Washington and Oregon have announced their spring and summer salmon run forecasts, and there is reason for optimism in the numbers.
Overall, the returning adults projected for the Columbia River and most of its tributaries range from 15 to 30 percent better than last year’s returns, with a few exceptions.
The total spring Chinook return to the mouth of the Columbia is projected to come in at 197,000 adults, a nice improvement over the 2021 actual return of 152,675.
The projection for Columbia River summer Chinook is about the same as the actual return from 2021, while the sockeye run is expected to come in better than last year.
The run that is projected to increase the most are the spring Chinook headed to the upper Columbia, above the Bonneville Dam.
“That’s the one thing that came up the most, was the upriver spring Chinook run,” said Ryan Lothrop, the Columbia River Fishery Manager for the WDFW. “It was the strongest uptick.”
The 2021 projection for this run was for 75,200 adults, but the actual return was higher, at 91,736. This year 122,900 adult spring Chinook are expected to cross Bonneville Dam.
The lower Columbia River projection is also higher, with 74,100 adults expected this year, as opposed to the actual return of 60,939 last year.
Within that number are the fish that will return to the Cowlitz River. The expected return last year was low enough to nix any spring fishery in the Cowlitz River. Only 1,800 adult springers were expected, but 3,478 fish actually returned. This year that number is expected to rise to 4,100.
“The Cowlitz return came in almost twice as many as expected (last year),” Lothrop said, however, he wouldn’t commit to more fishing in the Cowlitz River.
“It’s a little too early to determine that,” Lothrop said. “We still have to crunch the numbers, but the Cowlitz is much more favorable this year.”
The seasons for spring Chinook will be set during a compact meeting to be held in mid-February.
Another river that has constrained the lower Columbia fishery in the past is the Lewis River. However, that one looks decent, too. The expected return last year was for 2,400 adults, and 2,840 actually made it back. This year the projection is the same — 2,400 adults.
Oregon’s Willamette River spring Chinook run is the driver of the lower Columbia fishery in March and early April, and fisheries managers expect a much-improved return over last year. This year’s projection is for 51,200 adults, which would beat last year’s actual return of 41,308. That return fell short of the 2021 projection, which was for 50,000 adults.
The Kalama River is supposed to get a run similar to last year, with 2,000 springers expected. That would beat last year’s return of 1,800.
The Wind River is also expected to perform better this spring, with a forecast of 4,200 adults. Last year saw 3,227 springers return to the tributary, which bested the projection of 1,200 by more than double.
The Drano Lake projection is similar to last year’s with 3,800 expected this spring. Drano saw a return of 3,299 adults last year.
The Klickitat River should see a return of 1,800 fish this year, which is similar to last year’s actual return of 1,821.
Anglers should see a decent run of summer Chinook, too, with the projection coming in at 57,500, or about the same as last year’s actual return of 56,800. Lothrop believes the seasons will be similar to last years.
The sockeye projection is well up from last year, with an expected run of 198,700, well above the return of 2021, which came in at 151,765 adults. There is concern about the wild Snake River return, which is predicted to be only about 200 fish. There were some water quality issues at a new facility on the Snake, which may have been the reason for the poor return. Last year over 800 sockeye returned to the Snake.
However, Lothrop reported that the state only allows for a 1 percent take on these fish, so he doesn’t believe the small return to the Snake will constrain Columbia River fisheries.
Fishing Guide Matt Eleazer of East Fork Outfitters in Battle Ground is looking forward to the springer season this year, and with the better projections, he is very optimistic.
He is also enjoying the fact that people are getting back into fishing after the effects of the COVID pandemic.
“Things are looking up, and looking good,” Eleazer said. “Things are opening up and people are getting out more, and the fishing is getting better and better.”
Eleazer will start chasing springers in March, but he runs combo trips, offering folks the opportunity for some catch and release sturgeon fishing if the springer bite is poor.
He will look to a couple of his favorite spots, including the Ridgefield area, Warrior Rock, and Bachelor Island. Once the upriver bite gets going, he will target the area below Beacon Rock.
Of course, river conditions can play a big part in spring fishing, and anglers undoubtedly remember the poor conditions that hampered the bite quite a bit last year.
If conditions are good, however, local anglers will be looking at a better season for spring Chinook than they have seen in quite a few years.
The states can move quickly to open or close fishing, if the returns are too low, or the catch too high. Always check the regulations before fishing.
Terry Otto offers a weekly southwest Washington fishing report and forecast as part of “The Guides Forecast” at www.theguidesforecast.com
Guided trips: East Fork Outfitters, 360-687-FISH, www.columbiasalmonguide.com