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News / Sports / Outdoors

Columbia River fall salmon outlook remains good

Early projections has fishery similar to last year

By Terry Otto, Columbian freelance outdoors writer
Published: January 20, 2024, 6:05am
4 Photos
A six-man limit of fall chinook from the Columbia River rests on the dock before being checked by state fisheries creel checkers. Anglers may be looking at a selective fishery in the Buoy Ten reach again this year.
A six-man limit of fall chinook from the Columbia River rests on the dock before being checked by state fisheries creel checkers. Anglers may be looking at a selective fishery in the Buoy Ten reach again this year. (Terry Otto for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Oregon and Washington have released an initial fall salmon outlook for the Columbia River, and fishery managers say runs are looking to be similar to last year.

Seasons may also be similar to last year, when fishing was restricted on some days, and a selective fishery for much of the season meant wild Chinook could not be retained.

Adjusted projections for the Columbia returns of fall Chinook and coho will be finalized and released soon.

According to the WDFW, last year’s Columbia River fall Chinook run came in at 131 percent of the forecast.

“All the fall chinook runs came in above forecast,” said Ryan Lothrop, the WDFW Columbia River fisheries manager.

Is there a chance again of seeing more Chinook this fall than forecast?

“If you think about it, we were kind of in a good set of ocean conditions,” continued Lothrop, “and now we are in a El Niño pattern, with conditions more neutral. Still a lot of 4- and 5-year-olds spent part of their life out there in good ocean conditions.”

While most returns were over projection last year, the Bonneville Pool saw fewer hatchery tule jacks return then the year before. Lothrop said that may have more to do with problems rearing those fish than ocean conditions.

“They had to kick some fish out early at the hatchery, and those had lower survival,” Lothrop said.

Lothrop was unsure whether that shortfall would lead to constraints on any fisheries.

“It’s hard to speculate what the constraints are going to be regarding those hatchery tules,” said Kevin Newell of Total Fisherman Guide Service in Astoria, Ore.

As for the run beating expectations last year, he wasn’t surprised.

“One thing we do see typically from year to year is that spring Chinook runs are generally over forecast, and fall Chinook are under forecast,” Newell said.

Lothrop explained that spring Chinook are harder to predict than the fall fish, because they do not get intercepted in other fisheries as often.

“Summer to fall Chinook and coho migrate more along the coast,” Lothrop said. “The spring Chinook move more offshore and don’t show up in fisheries in California to Alaska.”

Anglers may be looking at in-river fisheries similar to last year, but there will be ample time to fish on these runs in the ocean, too.

“Those fall fish are a huge summertime opportunity. Sometimes we get to start fishing even before summer, often as early as June,” Newell said. “We are able to fish for those fish for six to eight weeks before they even move into the river.

“Being out there in the ocean and being able to target those fish in late June-that’s a really fantastic fishery. After the springers are over that is our first big-time salmon fishery.”

If projections are indeed similar to last year, the seasons for ocean salmon should be similar to last year as well, unless the Bonneville Pool hatchery component triggers constraints. The hatchery tules are a large component of the ocean Chinook catch.

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Anglers will soon find out how strong the coho return is expected, but those questions should be answered when the finalized projections come out. Last year’s early returning coho did well in the Columbia, but the late run of coho was very poor.

Newell reports that they used to have very good success in-river for late run coho, but recent years have not been as good.

“We used to fish on late run coho, and we used to have good numbers just five to eight years ago. We would fish to October 20. We used to have great fishing around October 8. It seems like those times have just gone.

“The last couple years we have seen a lot of fish in the river, but they don’t want to bite. I don’t know if that is because of warm temperatures or what.”

Once again, he has adjusted by fishing in the salt for those fish.

“Outside in September (coho) have been fantastic in the ocean,” he added. “Last year we saw the ability to retain wild fish, the first time I have seen that in Marine Area One. Those fish were 14 to 16 pounds.”

For those anglers that look for the late run coho in Buoy 10, the experience is unlike that of the early part of the season, when boat ramps are crowded, and thousands of boats descend on Astoria and other lower Columbia towns. Newell reports that the heavy crowds will be long gone.

Once the final projections are released, the North of Falcon process will begin, to determine how much fishing will be allowed, and by whom.

The meetings will start in late February, and conclude in April. The seasons for the Columbia River and Marine Areas 1 and 2 will be announced at that time.


Guided trips: Kevin Newell and Lacey DeWeert are a husband-and-wife fishing guide team out of Astoria. In addition to salmon, they also target tuna, sturgeon, halibut, and more.

Total Fisherman Guide Service: 503 501-2424. https://www.totalfisherman.com/

Columbian freelance outdoors writer