The states of Oregon and Washington have released the projections for this year’s spring Chinook run on the Columbia River, and they have also released a fall Chinook outlook.
These first steps will be followed by the state’s setting the fishing seasons for spring Chinook on the Columbia in a few weeks.
Also, in February the states will release the finalized fall salmon projections, and in March begin the arduous undertaking known as the North of Falcon Process to decide who gets to fish for what this year in the Columbia River, the Pacific Ocean, and in fisheries north of Cape Falcon.
The states are expecting a total run of spring Chinook to the mouth of the Columbia River of 187,400 adults. That is about 86 percent of last year’s actual return of 216,586. The upper Columbia River should see about 121,000 fish, and the lower river could see 66,000.
The Columbia River spring Chinook salmon is highly prized for its fighting ability, and its rich flavor. It is one of the most sought-after fish in the Northwest.
Ryan Lothrop, the Columbia River fisheries manager for the Washington department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said the run should allow for fisheries similar to last year’s.
“It puts us in a similar harvest rate to last year,” Lothrop said.
He said the WDFW is hoping they can avoid what happened last year, when the runs came in well below forecast, forcing the states to shut down many fisheries early.
“Last year’s forecast turned out to be rather ambitious,” he said. “It came in around 30 percent below forecast. At least this projection is better than those poor returns of 2018 and 2019.”
Managers will undoubtedly set a one-Chinook a day limit on the Columbia, with only fin-clipped hatchery Chinook available for harvest.
Jack Glass of Team Hook-up Guides Service said it looks to be an average year, or a bit below average.
“It’s been better,” he said, “and we won’t get much of an extension if we get any at all. Maybe we will get to fish through the first week of April.”
He believes the low numbers will make managers wary of adding extra days, or setting overly strong seasons.
“Certainly, it will restrict our time on the Columbia River,” he added.
Glass will also be looking at the Oregon tributaries, too, but the Willamette is only expecting a return of 48,700. Last year’s projection of 71,000 proved too high, with only 38,000 actually returning.
Managers still think the two-rod rule will be allowed this season, as well as the two fish a day limit.
The projections for Washington tributaries are well above the numbers they need for egg take, so the Cowlitz, Kalama, and Lewis rivers should all be open for spring Chinook retention again this year.
Lothrop said it is possible that one of the systems might struggle for egg take, and that might constrain one or more of these fisheries. If one system does not get enough eggs, a few broodstock fish could be shifted from a different system to make up the shortfall, and that could mean an early closure. However, that is an unlikely scenario if the projections hold.
Last year’s projection for the Cowlitz River was 9,000 adults, but the actual return was 6,257. The projection for this year is 4,700.
The Lewis River was supposed to receive 4,700 adults, but ended up with only 3,191. About 3,400 adult spring Chinook are expected back this year.
The Kalama River was the only local tributary to exceed expectations, with an actual return of 2,525 spring Chinook, which was just a little above the 2,400 that were projected. A return of 1,900 springers is forecast for this year.
The tributaries above the Bonneville Dam fared well last year, with returns close to or exceeding the expectations. For instance, the Wind River return came in at 5,068 fish, beating the prediction of 4,400. This year managers have projected that 4,200 should return to the river.
Drano Lake should see a bit of a drop this year, with only 5,300 adults expected. Last year the actual return was 7,550, which was just short of the 8,000 adult projection.
The Klickitat River should see a very average run this year of 1,300 spring Chinook. However, only 651 springers returned in 2023, less than half of the projection of 1,400.
All the tributaries should see the usual daily limit of one hatchery Chinook.
Lothrop reports that the WDFW will soon release a tributary hand out that will include useful information on these popular fisheries.
The Summer Chinook return last year came in well below the projection of 85,400 fish, with only 54,000 actually returning. This year’s return is expected to be similar to that, with 53,000 adults expected.
The Columbia’s run of sockeye salmon is one bright spot for the year, with a strong return of 401,700 fish expected to the mouth of the river. Last year’s run beat expectations with 329,040 sockeye returning, besting the forecast of 234,500.
Anglers are reminded that only barbless hooks are allowed for all salmon and steelhead fishing in the Columbia River.
Spring Chinook seasons for all systems should be released by the states in the coming weeks. Remember to always check the regulations before going out, and know that the seasons can close quickly — and with little warning.
Team Hook-Up Guide Service: Jack Glass, 503-260-8285; Brandon Glass, 503-260-8285; https://teamhookupfishing.com