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Columbia Spring Chinook Run Gaining Momentum

by Greg Johnston
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - March 10, 2005

The highly anticipated spring chinook salmon run down on the Columbia River could be about to break loose.

Fishing this season -- although it is still early -- has been disappointing, with just two springers found in more than 200 boats checked last week on the Washington side of the river between Vancouver and Cathlamet.

However, within the past few days the year's first spring chinook have made it through the Bonneville Dam fish ladders, and catch reports appear to be increasing at several spots, including in Oregon's Willamette River, Washington's Cowlitz and in the main river at various spots. In addition, state monitors aboard commercial gillnet boats during a 12-hour opening on the Columbia on Tuesday night reported a marked increase in fish caught over a 12-hour fishery last week.

"They monitored 53 drifts and had 45 chinook, which compares to about a dozen last week," said Joe Hymer, biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife office in Vancouver. "Numbers have increased. ... We should start to see some improvement in the sport fishery."

A sizable run of about 400,000 spring chinook is expected this year, with 254,000 bound for tributaries upstream of Bonneville. Of the lower-river stocks, 117,000 are expected in the Willamette, including a sizable number of larger 5-year-old chinook, as well as 12,700 expected in the Cowlitz, 7,600 in the Lewis and 4,500 in the Kalama. Most of the upriver stocks are bound for upper Columbia tributaries and the Snake River, but 8,300 are expected back to the Wind River, 7,600 to Drano Lake and 5,100 to the Klickitat River.

Typically the fish sneak into the Willamette and appear there first in anglers' catches. The lower river around Cathlamet often comes on strong shortly thereafter, followed by spots upstream such as off Longview and St. Helens and at the mouth of the Cowlitz.

Currently the Columbia is open downstream of the I-5 bridge. On March 16 the river opens upstream to Bonneville as well as at Wind River and Drano Lake. However, the stretch from Rooster Rock above Camas to Bonneville will be open for fishing only Sundays through Tuesday, with a one-fish limit. Elsewhere it will be a two-fish limit, as it currently is where open daily. Anglers must release any springers with an intact adipose fin anywhere in the big river but may take any spring chinook in Wind River and Drano Lake.

At any rate, a lot of anglers are figuring the Cathlamet area will turn on over the next several days.

In saltwater salmon fishing, less than favorable morning tides along with wind and lumpy water Saturday seems to have slowed chinook catches in Puget Sound over the past several days. However, at least one area bucked the trend. More than 100 chinook were entered last weekend during the annual Geoduck Restaurant Salmon Derby on Hood Canal, topped by an 18-pounder.

In other fishing news:

Steelhead fishing has been fair to good on the coast, with the wild runs now peaking, and fair in the Skagit and Sauk catch-and-release fisheries. Coastal rivers are producing some large wild fish in the 20-pound range. These include the Quinault, Queets, Clearwater, Hoh, Bogachiel, Calawah and Sol Duc.

The Skagit also is producing as well as it has all season, with at least two fish reportedly in the 20-pound range caught and released over the past few days, and some anglers reporting multiple fish trips.

Greg Johnston
Columbia Spring Chinook Run Gaining Momentum
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 10, 2005

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