By Allen Thomas
A fall chinook run for the record books — 1.6 million salmon, the largest since counting began at Bonneville Dam — is forecast for the Columbia River in 2014.
State, federal and tribal biologists are predicting 1,602,900 fall chinook are headed for the Columbia, 26 percent better than the unexpected high of 1.26 million of 2013.
“If there is ever a year folks want to take time off and catch fish, this would be the year,’’ said Robert Moxley, a member of the bistate Columbia River Recreational Adviser Group. “I’m more excited than you can possibly imagine.’’
The fall chinook forecast comes on the heels of a prediction for a huge run of 964,000 coho salmon destined for the Columbia River.
Topping the long list of good news is that 973,300 “upriver brights’’ make up more than half of the 1.6 million forecast. Upriver brights are primarily wild salmon originating from Hanford Reach, the free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River in central Washington, along with Priest Rapids Hatchery and two Snake River hatcheries.
Upriver brights are the most prized of the stocks of fall chinook.
As table fare, an upriver bright fall chinook pales compared to an upper Columbia spring chinook. But they are as good as summer chinook and superior to coho.
Fall chinook are larger than spring chinook.
Two-thirds of the upriver brights are expected to be 4-year-olds, approximately 12 to 18 pounds, compared to 5- to 8-pound 3-year-olds.
“This is an incredible outlook for fall salmon, said Guy Norman, regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. “I would never have bet on this kind of run strength occurring in the Columbia during my career.’’
Norman said he remembers when there were not enough upriver brights to reach the 40,000 spawning goal.
“The fact that we are now expecting over 1 million upriver bright stock is incredible,’’ he said.
The fall chinook run is a combination of seven stocks.
The second largest stock, after the upriver brights, is forecast to be the bright stock headed for the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools at 310,600.
Returns to hatcheries on lower Columbia tributaries such as the Cowlitz, Kalama and Washougal are forecast at 110,000, which is about average.
Returns of the lower Columbia wild stock — primarily a bright stock headed to the North Fork of the Lewis River plus the Cowlitz and Sandy — are forecast to be 34,200. That would be the largest return since 1989.
Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery in eastern Skamania County is predicted to produce 115,100 fall chinook, 40 percent above average.
“I’m still amazed the forecast came out that much,’’ said Stuart Ellis of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission.
Ellis and Norman both said the massive salmon numbers are likely the result of good survival of juveniles in the Columbia River coupled with an ocean rich in food.
“If we get some decent water when these fish need it, and manage the dams not to kill too many, we can have these numbers of fish,’’ Ellis said. “The ocean can’t do it unless the freshwater puts a lot of fish out.’’
Norman said the big returns forecast this year can be a beginning.
“If this region remains committed to actions that benefit salmon survival, there’s a good chance we’ll see more years like this in the future,’’ he said.
Last week Tacoma Power recovered five coho salmon adults and three winter-run steelhead during five days of operations at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.
During the past week Tacoma Power employees released two coho adults and two winter-run steelhead adults into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton, and they released three coho adults into Lake Scanewa above Cowlitz Falls Dam.
River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 5,290 cubic feet per second on Tuesday, February 18. Water visibility is six feet. River flows could change at any time so boaters and anglers should remain alert for this possibility.
As Old Man Winter starts loosening his grip, the first thing that comes to my mind is salmon fishing. A great option for early season action would have to be Alaska’s Kasilof River. The Kasilof River starts its life as the waters of the massive Tustumena Lake in the heart of the Kenai Peninsula. The Kasilof River spills westward only 15 miles, when it reaches the deep waters of Cooks Inlet. Alaska’s most popular drift boat fishery, the Kasilof River provides the highest king salmon success rate on the Kenai Peninsula. Early run kings begin making their appearance in early May. However, fishing doesn’t really begin to pick up until mid-May, when the river opens to the use of bait. By the last week of the month, king fishing is in full swing with the run peaking around the second week of June. The early run of kings on the Kasilof River is primarily of hatchery origin. These fish are returning to Crooked Creek, about five miles from the rivers mouth. This fishery provides the rare option in south central Alaska, for keeping two king salmon per day.
