to obtain the reports via a cell phone.  Dial-A-Buoy provides wind and wave measurements taken within the last hour at the NDBC buoy and Coastal-Marine Automated Network (C-MAN) stations.  The stations operated by the National Data Buoy Center are located in the Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes.  Buoy reports include wind direction, speed, gust, significant wave height, swell and wind-wave heights and periods, air temperature, water temperature, and sea level pressure.  Some buoys report wave directions.  All C-MAN stations report the winds, air temperature, and pressure; some also report wave information, water temperature, visibility, and dew point.

  Recreational boaters use the observations, in combination with forecasts, to make decisions on whether it is safe to venture out.  Some even claim that the reports have saved lives.  Surfers use the reports to see if wave conditions are, or will soon be, promising.  Many of these boaters and surfers live well inland, and knowing the conditions has saved them many wasted trips to the coast.  Consult everyone onboard for their opinion before making the decision to cross the bar. If anyone doubts that is safe to go, Don’t Go.     

  Know your harbor.  The location of the boat launches located in the tidal reach of Oregon's bays is available on the internet at www.boatoregon.com and click on Publications/Library and Forms. Scroll down to Boating in Oregon's Coastal Waters and click on your bay of interest to familiarize yourself with the conditions at the bar.  Learn what to expect before crossing the bar.  Visiting skippers should inquire about the local bar conditions from the U. S. Coast Guard Service before crossing the bar.  A visit to a Coast Guard Station only takes a few minutes and can only enhance the success of the trip.  The Coast Guard has installed and maintains Bar Advisory Signs in most of the bays that have a Coast Guard Station.  Currently there are no Bar Advisory Signs located in the lower Columbia River Estuary, Nehalem Bay, Nestucca Bay and Alsea Bay. Bar Advisory Signs are diamond shaped and have the words “Rough Bar” painted in black letters on a white background with an orange border.  The signs have two flashing lights that are activated when the seas exceed 4 feet in height.  If the ocean conditions are not favorable for pleasurable boating do not cross the bar.  Good judgment is your best advisor.  Do not attempt to cross the bar if there is any doubt that it safe to do so.  Bar restrictions and closures not only apply to boats leaving the harbor but also to boats entering the harbor.

The Coast Guard Sector Columbia River website contains safe boating information each skipper should become familiar with before launching a craft or boating in the Columbia River.  The following underlined areas describe some of the dangerous tidal conditions that affect boating safety in the Lower Columbia River Estuary and crossing the bar as listed by the Coast Guard, Astoria Station under Columbia River Bar Hazards.

Chinook spur, upper, lower and middle Sand Island spurs are built on two rows of staggered pilings.  Currents flowing through these pilings attain a velocity of up to 5 knots.  A boat which becomes disabled or is maneuvered in such a way as to come in contact with any of these spurs is almost sure to suffer damage or become trapped against them and turn over.  Even large boats have been capsized in these areas.  Give these spurs a wide berth and never get close to them on the up-current side.

Jetty A which is southeast of Cape Disappointment, presents a particular danger when the current is ebbing.  Water flowing out of the river, is deflected by the jetty and frequently the currents reach 8 knots, often causing waves up to 8 feet high.  Boats proceeding into Baker Bay West Channel make very little speed against the swift current and are exposed to the rough water or surf for long periods of time.  The shallow sandy area should be avoided by small craft when heavy seas are present because of the surf which breaks on the beach.

Clatsop Spit is the most unpredictable area on the river entrance.  During flood currents and slack water it may be calm with only a gentle swell breaking far in on the spit.  Yet 5 or 10 minutes later, when the current has started to ebb, it can become extremely hazardous with breakers extending far out toward the channel.  You should remain north of the red buoys in this area, particularly just before or during the ebb.  The South Jetty has a section broken away on the outer end.  The broken section is under water close to the surface.  Boats should use extra caution in the area from the visible tip of the Jetty out to Buoy "2SJ".  Peacock and Clatsop Spits are called The Graveyard of the Pacific for good reason.

Peacock Spit: Breakers are heavy in all types of current.  Sports craft leaving the river should never be on the north side of the green buoys.  When rounding Peacock Spit, give the breakers at least a half-mile clearance.  Many times unusually large swells coming in from the sea suddenly begin breaking up to 1/2 miles outside the usual break on the end of the North Jetty.

Middle Ground: This is a shallow triangle area between the Jetty A and the North Jetty and main Ship Channel that is subject to breaking seas when swells as small as 4 feet are present.  Conditions here can change in minutes with tidal current changes.

