State, federal and tribal biologists predict an improved run of 227,000 spring chinook salmon will enter the Columbia River in 2014 headed for waters upstream of Bonneville Dam.
"It's a good number, better than last year, but not up to what we'd like to see for the future,'' said Ron Roler, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Spring chinook returns
Sources: Washington, Oregon departments of Fish and Wildlife
The spring chinook forecast for the Snake and mid- and upper Columbia rivers is the most anticipated number of the year among anglers. A good forecast fuels fishing optimism that sells tackle, bait, boats and books trips with guides. Good spring chinook fishing segues into anglers staying on the water for summer chinook, summer steelhead and fall chinook.
"The forecast is almost twice what we had in 2013,'' said Randy Woolsey, a manufacturers representative. "With good river conditions, the run should present anglers with a terrific opportunity this spring.''
In 2013, the Columbia River Technical Advisory Committee forecast a return of 141,400. The actual return was 123,100.
"It's a pretty good number and I see the number of wild fish is up, too,'' said Larry Swanson of Vancouver, a member of the bi-state Columbia River Recreational Fishing Advisory Group. "It should be a pretty good season, but part will depend on how we share the catch above and below Bonneville Dam.''
The other big number still to come is the spring chinook forecast for Oregon's Willamette River. In 2013, the forecast was 59,800 with an actual return of 47,300.
Forecasts for the Cowlitz, Lewis and Kalama rivers — tributaries with spring chinook downstream of Bonneville Dam — are expected soon.
The 2008-2017 management agreement between the states and Columbia River treaty tribes, along with other allocation arrangements, will allow a non-Indian catch of 22,700 upper Columbia spring chinook, Roler said.
Lower Columbia spring chinook will boost that harvest number, he added.
Directions from the Washington and Oregon fish and wildlife commissions split the non-Indian harvest at 70 percent for sportsmen and 30 percent for the commercials in 2014.
The forecast includes 209,700 4-year-olds, 16,600 5-year-olds and 700 6-year-olds.
State, federal and tribal biologists look at which watersheds the jacks returned, and how well jack returns predict the following year's adults. The Snake River had a good return of jacks in 2013.
Larry Snyder, president of the Vancouver Wildlife League, agreed the spring chinook forecast is fair to good.
"It's livable,'' said Snyder, who caught 16 spring chinook in 2013. "It's not bad. It will depend on water conditions. It's so dry now. I hope in February we don't get a deluge that blows us off the water.''
Woolsey noted that changes in the Columbia River allocation rules now give sportsmen a 70 percent share.
"All the numbers are sizing up to be good news for anglers — a better opportunity to take home a fish,'' he said.
Summer chinook — The forecast is for 67,500 summer chinook. That compares to a forecast of 73,500 in 2013 and an actual return of 67,600.
Summer chinook pass Bonneville Dam between June 16 and July 31. They are larger than spring chinook and are mostly headed for the upper Columbia River in central Washington.