Early season Kasilof kings normally average around 20 pounds and will often reach 30-40 pounds. Hard fighters, they often leave wakes behind them in their sizzling runs across the early-season shallow waters of the Kasilof.
Most of the early season fishing will consist of back trolling sardine-wrapped kwikfish or jet diver/spin ‘n glo / egg combos. Although when the time is right back bouncing eggs right along the boat can be stellar.
So when you’re looking for that early season king, don’t over look this great river. The Kasilof offers some amazing tidewater fishing along with a drift boat-only setting, great scenery, rich abundant wildlife, and through most of the season, lighter fishing pressure than the nearby Kenai.
The largest recreational fishery in Alaska is supported by the Kenai River, a glacially turbid stream draining the central Kenai Peninsula (originating at the outlet of Kenai Lake in Cooper Landing). This popular river supports excellent runs of androgynous (sea-run) King, silver, sockeye and pink salmon, both resident (exclusively fresh water) and androgynous Dolly Varden char, in addition to resident rainbow trout. Lake trout are common in the Kenai and Skilak Lakes of the Kenai River System.KING (CHINOOK) SALMON. 48,343 Kings entered the Kenai River in 2010. The very name “King” connotes a large fish, but not all King salmon caught are necessarily large. A combination of genetics, food availability and the life history of each fish determine the size of a salmon. But the Kenai River boasts more than its fair share of “King” salmon both in name and size; the world record (sport caught) King salmon was taken in 1985 from the Kenai River and weighed in at a whopping 97 pounds and 4 ounces.Two distinct runs represent the largest freshwater King salmon fishery in Alaska. The early run usually begins to enter the Kenai River around mid-May, reaching a peak in June and finishing by the end of the month. Fish from the late run enter the river in early July and provide excellent fishing until the end of July.
King Salmon caught on the Kenai River in Alaska.
Bring along an ample supply of patience and courtesy on your Kenai King salmon fishing trip, because the Kenai River King salmon fishery is extremely popular and on occasion can become a bit crowded. Operate your boat in accordance with the “rules of the road” and extend to your fellow angler the same courtesies you would like to receive. Give boats with “fish on” the widest berth possible to avoid line tangles. At its best, King salmon fishing is not a sport recommended for the impatient. On the average it requires approximately 31 hours of fishing before an angler boats a king. However, you can improve your chances by hiring a guide. On the Kenai River, guided anglers are about three times as efficient as non-guided anglers.
Posted by Mark Yuasa
State Fish and Wildlife sent out the fall chinook return for this year and with more than 1.6-million forecasted on top of another 1.2-million coho, which may lead to some outstanding fishing in the ocean and in-river this coming summer!
Here is the report that came out this morning:
In addition to nearly a million Columbia River coho swimming in the ocean, 1.6 million fall Chinook are expected to the Columbia River in 2014, the largest return since at least 1938!
Nearly 1 million of those Chinook are expected to be upriver brights of which 2/3 will be four-year-olds. This year’s forecasted run is over 25% larger than the 2013 actual return. Last year’s actual return came in nearly twice as large as the preseason forecast.
Posted by Mark Yuasa
All eyes have been on the Lower Columbia mainstem commercial smelt fishery this week to see if any could be migrating up into the Cowlitz when the second sport bank dip-net fishery opens on Saturday.
“We are telling folks that it is not worth the drive, and wait-and-see deal,” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. “The water cooled down (ideal smelt passage is about 41 degrees) and nothing has been seen.”
A commercial fishery in the Lower Columbia River produced no smelt, and there was another fishery on Thursday with no reports of catches. The commercial smelt fishery will continue on a Monday and Thursday schedule between 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. each day in the Lower Columbia mainstem.
The first sport smelt dip-net fishery since 2010 occurred in the Cowlitz River last Saturday (Feb. 8), and coincided with the winter storm producing nothing for the few who turned out to try their luck.