  There are five components effecting ocean conditions that recreational boaters need to consider before crossing the bar into the open ocean or boating in the Lower Columbia River Estuary: the height of the long ocean swells, the interval between long ocean swells in seconds, the height and direction of wind waves, the velocity and direction of the wind and the phase of the daily tidal cycle.  If the forecasted height of the tallest wind wave added to the height of the long ocean swells equals or exceeds the interval in seconds between the long ocean swells do not cross the bar.  The interval in seconds between the long ocean swells can be the difference between a pleasurable boating experiences or one that makes you wish you had never left the dock.  If the interval between the long ocean swells indicates rough boating conditions do not cross the bar.  Typically it is fairly calm until mid morning when the wind begins to blow.  Depending on the velocity and direction, the wind can make operating a small boat difficult.  When ocean conditions deteriorate the Coast Guard can restrict the size of the boat allowed to cross the bar or close the bar to altogether.  Do not attempt to cross the bar at any of Oregon's bays during the outgoing phase of the major tidal exchange of a spring tide. 

  Recreational boaters have to consider the phase of the daily tidal cycle before crossing the bar of Oregon’s bays or boating in the Lower Columbia River Estuary.  The tidal cycle consist of series of spring tides or neap tides which occur during the phases of the lunar cycle.  There normally two high tides and low tides in the daily tidal cycle.  They consist of a major tidal exchange followed by a minor tidal exchange.  The highest and lowest tide occurs during the major tidal exchange followed by a lower high tide and higher low tide of the minor tidal exchange.  Spring tides and Neap tides are governed by the position of the sun in relation to the earth and the moon. 

  Spring tides occur during the new moon or full moon when the sun, moon and earth are aligned.  During the alignment the gravitational pull causes tidal fluctuations that are larger than usual resulting with the highest high tides and the lowest low tides.  The fact that water appears to spring away from the earth is the reason the tides are referred to as spring tides. 

  Neap tides occur during the 1st and 3rd quarter phase of the moon when the sun and the moon are at right angles to one another in conjunction to their relative position of the earth.  The effect of their gravitational pulls is partially cancelled causing tidal fluctuations that are smaller than usual resulting with lower high tides and higher low tides.  The outgoing tide always causes unstable tidal conditions at the Bar.  The bar at Tillamook Bay is dangerous to cross during any outgoing phase of the tidal cycle, but it is the grandeur of the tidal exchange at the Columbia River Bar that compels respect for the tidal condition encountered at all of Oregon’s bars.  Do not attempt to cross the bar for any of Oregon's bays during the outgoing phase of the major tidal exchange of a spring tide. 

  Recreational boaters should not attempt to cross the Columbia River Bar during the outgoing phase of the major and minor tidal exchange of a spring tide or during the outgoing phase of the major tidal exchange of a neap tide.  The small boater should cross the Columbia River bar from low slack tide and during the first hour of the incoming tide when the ocean is flat and calm with the long ocean swell less the 3 feet and intervals greater than 10 seconds with wind waves less than 1 foot.  Stay within the red and green buoys when crossing the bar.  Follow the red buoy line out entering the waypoints of the channel markers and buoy locations in the GPS and record the compass bearing on the chart of the Lower Columbia River Estuary for each buoy as you are outward bound.  When departing from the Washington side of the Columbia River head to Buoy G11 and enter the waypoint in the GPS and compass bearing on the chart.  From there, head southwesterly to Buoy R10 and enter the waypoint in the GPS and compass bearing on the chart.  Departing from the Oregon side, follow the red buoy line to Buoy R10 entering the waypoints and compass bearings for each of the R Buoys.  From Buoy R10 follow the red buoy line out to Buoys R8, R6 past R2SJ Bell Buoy (marking the end of the submerged portion of the South Jetty) and to Buoy R4.  Rough water with breakers is common occurrence from buoy R8 seaward to buoy R6 during the incoming phase of the major tidal exchange of the incoming tide. 

  Once clearing the Columbia River Control Zone at Buoy R4 troll for coho and Chinook salmon southwest to Buoy CR and for Chinook salmon on the return trip to Buoy R4.  The lighted whistle buoy CR is located 5.8 nautical miles (6.6) miles SW of the Columbia River Bar.  Plan the return of your boating trip to clear of the mouth of the Columbia River Bar at Buoy R10 before next low tide begins to ebb.     

  The swells generated by the outgoing tide in the Lower Columbia River Estuary often exceed 20 feet in height and can extend for more than 1½ miles in the jetty channel and up to 1/2 mile offshore from the end of the entrance of the bar.  The swells generated by the outgoing tide in combination with a wind chop can cause confused seas that can sink a boat in seconds.  If you are caught on a rough bar while coming in keep the boat square before the seas and ride the back side of the swell staying ahead the following swell, but to you will most likely have to quarter the following swells to cross the bar successfully.  The ability to cross a rough bar demands seamanship based on experience.  If you are going boating in the Lower Columbia River Estuary join the Coast Guard Auxiliary.  Their members are willing to help you gain the experience and confidence to cross the bar.  Discuss all safety issues with family members and guests before leaving the dock.  Avoid the dangerous tidal conditions at the mouth of the Columbia River by fishing upstream from Buoy 10 and letting the fish come to you.  Visit Englund Marine in Astoria for information on current fishing conditions and everything you need in fishing gear to do the job.  

