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Spring Chinook Nears Record Run

by Mark Yuasa, Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle Times - February 7, 2002

Groundhog Punxsutawney Phil has predicted six more weeks of winter, but on the Columbia River the smell of spring is already in the air. The Columbia River sport spring chinook fisheries were set last week on a projected near-record return of 418,500 fish.

"It's going to be another good fishing year," said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. "We've gotten reports of a few early arriving fish caught near the Clackamas River in Oregon and nine incidentally caught in the commercial (sturgeon) fishery."

"But the big question mark is you've got more than 200 inches of snow on Mount Hood, and if we get a big spring snowmelt that could have a negative effect on water conditions," Hymer said.

This year's Columbia River spring chinook run is expected to be the second-largest since counting began at Bonneville Dam in 1938, surpassed only by 508,000 fish that returned last year.

Last year's Columbia spring chinook selective fishery produced the longest season since 1977, and the largest catch since 1973.

"Fishing usually picks up in mid-March, and last year it peaked in the mid-April," Hymer said.

One day in mid-April last year, more than 3,200 boats and 2,700 bank anglers were counted from Bonneville to the mouth. All told, 26,000 hatchery spring chinook were caught in an estimated 172,000 angler trips.

This year's Columbia mainstem sport quota is about 21,000 adipose-fin-clipped spring chinook.

Biologists attribute two years of near-record or record spring chinook runs to good river outflows and ideal ocean conditions.

Currently, the lower mainstem from mouth to I-5 Bridge is open for hatchery-marked chinook.

The lower mainstem from I-5 Bridge to Bonneville Dam opens daily starting March 16. Hatchery steelhead and shad may also be retained during the fishing season. Fishing is expected to remain open through mid-May, but may end earlier if the quota is achieved.

The Dalles and John Day pools opens March 16 through May 15. Last year, they were open to springers for only three days.

Selective fishing for spring chinook began yesterday, in the Deep, Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis rivers. The Green River (a Toutle River tributary) opens April 1.

Bonneville Pool, will be closed, because adult springers returning to its tributaries were not adipose fin-clipped as juveniles.

The springer season in Wind River and Drano Lake will open sometime in mid-March through June. The Klickitat River opens April 1. Chinook with or without adipose fins intact may be kept in these three areas.

This year's sport and commercial seasons were set following an unprecedented multi-year conservation and rebuilding agreement reached last year by the four Columbia River treaty tribes and the states of Oregon and Washington.

The agreement focuses on rebuilding Snake River spring and summer chinook, Upper Columbia spring chinook and Snake River sockeye by adjusting harvest rates based on the number of wild fish projected to return in a given year.

Mark Yuasa, Seattle Times staff reporter
Spring Chinook Nears Record Run
Seattle Times, February 7, 2002

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