Fall Chinook Salmon Runs
by Harry Morse
Anglers and fish are on a collision course at the mouth of the Columbia River. Over 200,000 Chinook salmon will flood in from the sea starting their annual migration to their spawning grounds in Washington and Oregon over the next two weeks.
A scant few will return to Idaho. Fall runs of salmon once returned as far up the Snake River as Glenns Ferry, Twin Falls and spilled into the Salmon, Wieser and Payette rivers.
Today, fall Chinook salmon runs are all but extinct in Idaho. Spring, summer and fall runs of returning salmon of all species to Idaho have dwindled to a fraction of their once mighty size.
Idaho's famed Red Fish Lake Sockeye salmon are on the endangered list. This year only 15 of the endangered fish crossed the last dam into Idaho. To Oregon and Washington the return of the fall Chinook or king salmon is a major economic boost to coastal and river communities totaling millions of dollars in recreational angler and commercial fishermen generated income.
Idaho anglers may travel to meet these returning migrates, but there is no fall salmon season in Idaho.
"I love to fish for Salmon. ... The fall run of Chinook in the Columbia is the main event of the year," said angler John Patterson of Idaho.
Over 450,000 fall Chinook Salmon are expected to enter the mouth of the Columbia River and head up steam over the migration period. These are the big bright fish ranging from 12 to 40 pounds that lure anglers to the mouth of the Columbia River.
On any given day up to 500 recreational anglers in private boats, a hundred or more guide boats and a charter fleet will sail out to meet the incoming tide and surging fish. From one to 15,000 salmon may ride the tides in from the ocean on any given day. Hotels are booked full, diners are packed and bait and tackle stores shelves are stripped clean of the hot lure or bait of the day. Boaters wait up to two hours in line to launch their boats.
The progress of the fish migration is followed in papers, on radio talk shows and television newscasts along the river from Astoria to Portland and up river to the Tri Cites in Washington. Dam counts appear on numerous Web sites daily tracking the progress of the fish.
Returning salmon and steelhead are counted at Bonneville Dam and three more dams along the Columbia before reaching the Snake River.
Fish cross three more dams before reaching Lower Granite Dam and continue into Idaho tributaries of the Snake and Clearwater River systems.
Idaho does not have a fall salmon season and experienced limited spring and summer Chinook salmon seasons this year. Both seasons were cut short when expected numbers of returning salmon did not meet projections and limited quotas were met.
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