  The emphasis in the lower Columbia River is on the world class sturgeon and salmon fishery. Sand sole enter the mouth of the Columbia River in fishable numbers during late spring.  The fish species usually associated with jetties are present along the jetties at the entrance to the lower Columbia River in fishable numbers; but because of the dangerous tidal conditions during the outgoing tide anglers should fish for those species elsewhere.  The fishing for rockfish and flatfish in Washington State coastal waters to Leadbetter Point is excellent.  Anglers from OR and WA are allowed to fish from a boat in ocean waters from Cape Falcon OR to Leadbetter Point WA.  The Columbia River Zone is divided into regional zones.  All the regional zones are governed by general regulations common to all zones and by special regulations governing individual zones.  The Marine Zone extends from Buoy 10 seaward.  Oregon and Washington anglers are allowed to fish from a boat in the ocean from Cape Falcon OR to Leadbetter Point WA.  Special Regulations: Salmon fishing is closed within the Columbia Control Zone (CZ).  The Columbia Control Zone extends seaward from Buoy 10 to a line drawn between Buoy 4 at 46 13’ 35’N/124 06’ 50’W and Buoy 7 at 46 15’ 48’N/124 5’ 18’W and in a straight line from the end of the north jetty at 46 15’ 45’N/124 05’ 20’w to Buoy 7 and in a straight line from the south jetty at 46 14’ 03’N/124 04’ 05’W to Buoy 4.  The eastern boundary of the CZ extends from a bearing 357 degrees true north from 46 14’ 00’N/124 03’ 07’W.  Fishing for salmon in the CZ is prohibited.  Regional zone 1 extends from Buoy 10 upriver to a line extending from buoy R44 to Rocky Point WA.  Regional zone 2 extends upriver from the R44/ Rocky Point line to the I–5 Bridge.  The information in this publication encompasses all of regional zone 1 and identifies specific locations in the Marine Zone and regional zone 2.  Refer to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Sport Fishing Regulations for area closures and the regulations governing fishing for sturgeon, salmon and other fish species. 

  The angler has to consider the velocity of the tidal current when developing fishing strategy.  The velocity of the outgoing tidal current lower Columbia River varies from 3.5 to 5 knots and can attain a velocity of over 5 knots at the entrance with velocities attaining 8 knots on the north side of the bar.  The incoming tide in the Columbia River seldom attains velocities of over 4 knots, but as the tide changes from outgoing to incoming the heavier saltwater flows under the outgoing lighter brackish water.  For a brief time the water in the lower estuary flows in both directions at the same time.  A riptide usually accompanies the tidal surge of the incoming tide followed by schools of Chinook and coho salmon.  Remember to troll faster than the speed of the tidal current when trolling with the tidal current to maintain the herring in the Chinook’s strike zone.

Spring Chinook salmon entering the Columbia River in February and March are  returning to tributaries in the Lower Columbia River below Bonneville Dam.  Spring Chinook salmon entering the Columbia River in April are returning to tributaries in the River Basin above Bonneville Dam and to the Net Pen Fisheries in Youngs Bay, Blind and Knappa Sloughs. The spring Chinook salmon returning to those areas off anglers fishing from the bank ample opportunity take fish from these areas during low slack tide and during the incoming tide. 

The most productive fishing for spring Chinook salmon in the lower Columbia River occurs in regional zone 2 upriver from the channels associated with Rice Island and Miller Sands. Jerry Lynch caught the Spring Chinook in the Multnomah Channel.

Fall Chinook salmon enter the north side of the Columbia River in fishable numbers about the middle of August and is comprised of Tule run Chinook and returning Upriver Brights.  Because the Tule run Chinook are sexually mature and ready spawn when they enter the river they are reluctant to bite and the table quality of their flesh has begun to decline.  Upriver Brights are sexually immature when they enter the Columbia River and the table quality of their flesh is at its very best.  When salmon season opens in the lower Columbia River the Pacific high has been parked over the Pacific Northwest and it has not rained for several months.  The mean water temperature the river is higher than the temperature preferred by Chinook salmon when the salmon enter the river with the incoming tide.  The temperature of the lower river varies between 56 to 65 degrees depending on phase of the tide.  The Chinook salmon swim upriver at the depth they most comfortable in. 

  Tule run Chinook swim upriver along the north shore in water up to 40 feet deep.  Returning Upriver Brights swim in the deepwater lane that runs parallel to and just above Desdemona Sands upriver past the Astoria/Melger Bridge.  If the mean temperature of the water is too high some of the Chinook salmon will return to the ocean with the outgoing tide while others with continue their upriver migration.  Tule run Chinook salmon returning to Deep River or Gray’s River will continue up the north side of the river while other Tule run and Upriver Brights begin crossing the river to the Oregon side where the spires rise on the Astoria–Melger Bridge following the scent of the river of their origin. 

  The Astoria–Melger Bridge and the Oregon Washington State Line are geographical references used to direct anglers where to fish for Chinook salmon.  The state line is located at the point on the bridge where the spans begin to rise as you near the Washington side of the river. 

