Spring Chinook Should Be
by Tom Paulu
Just in time for Christmas, fish managers have given anglers bountiful predictions for 2010 spring chinook returns to Columbia River tributaries.
Forecasts for all six Columbia River tributaries that have springers are up from last season.
An improved forecast for the Willamette River should allow more spring chinook fishing on the Columbia River off Longview and Cathlamet, where it was curtailed the past two years.
The tributary forecasts come on the heels of a prediction that a record-high return of 470,000 spring chinook will return to the Columbia upstream of Bonneville Dam in 2010. Improving ocean conditions are cited as a reason for better returns.
The past couple of seasons, spring chinook fishing was hot at times in the Columbia River -- but mostly above Vancouver.
Sport fishing was limited below the mouth of the Willamette to protect the weak run returning there, and all commercial fishing was upstream of Vancouver.
For 2010, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is forecasting that a run of 62,700 Willamette River spring chinook will enter the Columbia, up from 39,400 this year and just 27,000 in 2008.
That includes 47,000 hatchery-origin Willamette chinook.
Oregon's Willamette management plan calls for 22,000 hatchery spring chinook to reach the upper Willamette and 3,300 to reach the Clackamas River for spawning, which leaves 21,700 available for harvest, said Chris Kern of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The plan splits that harvest 80 percent for sports fishing in the lower Columbia and Willamette rivers, and 20 percent for commercial fishing in the Columbia, he said.
"There's fish to catch in the lower river," said Cindy LeFleur of the WDFW.
Both commercial and sport anglers should be able to fish in their traditional lower river areas, she said.
Fishery managers will discuss options for seasons during meetings with advisory groups in January and February. Seasons are scheduled to be finalized during a Feb. 18 meeting in the Portland area.
The estimated returns to tributaries is good news, too.
Last spring, a total of 7,200 spring chinook returned to the Cowlitz, Lewis and Kalama combined. The pre-season forecast for 2010 is more than twice as much, 19,400.
The WDFW is forecasting 14,000 adult spring chinook will return to Wind River and a whopping 28,900 to Drano Lake, a large backwater at the mouth of the Little White Salmon River.
Here's a look at the six Washington tributaries with spring chinook:
The forecast a year ago was 2,200 and the actual run was 1,900. That was the worst of the decade.
But the return of 3-year-old jack chinook was the best since the early 1990s, fueling the improved forecast of 6,000 this coming spring.
The hatcheries need 950 spring chinook for spawning purposes.
A year ago, angling was open with a one-adult spring chinook limit beginning March 1 and closed for all chinook on May 11. The sport catch was 550 adult chinook and 300 jacks.
The 2009 return of 350 was the second worst since at least 1980. The spawning goal is 500.
WDFW biologist Joe Hymer said the 2004 and 2005 broods performed very poorly, but better numbers of 3-year-olds from the 2006 brood lend hope for some improvement in 2010.
Next year, a return of 900 fish is forecast.
If the run of 12,500 materializes, it would double the recent five-year average.
A year ago, the forecast was 4,100, and the run came back slightly larger at 4,900. The spawning need is 1,250.
Anglers caught 750 adults and 400 jacks in the Cowlitz in 2009.
If 14,000 chinook return, the run would be the largest since 2003, Hymer said.
The return of jacks (3-year-olds) to the Wind River was the second-best since at least 1970.
Wind River has popular fishery at its confluence with the Columbia just west of Home Valley. Anglers troll plugs such as Magnum Wiggle Warts along with spinners and herring.
The stream also has a productive in-river fishery in May.
This year's forecast of 28,900, if it materializes, would be the largest return since at least 1970, topping the recent-year record of 17,600 in 2002.
The jack return in 2009 was almost five times the previous high.
Drano Lake likely will be packed with trollers with such a large return forecasted.
The forecast of 4,500 is for the second-highest run since at least 1977.
Something's Fishy by Kevin Taylor, The Inlander, 12/23/9
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