Strong fall chinook run forecast for Columbia River

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

Published:

 

State biologists are forecasting an excellent return of fall chinook — fifth best in the past 60 years — for the Columbia River in 2011.

A run of 760,600 is predicted to enter the Columbia between August and November, topping the 648,600 return of last year and the 10-year average of 565,800.

"Last year, in the ocean at least, was a phenomenal chinook year,'' said Steve Watrous of Vancouver, Washington sport-fishing representative on the Pacific Fishery Management Council's salmon advisory panel. "If the numbers are up, we should see another really good ocean chinook year.''

Fall chinook returns to the Columbia River are divided into six stocks. The "upriver bright'' stock, mostly wild salmon headed for upstream of McNary Dam, are expected back in the second-best number — 398,200 — since record-keeping began in 1964.

Upriver brights bite well inside the Columbia River at places such as Rainier, Ore., Kalama, Woodland, downstream of Bachelor Island and along Government Island.

"That should mean gangbuster in-river chinook fishing, too,'' Watrous said.

The Columbia River coho forecast also is out, a disappointing 362,500. That compares to 537,900 coho a year ago.

Coho are divided into early stock (August to mid-Septemer) and late stock (mid-September to November).

The forecast for early coho for 2011 is 216,000 and 146,500 for late coho.

It takes about 750,000 coho for a really good sport fishery at Buoy 10 just inside the mouth of the Columbia.

"It's a bad-news, good-news scenario,'' Watrous said. "The bad news is the coho are down. The good news is the encounter rate out in the ocean will be less and the quota will last through the season. That gives us an opportunity to catch nice chinook, offsetting not getting a limit of coho.''

Watrous said he'd rather catch a 14-pound chinook than a four-pound coho in the ocean.

"Any day of the week. You get a lot more fish to take home and a lot more fight per fish,'' he added.

Here is a stock-by-stock look at the chinook forecasts:

Lower Columbia hatchery — The forecast is 133,500. The return a year ago was 103,000. These are "tule" (dark-skinned) stocks returning to hatcheries on the Cowlitz, Kalama and Washougal rivers; Oregon's Big Creek, and wild-spawning dark chinook in many lower Columbia tributaries.

Lower Columbia wild — The prediction is 12,500, compared to a return of 10,900 in 2010. These are bright-skinned wild fish headed mostly for the North Fork of the Lewis River, with smaller components in the Sandy and Cowlitz rivers.

Bonneville pool hatchery — The forecast is 116,400, down slightly from 130,800 a year ago. This is a tule stock destined for Spring Creek National Fish Hatchery on the Columbia River at Underwood in eastern Skamania County.

Upriver brights — The forecast of 398,200 compares to 324,900 in 2011. The largest return was 420,700 in 1987. Most of these are wild fish produced in the Hanford Reach, the free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River near the Tri-Cities.

Bonneville pool brights — The prediction is 37,600, up from 29,400 a year ago. These are bright chinook headed for Bonneville Hatchery on the Oregon side of the Columbia at Bonneville Dam.

Pool upriver brights — The number is 62,400 for 2011, up from 49,600 a year ago. These are bright chinook destined for hatcheries on tributaries flowing into the Columbia between Bonneville and McNary dams.

Fall fishing seasons for the ocean and Columbia River will be announced in mid-April after negotiations are complete between ocean and in-river interests plus allocations are determined between sport and commercial fishermen.