  The most productive fishing for Upriver Brights occurs trolling a plug cut herring with the incoming tide along the Oregon–Washington state line from Chinook, Washington to a point opposite of Melger Washington.  Troll a plug cut herring next to the bottom behind a diver or a wire spreader with a 6 foot length of 35 pound test fluorocarbon leader.  Returning Chinook salmon usually migrate along the bottom of the estuary, but at times migrate higher in the water column.  When fishing with multiple rods stagger the depth of the bait by four pulls from a depth of 25 feet to the bottom.  Adding a herring dodger or 8 inch flasher behind the wire spreader or diver is a productive option the angler should consider.  Rig the wire spreader with a 36 inch sinker dropper utilizing 6 to 12 ounce sinkers to present the bait to the salmon.  As high slack tide approaches troll crosscurrent in a zig–zag pattern back to Chinook, Washington.

  When the tide begins to ebb the most productive fishing occurs from the Astoria–Melger Bridge to Chinook Washington back bouncing mini mooching with a whole or plug cut herring.  As the velocity of the tidal current increases either back troll with a plug cut herring or troll a plug cut herring with the ebbing tide.  Fish at a depth from 20 and 45 feet as the current moves the boat in a northwesterly direction through the Church Hole all the way to Chinook Point.  Fishing is also productive on the Oregon side of the river at the Astoria/Melger Bridge or in the area between Taylor Sands and the shipping channel upriver to Tongue Point.  

  Launching at Deep River is one option consider to fish for Chinook salmon below the Astoria/Melger Bridge but the limited launching facilities are a negative factor.  But, if the decision is made to do so, follow the piling markers to navigate the channel to the fishing locations downriver along the Washington side of the river.  Stay on the right hand side of the channel going out.  The boater has to be aware of Deadheads which are mired in the bottom substrate and float on the other end rising and falling with the tide.  The depth of the water in the channel will vary between 6 and 14 feet deep at low tide.  Follow marker R16, R14 and R12 before turning toward the right to R10.  Navigate to the right of R12, R10 and R8 to avoid shallow water to the left.  From there follow the shore pilings down to Rocky Point.  Avoid the piling marker at Rocky Point because it sits on a rock outcropping.  Clear Rocky Point and head southwest for about 400 yards staying within 100 yards of the shoreline.  Head South keeping the shore on your right but heading toward and staying West of piling marker #14A to Portuguese Point then continue around the corner to piling marker 13 located next to the shore at Grays Point.  From Gays Point, you can see the Astoria/Melger Bridge in the distance.  Continue along the Washington shore to the Chinook salmon fishery from the Astoria/Melger Bridge to the Church Hole. 

  Fishing in the channels above Tongue Point is productive as Chinook salmon disperse across the width of the Columbia River searching for the scent of their home river.  Chinook salmon migrate upriver at the depth where they are most comfortable.  During August and September the water temperature in the channels above Tongue Point is often higher than the temperature preferred by Chinook salmon.  Usually the most productive fishing is from a depth of 25 to 30 feet deep; however, during warmer periods they may migrate at a greater depth.

Net Pen Terminal Fishery.  The ODFW sponsors a terminal fishery for: fin clipped spring Chinook salmon at Young’s Bay and Blind Slough; fall Chinook and fin clipped coho salmon and fin clipped steelhead at Young’s Bay and Blind Slough.  Spring Chinook salmon usually return in mid April peaking by mid May.  Fall Chinook salmon return in late August and early September.  Fish for fall Chinook salmon returning to the net pen fisheries during regular fall season in the deepwater channel from Hammond to Warrenton, Oregon trolling a plug cut herring or whole herring clipped to a Big Fin Salmon Killer at depths to 40 feet in the channel next to the shore.  Fish for Chinook salmon returning to the net pens on the eastside of Young’s Bay trolling a plug cut herring, whole herring or a spinner bait combination along the eastside of the bay from the old Highway 101 bridge to the new Highway 101 bridge or in the channel from the entrance to Young’s Bay seaward to Buoy 12.  Fish in the channel between Tongue Point and the John Day River and in the channels associated with Knappa and Blind Sloughs for Chinook salmon by trolling with or against the high incoming tide using a plug cut herring or spinners.  During the outgoing tide anchor above the deeper holes and fish with bait wrapped K–16 Kwikfish or T–55 Flatfish lures or an Alvin or Manistee wobbling spoons.

  Daybreak is that magical time of day when the salmon bite the best.  Be sure to have the bait in the water one half hour before sunrise. Remember to keep the bait in the Chinook’s strike zone near the bottom and fish a plug cut herring trolled with a slow roll between 1 and 3 knots.

Coho salmon return to the lower Columbia River Estuary in August.  But only fin clipped coho salmon may be retained.  Every year thousands of hatchery coho salmon return to the Columbia River.  Start fishing for coho salmon as early as the first week of August and fish through September into October.  The most productive fishing occurs from the deadline at Buoy 10 in the area between the green and red buoy lines extending eastward to an imaginary line extending northeasterly from a point midway between buoy 12 and 14 to the lower end of Sand Island.  Fish the riptide that usually accompanies the tidal surge of the incoming tide.  Schools a coho follow the tidal surge of the incoming tide along the north shore of the river in water that is between 20 and 40 feet deep to an area near the north end of the Astoria/Megler Bridge.  Coho salmon returning to the net pens in Young’s Bay migrate from Buoy 10 past Buoys 12 and 14, around Clatsop Spit into Young’s Bay.  Troll from Buoy10 around Buoy 12 past Buoy 14 trolling a plug cut herring between 3 and 5 knots with the incoming tide 4 ½ feet behind a diver in the upper half of the water column is the most productive method followed by trolling hoochies, spinners or streamer flies behind a size 0 dodger. 

