Summer-Run Chinook Salmonby Dennis Dauble
Washington-Oregon Game & Fish Magazine, June 2004
Another strong run of summer chinook salmon is predicted to return to
the Columbia River in 2004, filling in the waiting time between spring and fall runs.
Imagine long summer days and warm nights with enough 20-pound chinook salmon thrashing and splashing at the water's surface to drive you nuts. Sound like a fisherman's fantasy? Could be. But given the record numbers of salmon returning over the past few years, such a scenario is highly likely for anglers chasing summer- and fall-run chinook salmon in the upper Columbia River.
Historically, chinook salmon migrated upstream in the Columbia River as a single run from March through October, with a peak in the summer. What are now termed summer-run chinook salmon were referred to as "June Hogs" in the late 1800s because of their large size and the timing of their migration. However, due to over-harvest, farming, logging, hydro-development and other factors, the early (spring) and middle (summer) runs of chinook salmon almost disappeared from the Columbia River.
Spring and summer chinook salmon were reduced to the point that commercial fishing was restricted and several populations from the Snake River were listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act. However, in the mid-1990s, the spring run rebounded to levels that allowed limited sportfishing opportunities. With increased numbers of summer-run fish in 2002 and 2003, some Columbia River anglers fished for chinook salmon for six straight months!
So, what has happened? One important change has been operational and structural modifications at hydro projects to benefit fish passage. Improved water-use practices and stream habitats have also helped. More recently, enhanced ocean conditions have contributed to high adult return rates. Finally, millions of juvenile chinook salmon (smolts) are released from fish hatcheries annually in the Columbia River system. The increased number of juveniles and improved conditions mean more adult salmon for the angler.
LIFE HISTORY & MIGRATION OF CHINOOK SALMON
Knowledge of the three "runs" of chinook salmon is helpful in determining when and where to fish for them. Spring-run chinook salmon, or "springers," have a stream-type life history in the Columbia River. That is, they spend 1 to 2 years in fresh water before migrating to the Pacific Ocean.
As returning adults, they are first to enter the estuary, and most pass upriver to tributary streams by mid-June. In contrast, both summer- and fall-run chinook salmon rear for 2 to 4 months in their natal streams before migrating downstream. Most summer chinook salmon return to spawning grounds in large tributaries of the upper Columbia River. The principal run of fall chinook salmon, the "upriver bright" population, spawns in the Hanford Reach of the mid-Columbia region.
To monitor migration timing and abundance of salmon, fisheries managers rely on adult passage counts at main-stem dams (available online via Columbia River DART or the Fish Passage Center, www.fps.org/adultqueries/).
Adult chinook salmon enter the Columbia River from March to October and occur over a range of 500 river miles, not counting tributary streams. Thus, knowledge of their migration timing will help you catch more fish. However, available numbers vary dramatically by location and time of year. In 2003, for example, the spring and fall runs predominated downstream of the Dalles Dam, while summers were the largest component upstream of Priest Rapids Dam.
Let's apply this information on salmon behavior and run timing to figure out where and when to fish the Columbia River upstream of Bonneville Dam.
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