Coho crossing Willamette Falls in large numbers

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CLACKAMAS, Ore. — Coho are moving into the upper Willamette River in large numbers this fall, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says.

In the past two weeks, ODFW’s fish counting station at Willamette Falls has logged some of the largest daily coho counts of the past 20 years.

So far, more than 7,300 adult coho salmon have crossed the falls on their way to spawning grounds in upper Willamette tributaries. The total count includes several days when nearly 1,000 coho were observed.

“We have more coho over the falls already than we typically see for an entire year,” said Tom Murtagh, district fish biologist the north Willamette watershed.

Murtagh said if the current trend continues, this year’s coho run could be at least 15,000 fish, approaching the record returns of 2009 and 2010 when more than 20,000 coho moved into the upper Willamette basin.

“This is shaping up to be a very good year for coho fishing above Willamette Falls so anglers should get out and catch a few,” said Murtagh.

Under the 2013 Oregon sport fishing rules, anglers are allowed to keep up to two coho per day in the Willamette and its tributaries above Willamette Falls. 

The coho do not need to be fin-clipped as both wild and hatchery coho may be retained in the open fishing areas above the falls.

Virtually all of the coho crossing Willamette falls are naturally produced fish, according to Murtagh. Hatchery-reared coho have not been released into the upper Willamette basin since 1998.

Coho return to the upper Willamette in the greatest numbers in September and October.

Murtagh said he expects angling for these fish will be best in the main stem Willamette, particularly around the mouths of the Tualatin, Yamhill, Santiam and Molalla rivers, and, later on, farther up these and other tributaries.