White sturgeon are year–round residents of the Columbia River with a permanent population exceeding one million fish.  Fishing is open all year in the lower Columbia River, but is restricted to catch and release only during specific periods throughout the year.  Check with ODFW for current information on restrictions.  The sturgeon fishery of the lower Columbia River offers sturgeon fishing at its very best.  The most productive fishing for sturgeon for the entire Columbia River occurs from the mouth of the Columbia River to an imaginary line between Tongue Point, Oregon and Gray’s Point, Washington during the months of June, July and August.   

  Typically the sturgeon fishing in the lower Columbia River from the mouth of the river through Cathlamet Bay and Gray’s Bay is slow from September through December.  The sturgeon fishing improves in January upriver from an imaginary line between Tongue Point, Oregon and Gray’s Point, Washington when the eulachon (Thaleichthys pacificus) commonly referred to as smelt enter the lower river to spawn but the fishing from the imaginary line to the mouth of the river remains slow.  Fish from Gray’s Point to Altoona Washington and in the channels and sloughs around Rice Island, Miller Sands and in Cathlamet Bay.  The fishing continues to improve upriver from the imaginary line to through Cathlamet Bay and Gray’s Bay as the smelt run peaks in February and March but remains slow from the imaginary line seaward.  During this period, smelt are the first choice for bait followed by mud and/or sand shrimp.  The fishing upriver from the imaginary line continues to improve during April but remains slow from the imaginary line seaward.   

Fishing for sturgeon is a annual family affair for Randy Fish and his daughter fishing from a charter boat on the lower Columbia River Estuary.

The sturgeon fishing improves during May from the mouth of the to the imaginary line through Cathlamet Bay and Gray’s Bay as shad enter the rivers associated with the lower Columbia River Estuary to spawn.  During this period, shad or smelt is the most productive bait followed by mud and/or sand shrimp.  The fishing is productive on the south side of the Columbia River from Clatsop Spit to Tongue Point and in the channels and sloughs associated with Cathlamet Bay.  The area from Clatsop Spit to Youngs Bay and the sandy shoals of Desdemona Sands or Taylor Sands are most productive locations to fish for sturgeon.  Desdemona Sands is located in front of Astoria and extend from a point north of Hammond upriver past the Astoria–Melger Bridge.  Taylor Sands is located halfway across the river opposite of Tongue Point.  Fishing is productive on the north side of the river from Sand Island upriver to Gray’s Point in the area between Grey’s Point and buoy 12.

The Sturgeon fishing improves dramatically during June, July and August as the catch rate soars from the mouth of the Columbia River to imaginary line at Tong Point.  During this period anchovies enter the lower Columbia River and are the most productive bait followed by mud and/or sand shrimp. The fishing declines during September and the catch rate falls.                  

  To fish for sturgeon anchor the boat on the up current side of the deeper holes and shallow depressions in the channels and toughs adjacent to the tidal flats in water that is 10 to 40 feet deep.  Use the current lines that appear between the tidal flats and the deeper water of the river channels as a guide to the shallow depressions and deep holes.  The channels in the lower Columbia River are continually shifting.  If you are going to do any boating on the lower river, invest in a compass, the latest navigational charts available and a GPS Chartplotter; otherwise, you chance spending hours stuck on the tidal flats. 

Starry Flounder fishing is fair in spring.  The best fishing occurs in the tidal flats on the southwest side of Sand Island, the eastside of East Sand Island, from Clatsop Spit to Warrington and just inside of Young’s Bay along the east shore.

Bank fishermen have access to bass, lingcod, cabezon and greenling from either side of the south jetty at Clatsop Spit and the north jetty on the Washington side of the Columbia River.  The most productive fishing for these species is from the ocean side of the south jetty.  The south jetty extends seaward for 2.7 miles and the north jetty extends seaward 800 yards.  Safety is the primary objective before venturing onto the jetty rocks.  Always check the Internet at www.oregonsurfcheck.com for the height of the ocean swells.  It is dangerous to venture onto the jetty rocks when ocean swells are greater than 2 feet in height and the current ocean forecast should be for flat and calm seas.  Fishing for redtail surfperch ranges from poor to excellent in the channel along the south or north jetties.  The best fishing occurs at the bend on the channel side of the south jetty and from the beach at Jetty Sands area D.  Fish for coho salmon the jetty channel from the south jetty at Clatsop Spit or from the beach at area D.  Fish for coho salmon using herring or fresh anchovies fished under a large bobber or cast large chartreuse, pink or red and white spinners, chrome lures or Buzz Bombs.  Fishing from the bank along the south shore of the Columbia River for sturgeon is very popular from the beach at area D in Fort Stevens State Park.  Notice the pole holders the front of the pickup truck.  Fishing for sturgeon from the riprap adjacent to the road to Chinook Point, Washington is very productive and popular.    

