Big Fish Could be Worth the Waitby Bill Monroe
The Oregonian, September 18, 2006
A late season run brings the largest salmon in recent memory,
though there haven't been many of them
Spring chinook were so late in arriving this year that biologists were ready to declare an emergency on the Columbia River. Then salmon suddenly surged over Bonneville Dam so fast and so strong that by the end of August this year's run was far over its predictions.
Summer steelhead also were late at the dam, but now are surging toward Idaho.
Buoy 10's chinook fishery still hasn't gotten started, but salmon erupted in hoglines up and down the lower Columbia River.
Baitfish are schooled everywhere offshore.
Ocean-caught coho -- fishing was also late on the south coast for the northbound coho -- are the largest seen in many years. Some are so fat they look more like giant crappie, distended bodies choking tiny heads.
What in the name of Onchorynchus is going on out there?
"It looks like a late year, that's for sure," said Curt Melcher, deputy chief of fisheries for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "It's across the board. And they're eating pretty well out there, too."
Hardly anything this summer has happened normally, and it's possible that fall chinook runs will be late as well, frustrating early risers in the popular estuary fisheries.
If fish are even there.
"The best minds are scratching their heads," said Ron Boyce, a department fisheries biologist who specializes in salmon.
"Upwelling, bait, everything's in place but the salmon," he said. "The commercial trollers haven't been able to stay on them. For whatever reason, we're not seeing a lot of fish out there."
On the flip side, Boyce said the salmon that anglers and commercial trollers have seen so far are, indeed, the largest in recent memory.
"I think we've got a good chance of seeing some of the good old Tillamook and Trask 50-pounders, maybe a 60," said Pat Abel, a fishing guide.
Contrary to the assumption of many, Boyce said severe cutbacks in commercial ocean troll fishing off the coast to protect Klamath River chinook won't necessarily mean higher numbers of fall chinook in Oregon coastal streams. "We might see a few more, but most of that harvest of our coastal fish occurs off southeast Alaska," he said.
Biologists already are preparing not only for a repeat of this year's cutbacks, but possibly even greater restrictions in 2007, when the Klamath run is expected to be even lower than this fall.
DNA research off the north Oregon Coast is being used to determine whether any -- and how many -- Klamath chinook salmon are found close to the coastline.
Meanwhile, a controversial opening of commercial trolling off the mouths of some rivers has brought little interest from commercial trollers, most of whom are farther at sea these days yarding in abundant albacore tuna. "They're about other business," Boyce said.
Through the first week of the special commercial trolling season, fewer than 20 chinook were caught coastwide.
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