Great Expectations Await
by Mark Yuasa
It's only a matter of time before the first migrating spring chinook is hooked by a lucky angler in the Lower Columbia River.
We already know this fish will be among a strong forecast of 414,500, which could lead to the fourth-largest return of upriver spring chinook on record.
Fishing is currently open daily from Buoy 10 in the Lower Columbia up to I-5. The fishery expands upriver to Beacon Rock from March 1 to April 6 (closed March 20, March 27 and April 3), and possibly longer depending in the catch rate.
Also opening March 1 is bank fishing from Beacon Rock to the boundary below Bonneville Dam.
Fishing above Bonneville Dam will be open daily from March 16 to May 2, between the Tower Island power lines 6 miles below The Dalles Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. Bank angling is allowed from Bonneville Dam up to the power lines during that time.
Starting March 1, anglers below Bonneville may keep one hatchery-marked adult spring chinook daily. Above the dam, anglers can keep daily beginning March 16.
More statewide salmon forecasts will be revealed when state Fish and Wildlife has a public meeting 9 a.m. Feb. 28 at the Natural Resources Building in Olympia.
But before those figures are unveiled, let's gaze back at how things fared last season.
The big eye opener was an estimated 378,056 salmon angler trips taken in the Lower Columbia last year, which broke the previous record of slightly more than 371,000 set in 2010.
The 24,973 summer steelhead kept by anglers last year smashed the previous record of 18,324 fish kept in 2010, and was the highest on record since at least 1975.
Add to that another 45,000 adult chinook kept, second only to 2010 when 49,000 fish were taken home by anglers.
Ample time on the water also allowed anglers to reap their fishing fortunes.
Last year, spring chinook fishing on the Lower Columbia was open Jan. 1 to April 4, April 8-19 and reopened on May 15. In that time, a total of 154,895 angler trips were taken with 11,694 spring chinook kept.
Anglers were allowed to keep summer chinook from May 15 to July 17. In past years, the option would close by mid-April and wouldn't reopen until mid-June. Also during the small period when chinook catch-and-keep was closed July 18 to Aug. 1, summer steelhead action ramped up.
The summer steelhead catch of 11,160 in August was tops for any month since at least 1969, and walloped the previous record of 8,549 from July.
Add to that a record 18,509 kept or released in August, compared to the previous record of 15,934 in July 2009.
Going back to records that started in 1969, the 5,160 adult summer hatchery chinook kept were a record. The old record was 4,924 fish caught during a nonselective fishery in 2006.
When the fall chinook started to show up in the Columbia around August, fishing never slowed down.
A record 28,168 adult fall chinook were caught in the Lower Columbia from Aug. 1 to Oct. 31. The previous record was 26,195 adults kept in 2003.
During that period, 147,343 angler trips were taken, which was a record effort since at least 1980. The previous high was 117,975 angler trips taken in 2009.
The good times weren't just limited to one location, as the Hanford Reach area saw a record 11,598 kings kept last year.
There also were a record 1,427 Lower Columbia sockeye (which rarely bite any lure or bait thrown at them) kept. That was nearly twice the previous record of 900 in 2009.
With the upwelling of cold water from La Nina conditions securely fastened in the ocean, there should be more excellent survival rates as this season's fish migrate back.
All ocean and Puget Sound salmon fisheries will be finalized April 1-6.
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