Columbia River boat launches on the Oregon side are located on the southwest shore at the Hammond Boat Basin at the community of Hammond via the Fort Stevens Highway and at the Warrenton Marina just off the Warrenton–Astoria Highway. 

  The boat launches on the east shore of Young's Bay are located at the Yacht Club on the Nehalem Highway and the Olney Avenue launch, a gravel ramp that may be difficult to launch from at low tide, located where Youngs River Loop crosses the Klaskanine River.  

  The boat launch on the southeast shore is located In East Astoria at the East Mooring Basin off of the Columbia River Highway. 

  To access the channels associated with Cathlamet Bay and Tongue Point launch the boat at the John Day Boat Launch.  The John Day Boat Launch is located at the Columbia River Highway and the John Day River. 

  To access Blind Slough, launch at the Aldrich Point boat launch via the Aldrich Point Road off of the Brownsmead Hill Road from the Columbia River Highway (Hwy 30).

  The boat launches on the Washington side are located on the north shore at Chinook, Ilwaco and at Gray’s River Washington.  The launch at Chinook is off of Portland St.  After launching follow the hemlock poles to navigate the channel.  To launch at Illwaco turn left at the sign at the bottom of the hill in town.  To launch at Cape Disappointment State Park (formally Fort Canby) go through the town of Illwaco and follow the signs to the park and the boat launch.  Access the Gray’s River boat launch from Astoria by turning east onto Highway 401 east to Highway 4 then east to Deep River.  Turn south onto Onieda Rd. just before at the bridge crossing over Deep River.  Pay the launch fee at the pay station at the top of a hill before you get to the ramp area.  Expect delays, the launch is crowded during the sturgeon and salmon seasons.

7.0 Fort Clatsop National Memorial provides visitors with a look into the historic past.  Each summer the National Park Service offers programs that depict the daily activities of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.  The memorial is a complete replica of the site where Lewis and Clark spent the winter of 1805–06.  The winter was particularly hard on our nations most celebrated explorers.  To access the Fort Clatsop Memorial, turn southeast onto Old Highway 101 and then south on Fort Clatsop Road.

7.5 Ridge Road/Columbia Beach Road is the access road to Columbia Beach, Fort Stevens State Park, Fort Stevens Historic Museum, Clatsop Spit and the south jetty at Clatsop Spit.  Turn west onto Ridge Road/Columbia Beach Road from Highway 101.    

  The Peter Iredale Road is the main entrance to Fort Stevens State Park, Coffenbury Lake and the beach access to Columbia Beach and Clatsop spit.  The Peter Iredale Road is the only road that allows access to the ocean beach by motor vehicles.  Motor vehicles are allowed on the ocean beaches all year except the beach northward from the wreck of the Peter Iredale is closed to vehicular access from May 1st to September 15th from 12:01 P.M. to Midnight.  Fort Stevens State Park is a full service State Park.  There is ample parking at all of the Fort Stevens recreational areas.  Coffenbury Lake is stocked with rainbow trout throughout the summer.  Columbia Beach is the site of the grounded British bark Peter Iredale.  The rusting skeleton of the ship has been the dominant feature on the beach since running aground on October 25, 1906.  Columbia Beach and the ocean beach at Clatsop Spit offer the clam digger some of the best razor clam digging on the Oregon Coast.  The fishing for redtail surfperch ranges from poor to excellent from late spring through the summer as the perch migrate along Oregon's beaches. 

  Turn west into the Day Use Entrance of Fort Stevens State Park to access the ocean beach at Clatsop Spit, the south jetty at Clatsop Spit and the beach at the Jetty Sands on the southern shore of the Columbia River.  Vehicle access is allowed to the beach at the Jetty Sands. 

  The access roads to the parking areas adjacent to the ocean beach at Clatsop Spit and to the south jetty at Clatsop Spit are open twenty–four hours daily.  Clatsop Spit and the south jetty at Clatsop Spit are divided into geographical areas A, B, C and D.  There are signs located at the entrances of the access roads that identify each area.  Areas A and B are the access roads to the parking area adjacent to Clatsop Spit Beach.  Digging for razor clams, surf fishing for redtail surfperch and beach combing are the attractions here.  Area C is the access road to the parking area adjacent to Clatsop Spit Beach and the south jetty at Clatsop Spit.  There is a viewing platform at the beginning of the jetty that offers an exceptional view of the mouth of the Columbia River, Clatsop Beach and Clatsop Spit.  Digging for razor clams, surf fishing for redtail surfperch, fishing from the south jetty and beach combing are the attractions here. 

