Good fortune has become a somewhat annual occurrence on the Columbia River, whether it be record fish returns or outstanding sport catches.
“There have been numerous success stories, and it is an upward trend,” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. “We may have some peaks and valleys in the future, but the highs keep getting higher, and we’re not seeing lows like we did before.”
That statement holds true as the Columbia River upriver adult chinook return this fall is a record-breaker — the largest in the past 75 years — and sport catches are one for the history books.
The latest forecast is between 664,000 and 835,000 adult upriver chinook, much larger than the record 420,000 set in 1987. The entire fall chinook return also is the largest since Bonneville Dam was built in 1938, shattering the old record of 610,700 in 2003.
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More than 48,700 chinook set a single-day record count at Bonneville Dam on Sept. 7, and the next day it hit 42,445.
The two-day-old record was shattered again Sept. 9 when 63,870 were counted followed by 56,044 this past Tuesday, another 42,506 Wednesday and 27,964 Thursday.
“We might have seen the peak return at Bonneville, but there could be another peak in the next few days,” Hymer said. “Based upon catches and the daily count going down, my guess is it’s doubtful. When you set a bar that high (63,870), it will be a high bar to break.”
The 281,529 return in just six days prompted state fisheries to provide more liberal fishing seasons in the Lower Columbia — originally it was scheduled to close after Thursday.
The new rules are:
• Allow anglers to continue fishing for chinook through Dec. 31 in all Columbia mainstem areas below Bonneville that are open to salmon fishing.
• Expand chinook retention by moving the lower boundary from Rocky Point 16 miles downriver to Buoy 10 near the Columbia mouth.
• Allow anglers to catch and keep up to two adult chinook daily as part of their limit below Bonneville.
• Through Sept. 30, only hatchery chinook with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar may be retained downriver from the Lewis River to protect wild chinook returning to Lower Columbia tributaries.
• Starting Oct. 1, anglers fishing that area may retain either marked or unmarked chinook after most of the wild chinook have migrated out of the mainstem Columbia.
• Anglers on a vessel in the Columbia from Buoy 10 to the Highway 395 bridge in Pasco can continue fishing until a daily limit of salmon/steelhead for all anglers aboard is achieved.
• Daily limit below Bonneville Dam is two adult salmon, two adult steelhead or one of each. Barbless hooks are required in the fisheries.
“We had an Oregon check around the mouth of the Cowlitz (Thursday) that was a chinook per rod kept or released average,” Hymer said. “While it wasn’t the two per rod like it had been, that is still unheard of in the lower river sport fishery.”
Another fish return being overshadowed is the record chinook run headed to the Snake River, a long journey of about 325 miles from the Pacific Ocean.
“In addition to seeing good upriver returns to the Hanford Reach area, we’re seeing signs the Snake population is making a comeback,” Hymer said.
Through Thursday, 105,958 fall chinook have crossed McNary Dam south of the Tri-Cities, and 28,506 were counted at Ice Harbor Dam on the Snake.
All of this comes on the heels of the banner Columbia sockeye return last year at Bonneville, which was 515,700 compared to a preseason forecast of 462,000.
That record sockeye run provided excellent catches in many parts of the Columbia and up to Lake Wenatchee, where more than 46,000 migrated.
Fairly good Columbia summer steelhead returns also have led to some record-breaking catches in recent years.
Salmon derby update
More than 880,000 coho are starting to migrate into Puget Sound, and in some places are already showing good results.
That is good news for anglers planning on trying their luck in the Everett Coho Derby this coming weekend, the largest fishing derby on the West Coast. Cost is $30, and kids 12 and under are free.
A free coho-fishing seminar is 7 p.m. Friday at Everett’s Bayside Marine with John Martinis of John’s Sporting Goods in Everett.
The event is part of the Northwest Salmon Derby Series, which includes 15 derbies throughout the year. Drawing for a fully-equipped, 21-foot River Hawk boat will be presented to one lucky winner on Sunday. Details: www.northwestsalmonderbyseries.com
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