Salmon Forecasts Give Anglers
by Rob Phillips
YAKIMA, Wash. -- The anglers in the Northwest received an early Christmas present last week when the officials who predict the Columbia River salmon runs dropped all kinds of good news into our fishing stockings.
In their forecast for spring chinook, summer chinook and sockeye salmon, the Oregon Technical Advisory Committee is predicting some outstanding numbers for the Columbia River and some of its tributaries.
The report forecasts a 2012 return of 314,200 spring chinook salmon to the Columbia above Bonneville Dam. Those fish are headed to Wind River, Drano Lake, the Klickitat and Yakima rivers, the Upper Columbia and the Snake River.
If the numbers pan out as predicted, this could be one of the best returns in more than 30 years. It would top last year's run by 93,000 fish.
Of course the prognostication is just that -- a guess, albeit an educated one. In recent years the biologists and salmon experts have had troubles with their numbers. In four of the last seven years they have over-forecast the run numbers considerably, and then last year they under-forecasted by about 20,000.
Over-forecasting can create some logistical problems in setting sports and commercial fishing seasons, because everyone wants what they consider to be their fair share of the highly coveted spring salmon run. If the managers think there are more fish due to arrive than actually show up, it sets up the potential for over-harvest by commercial fishermen, impacting the rates of mortality on wild salmon.
So, with almost 100,000 more upriver spring chinook this year than last, it's looking like 2012 could be a great year to gear up and get out after them.
Similar trends of more fish this year versus last could also be seen in the summer chinook run and the sockeye salmon. Fall chinook numbers figure to be similar to last summer.
Last year about 80,000 summer chinook entered the Columbia. Just in the past few years there have been enough fish to open sport fishing seasons for summer chinook, including openings on the lower, mid and upper Columbia.
This year some 91,000 summer-run chinook salmon are predicted to return, making it quite likely more fisheries will open for sport anglers in different sections of the Columbia.
Summer-run chinook start returning in June, and are normally bigger than the spring chinook that run from February through May in the Columbia.
Making their way up the Columbia at about the same time as the summer chinook will be the sockeye salmon. In the past several summers, anglers have had the chance to catch these smaller, but great-eating fish. Most of the sockeye are bound for the Okanogan River in North Central Washington. A really good sockeye fishery has developed below the Wanapum and Wells dams and at the mouth of the Okanogan in July and August.
Fall salmon run forecasts aren't quite as rosy, but they aren't bad, either. Officials say it looks like the fall chinook run will be right around the 600,000 number it was last year. The upriver bright chinook that spawn in the Columbia below Priest Rapids Dam are part of that fall chinook number, but the biologists are optimistic about the 2012 brights because of a better-than-average return of jacks earlier this fall.
In 2012, fall coho, including fish that return to the Klickitat River and Yakima, should be a little better than the 270,000 that returned earlier this fall.
All in all, it looks like 2012 should be a great year for salmon fishing on the Columbia and its tributaries -- that is, if the fish show up as predicted. Let's hope they do.
With this kind of news, you might even add some new salmon gear to your Christmas list. Not to be too greedy because we've already received a nice little gift to make the holidays brighter, but a new salmon rod, reel or some new plugs should be well used and much appreciated in the seasons to come.
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