 Area D is the access road to the parking area adjacent to the southern shore of the Columbia River located at the tip of Clatsop Spit.  The beach on the southern shore is referred to as the Jetty Sands or Social Security Beach by local anglers.  Parking is allowed on the beach at Jetty Sands.  Excellent fishing for sturgeon, redtail perch and wildlife viewing are the attractions here.

  Turn onto Pacific Drive from Ridge Road/Columbia Beach Road and follow the sign to the jetty at the Historic Fort Stevens>Museum. Vehicular access to the Historic Fort Stevens is restricted to the hours the park is open, from 10:00 amto 6:00 p.m.seven days a week.  Historic Fort Stevens was a major defense installation from the Civil War through World War Two.  Today the remains of the Fort, the museum, the guard house, the barracks site and the battlements in conjunction with the beauty of the surrounding area fulfill the expectations of the visitor.  The park is well known for reenactment of Civil War Battles over the Labor Day Weekend. 

Crabbing

Lower Columbia River: Click on Columbia Estuary Crab Study to view compelling information to crabbing on the Lower Columbia River Estuary.

Seasonal rainfall and snow pack runoff have flushed the crabs out of the lower Columbia River Estuary into the ocean. Runoff form unseasonal rainfall and the melting snow pack is the determining factor that governs the migration of crabs into the lower Columbia River Estuary from July into August.

Gene from Tackle Time Charters reports: Hello, Crabbing on the lower Columbia River is usually very good from late July through September and into October. Most have nice hard shells by late August and limits are common. A limit of crab is 12 per person. They are catching crab just off of buoy 20 and buoy 21. The crabbing is done by boat just off the river beach. We don't have any piers or docks out far enough into the river to do any crabbing without a boat. Unless, you have a crab catcher that is attached to your fishing pole. And if you do, you can catch crab with your crab catcher. It's a fun thing to do! And you can get some good crab too! Also, they are fishing for Salmon from the river beach and doing very well !! For those of you who do not know where the river beach is. It is located near Fort Stevens State Park. You'll see signs saying: To Jetties. The first parking lot will be a look out tower that over looks the ocean. The third parking lot is where you can access the river beach. Come Join The Fun!!!! Any questions, Please call us at (503) 861-3693 or check out our web site at Tackle Time Charters. Have a Great Day, Linda.

Clam digging for razor clams on along the beach at Clatsop Spit has been excellent in recent years. Preliminary tests by ODFW during the summer of 2011 show that razor clam density may be declining.  The best clam digging this past year is from the beach associated with Fort Stevens and at Seaside.  The bay clams usually associated with estuaries with the exception of a small population of softshell clams located in the tidal flat just east of the south jetty are not present in the Columbia River because of the enormous amount of freshwater.

On 10/03 Gean from Tackle Time Charters reports crabbing in the lower Columbia River is great with limits common. Salmon fishing at Buoy 10 has been good but few anglers are taking advantage of the good fishing.

Fishing: On 09/26 Odfw reports: Fishing for cutthroat should be fair to good throughout the basin. Target fresh sea-runs in tidal areas. Anglers are reminded that no bait is allowed above tidewater through August.

DON'S OREGON VACATION

Avid clam digger, crabber and fisherman Don shares the photo array of his clam digging and crabbing adventure to the Oregon coast from the South Jetty on the Columbia River, Nehalem Bay, Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area and Coos Bay. Don lives and works in San Diego and submitted the photos of the Pismo clams posted on our photo album.

Don writes, "Sorry for the late Clamming report Bill, I've been up to my neck at work since coming back from my trip to Oregon from 8/25 - 9/3/10.  We had a great time fishing, crabbing, and clamming in Astoria, Nehalem and Coos Bay. 

We were able to savor Oregon seafood every day we were up there, it doesn't get any better than that.  In terms of the clamming, we found the Purple Varnish Beds just south of the Nehalem boat launch, and directly across the bay from there, the heavy Softshell beds near the Brighton area.  In Coos Bay (Empire area) we found heavy Butter Clam beds with the Manila Littlenecks mixed in, plus a Gaper Clam.

Interesting thing was, we were dealing (every day) with tides that were +2.0 - +3.0, and still had excellent harvests!!  It was awesome and can't wait to dig up and savor some more clams next year!!

Just for the record, there were three of us clamming, which accounted for the sizeable amount of clams we harvested on some of our outings.  Also, the Littleneck Clam Appetizer I made was modeled after Clamslayer's Clams Casino recipe.  I cleaned and then chopped up and steamed the clam meat, then mixed with melted sharp cheddar, then topped with hot sauce.  Wow, so delicious.  Yet another great tidbit from your book. Thanks for your advice and your book. Don."

Don used a crab snare very effectively to take the Dungeness crabs in the top photo off of the south jetty of the Columbia River Estuary. They dug the puprle varnish and picked the mussels from Nehalem Bay. Don is pictured digging softshell clams from the Brighton area of Nehalem Bay pictured in the photo. Don and his brother-in-law pose with softshell clams they dug next to the photo of the cleaned clams and the cooking clams and the photo of the purple varnish clams. The photo of them on the ATVs was taken at the Oregon Dunes Recreational Area. The photo of the butter that were dug from Coos Bay is next to the photo of Don's version of Clams Casino.