Only a half dozen dip-netters turned out with no catch observed.
The sport dip-net bank fishery in the Cowlitz River will reopen this Saturday (Feb. 15) from 6 a.m. until noon, and will also reopen every Saturday through March 1. The daily limit is 10 pounds.
A similar smelt dipping sport fishery is happening on the Sandy River in Oregon.
These fisheries were created by state fisheries officials from Washington and Oregon to gather data on smelt abundance and the catch was only expected to amount to no more than 1 percent of the predicted return this year.
Smelt were listed as threatened from northern California into British Columbia under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2010.
Smelt have been declining for more than a decade, and then took a turn for the better in 2011, and by last year there was 110-million spawned smelt. Fisheries managers were predicting another strong return this year.
Columbia coho forecast at nearly 1 million fish
The run of coho salmon returning to the Columbia River this year will reach nearly 1 million fish, more than three times the size of the run in 2013.
The ocean abundance, before any fisheries, of early- and late-run Columbia coho is forecast at 964,100 adult fish, compared with a final estimate of 301,500 for the 2013 run. The forecast was released last week by the Technical Advisory Committee.
The 2003-2012 annual average return to the mouth of the Columbia, which subtracts ocean harvest and other mortality, is 434,100 fish, according to the July 2013 joint staff report produced by the Washington and Oregon departments of fish and wildlife.
The 2014 forecast includes an ocean abundance estimate of 526,600 Columbia River early-run fish and 437,500 late-run coho, compared with 190,800 and 110,700 estimates, respectively, last year.
Coho adults are typically 3-year-old fish, and return to freshwater after only one year in the ocean. The early-stock coho enter the river from mid-August to early October, peaking in early September. In the ocean, these early-stock coho tend to remain near the Oregon and southern Washington coasts, and most migrate southward from the Columbia River and are therefore referred to as Type S, said a task force news release.
The late-stock fish return from mid-September through December, with the peak occurring in mid-October. In the ocean, these coho tend to migrate north along the Washington coast and Vancouver Island, and are therefore referred to as Type N.
Columbia River coho return primarily to Oregon and Washington hatcheries downstream from Bonneville Dam, although substantial hatchery and some natural production now occurs in areas upstream of Bonneville Dam.
Historical natural coho-production areas above Bonneville Dam include the Spokane, Yakima, Wenatchee, Entiat, Methow and Snake rivers. The majority of coho currently passing Bonneville Dam are from the U.S. vs. Oregon management plan-mandated hatchery releases of lower-river coho stocks in the Yakima, Klickitat, Wenatchee and Methow rivers in Washington, the Umatilla in Oregon and Idaho’s Clearwater river, the news release said.
Fish releases outside the Klickitat are primarily intended to restore naturally producing coho to appropriate habitats above Bonneville Dam, most recently in the Snake, Yakima, Methow and Entiat rivers. Coho destined for areas above Bonneville Dam have represented an increasing percentage of the total return in response to increased releases above Bonneville Dam
Winner Winner! Springer Dinner!!!!!
By Andy Walgamott, on February 4th, 2014
A photograph of a chrome Chinook has been posted on a popular regional fishing forum that holds an annual first springer contest.
A caption with the photo of two men holding a copy of The Oregonian and posted at 10:21 a.m. this morning reads “Its done 16.25 lbr 1st pass! Thanks for the net job by Megabyte!!!!”
Our contributor Andy Schneider got ahold of the pair for the following report:
Sean Brophy was the lucky angler to hook the first confirmed spring Chinook of the 2014 season on a plug-cut herring, straight from the package. Brophy was using 8 ounces of lead and a Shortbus Flasher in 14 feet of water when he hooked into the fish.
“We launched out of Scappoose Bay this morning into 28-degree air temperature and 42.3 water temperature,” says fishing partner Gary Ryan. “On our first pass, no kidding, Sean hooked up with a mint-bright, ocean-fresh fish with scales dripping off it. Unbelievable! Blew my mind!”
