Returning chinook ‘through the roof’

10:31 am September 27th, 2013

By Bob Brown
More upriver fall chinook are returning to the Columbia River than at any time in the past 75 years. A revised run update predicts the number of fall chinook returning to the Columbia could be 664,000 to 835,000, up from the preseason forecast of 434,600 fish.
Guy Norman, southwest regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife,(WDFW), said, “Based on the latest forecast of upriver adult chinook expected to return to the Columbia this year, well above the record of 420,000 fish set in 1987, this year’s run is through the roof, and a positive sign that regional efforts to rebuild the salmon population are making a difference. This will be a fishing season to remember.”
On Sept. 7, more than 48,700 chinook from a variety of upriver stocks crowded up the fish ladders at Bonneville Dam, setting a new daily record. That record was broken two days later when 63,870 upriver chinook moved past the dam, followed by 56,044 the next day.
It is extremely hard to foretell extreme return years like this one, because they have never happened before. Likewise, it is hard to find the reason why this year’s returning adults survived better from juvenile out migration from freshwater as juveniles to years spent maturing in the Pacific Ocean.
Since the age class of the returning fish has yet to be evaluated, it is too early to tell about just where in the fishes life cycle those survival benefits were experienced, but the huge return suggests an environmental factor, such as favorable ocean conditions, are most likely at play. It is a happy mystery, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Kathryn Kostow, who is serving this year as the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) chairwoman.
On Sept. 13, Washington and Oregon fishery managers expanded sport fishing options below Bonneville Dam and scrapped the previous rule that would close the chinook fishery that day in a portion of the lower river. Anglers are allowed to continue fishing for chinook through the end of year in all areas of the mainstem Columbia below Bonneville Dam open to salmon fishing.
Anglers can catch and keep up to two adult chinook per day as part of their catch limit below Bonneville Dam. Through Sept. 30, only hatchery chinook with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar may be retained down stream from the Lewis River. The new rules also allow anglers aboard a vessel in the Columbia from Buoy 10 to the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco to continue fishing until the daily limit of salmon/steelhead for all anglers aboard is achieved. According to state agencies, the fall chinook catch this year in the lower Columbia is already the third highest on record since 1969.

Other fishing and clamming news

• The Columbia and Snake rivers’ Northern Pikeminnow Sport-Reward Fishery, sponsored by the Bonneville Power Administration, continues to be a smoking fishery that is paying off for many anglers. For the week of Sept. 9-15, it was reported that 6,327 Pikeminnows were caught by 579 anglers. To date, 19,105 anglers have caught 148,882 Pikeminnows, with 155 tagged fish worth $500 each included in the catch.
• The Nisqually River has been producing a good number of pink salmon plus the odd chinook. Anglers also have been doing well on the Carbon River.
The Cowlitz has been producing some coho and fall chinook at barrier dam and Blue Creek, but best catching has been in the lower river. During Sept. 9-15, Tacoma Power recovered 686 fall chinook, 28 jacks, 129 steelhead, 36 spring chinook, 40 mini-jacks, 158 coho, 94 jacks, 130 cutthroat trout and one sockeye. 
• Fall razor clam season will open early at Twin Harbors. Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager, said although the department is still developing schedules for this fall’s digging, state fishery managers saw no reason to delay approving a dig a Twin Harbors. There is a huge number of clams available for harvest this season, especially at Twin Harbors.

Outdoors writer Bob Brown can be reached at

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