Internet Links of Interest:

Tides are the rise and fall of the sea level caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and the sun. Click on the current moon icon to follow the phase of the moon.

CURRENT MOON

Tidal Projections: Click on 2012 to view the NOAA tidal projections for Clatsop Spit.

Plan for future clamdigging and or crabbing adventures on Clatsop Spit and the Lower Columbia River Estuary by clicking on the tidal projections at the N Jetty of the Columbia River Estuary and scroll down the desired month for 2012 and 2013.

Click HERE to see the navigation hazards crossing the Columbia River Bay or Click HERE to see the Chartlette of the Lower Columbia River Estuary.

Click on the following link to the Coast Guard Jettycam real time views of the bar crossing of Oregon's Bays and follow the instructions. Click on Seaside Webcams for view of the beach at the Lanai or the Seaside Aquarium.

We provide a link to Oregon Surf Check to view the height and interval of the long ocean swells.

Click on NOAA Regional Weather Forecast to view the 7 day weather forecast for your area of interest. Click on the pink colored portion of the map for your area of interest. Click on the area of the map between the coastline and the blue line defining the weather forecast 10 miles to sea. Move the cursor over your area of interest and click for a detailed 7 day weather forecast.

Click on the NOAA Website Marine Digital Point Forecast Matrix Interface to view a detailed weather and surf forecast for the Oregon Coast. Position the cursor over the location of interest on the Oregon Coast and left click.

Click HERE to view a detailed hourly forecast for weather, wind and surf conditions on the northern Oregon Coast.

Click HERE to view the Marine Forecast for the northern Oregon Coast.

Click HERE for the ten day weather forecast for Astoria.

A check of the Northwest River Forecast shows river levels for all of Oregon's rivers are returning to near summer levels with the exception of the Columbia, Willamette, Umpqua and Rogue. Look for river levels to remain higher than average with continued rainfall into the winter months. The river level forecast call for a sharp increase starting December 15th. The smaller estuaries the Chetco, Rogue, Salmon, Sand Lake and Necanicum are the first to be affected by seasonal flooding followed by the larger estuaries Coquille, Siuslaw, Alsea, Siletz, Nestucca, Nehalem, Yaquina, Tillamook, Coos, Netarts and the Lower Columbia River Estuary. Conversely when river levels drop crabbing improves first in Netarts and Coos Bays before improving in Oregon's other estuaries.

Click on Chetco River to display the height of the river level for the Chetco River near Brookings

Click on Rogue River to display the height of the river level for the Rogue River at Agnes

Click on Coquille at Coquille to display the height of the river level for the Coquille River at Coquille

Click on Coquille at Myrtle Point to display the height of the river level for the Coquille River at Myrtle Point

Click on Siuslaw to display the height of the river level for the Siuslaw River near Mapleton

Click on Umpqua River near Elkton to display the height of the river level for the Umpqua River near Elkton

Click on Umpqua River at Reedsport to display the height of the river level for the Umpqua River at Reedsport

Click on Alsea River at Lobster Creek to display the height of the river level for the Alsea River at Lobster Creek

Click on Alsea River at Tidewater to display the height of the river level for the Alsea River – At Tidewater

Click on Siletz to display the height of the river level for the Siletz River at Siletz

Click on Nestucca to display the height of the river level for the Nestucca River near Beaver

Click on Wilson for Tillamook to display the height of the river level for the Wilson River at Sollie Smith Bridge

Click on Trask for Tillamook to display the height of the river level for the Trash River above Cedar Creek near Tillamook

Click on Nehalem to display the height of the river level for the Nehalem River near Foss

Click on the Northwest River Levels to view the height of the river level for the Columbia River.

Recreational Advisories: 

Always call the shellfish Hotline at (503) 986-4728 or 1-800-448-2474 toll free outside of Oregon before harvesting clams or mussels for messages listing the areas closed to harvesting shellfish due to high levels of marine toxins. The information displayed on the ODA Shellfish Hotline Website may not be up to date and cannot be trusted. For up to date information call the Shellfish Hotline before you dig at (503) 986-4728 or 1-800-448-2474.

Always Check Oregon's Beach Monitoring Program. The Oregon Public Health Division conducts several activities to protect people living, working and playing near Oregon's beaches, rivers, lakes and other water bodies.

Oregon's Beach Monitoring Program helps protect people who play in the coastal waters. The program does regular water testing to look for high levels of bacteria and lets visitors know when there is a health concern.

The Harmful Algae Bloom Surveillance program advises the public when a harmful algae bloom has been detected in a lake or river. Not all blooms are harmful, but some species of algae, such as cyanobacteria or blue-green algae, can produce toxins that can cause serious illness in pets, livestock, wildlife and humans

Please see the Oregon fish consumption guidelines for more information abut the health benefits of fish and how to make healthy fish choices.

Share your crabbing, clam digging and fishing adventures with us by emailing them to clamdigginginfo@yahoo.com.

Return to Clam Watch.