POSE WITH TODAY’S SPRINGER. (IMAGE USED WITH PERMISSION)
SEAN BROPHY AND FISHING PARTNER GARY RYAN POSE WITH TODAY’S SPRINGER. (IMAGE USED WITH PERMISSION)
While the exact location of where the first springer was hooked is being withheld for the moment, Scappoose Bay might be a good starting point for someone looking to score a February fish.
“It was 9:30, an hour after high slack, when we hooked the miracle fish,” notes Ryan, who provided the bait and netted the Chinook for Brophy. “The water visibility was only 2 feet so we had to have trolled the herring right in front of its face.”
While the crew ran to shore to photograph the fish with a copy of today’s Oregonian for Ifish’s contest, they are actually back on the water trying for number two.
“We are not marking a lot of fish, but we are marking some. We’re just hoping for another miracle,” says a pumped Ryan.
With only three other boats trolling the waters, the crew doesn’t have much competition, or have to worry about others being too close during the netting.
“When we saw that the fish didn’t have a fin and only had one barbless hook in it, we were getting a little panicked and I knew if I screwed up the net job, I would be swimming,” says Ryan.
Last year’s first confirmed springer was hooked Feb. 3 by angler Dustin Stansbury while 2012′s first was landed Jan. 31 by a commercial sturgeon fisherman, 2011′s on Jan. 26 also by a commercial fisherman, and 2010′s on Feb. 1 by Jesse Eveland fishing with guide Larry Kesch.
Fishing for the year’s first migratory salmon is currently open on the Columbia below the I-5 bridge and in the Willamette River and its Multnomah Channel. Only hatchery fish can be retained, and barbless hooks are required.
Catch stats we obtained from ODFW show that while this month is by no stretch of the imagination March or even April, fair numbers of fish are caught early:
With a run of 308,000 due back to the Columbia system, the February issue of Northwest Sportsman magazine features two stories on how and where to fish for springers.
While the Bonneville Dam count shows four Chinook so far in 2014 (singles were counted Jan. 1, 5, 11 and 12), anecdotal reports had them pinned as very late fall kings
1.6 Million Columbia Fall Kings Forecasted; Would Be A Record Back To 1938
By Andy Walgamott, on February 14th, 2014
Get ready for the mother of all fall Chinook runs, and some serious salmon insanity later this year in the Northwest.
This morning, fishery managers put out a prediction of 1.6 million kings back to the Columbia, including 973,000 upriver brights.
That’s on top of the 964,000 coho anticipated back to the big river, and another 230,000 to Oregon Coast streams.
(Now, let’s cross our fingers that these insane numerals aren’t the result of some new-counting-program test gone awry, like what happened with springers at Bonneville earlier this week.)
While last summer saw crazy-good Chinook fishing in the Columbia, a string of shad-count-like days at Bonneville and record Snake returns, this one-two punch of kings and silvers off our coast and up the river — if it comes in — should make for salmon fishing beyond belief.
“We have a very large run of Chinook and coho in the same year. Now we’re trying to figure out what that means for fishing,” says WDFW’s Ron Roler, who manages Columbia River fisheries.
He says he’s already tying rigs and pinching barbs in anticipation of August and September on the river, and he might just be going heavier on the leader too.
“They’re going to be 4s and 5s,” Roler says.
Last year’s huge return of smaller 3-year-olds indicates to managers that we’ll see older, larger salmon this year, fish that stayed in the ocean and had a full year more of growth for their journey upstream.
Two-thirds of the URBs are forecasted to be 4-year-olds, according to PSMFC supervising fisheries biologist Joe Hymer. He says 3s average 5 to 8 pounds, 4s 12 to 18 pounds and 5s go 20-plus.
“All we gotta have is water temperatures in our favor. I don’t know where we’re sitting on that, but the run size is in our favor. I’m excited about it,” Roler says.
And he hints that some of the stock estimates were on the conservative side, so who knows, maybe even more Chinook will come in.
“I’m ready for fall,” Roler says