Record Returns of Fall Chinook Salmon
by Mark Yuasa
Salmon anglers should start making plans to hit the Lower Columbia River, where the forecast for the upriver fall chinook stock return is the largest in 48 years.
"The expectations will be good for chinook from Buoy 10 (at big river's mouth), Lower Columbia up to Bonneville Dam and all the way up to Hanford Reach area," said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.
The forecast this year calls for 677,900 fall chinook (512,300 actual return last year) to enter the Columbia, and a record-high 432,500 upriver bright chinook (353,500), the largest return since record keeping began in 1964.
Most upriver brights are wild-spawning chinook originating in the free-flowing Hanford Reach area downriver from Priest Rapids Dam near Tri-Cities. The highest actual return was 420,700 in 1987, and they've made a strong comeback since the 1980s.
These fish are the big producers of sport catches around the mouth of the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers up to Bonneville Dam.
"At Buoy 10, we expect a catch of 20,000 chinook along with 13,000 hatchery coho," Hymer said. "For Lower Columbia mainstem below Bonneville Dam, we're expecting a catch of 26,500 chinook."
The popular Buoy 10 salmon fishery near the Columbia's mouth opened Thursday. The peak of the chinook fishery is the third week of this month, but the past few years kings have arrived earlier and in some cases right when it opens.
The optimum time to target kings is on a big incoming tide when fish get pushed in from the ocean.
An early return of chinook migrate to Youngs Bay on the Oregon side of the lower river -- a stock introduced from the Rogue River in Oregon -- and have been around for a few weeks.
The Columbia coho forecast of 434,000, which is up from the past few years and slightly better than the five-year average of 404,700.
"The coho return is much improved from last year, and would be three times larger than the actual return (of 170,300) and closer to the recent 10-year average," Hymer said.
Coho will start trickling in around the same time as the kings, and will peak in mid-September, and can be decent through October.
If the Buoy 10 area is slow, many anglers will also head out into the ocean off Ilwaco (when it is open) to CR Buoy for coho or north of the Columbia about four miles off the town of Long Beach for kings.
On top of all the salmon returning, anglers can add 322,000 upriver steelhead that are forecast into the mix.
"They're starting to contribute to the fisheries now, and later anglers will be getting them in Wind River, Drano Lake and Lower White Salmon River (tributaries above Bonneville Dam)," Hymer said.
The Buoy 10 area will be open for chinook, and hatchery coho and steelhead through Sept. 1. Daily limit is two salmon, and only one may be a chinook. From Sept. 2-30, the daily limit is two hatchery coho or hatchery steelhead or one of each.
Columbia nibbles and bites
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