Summer is still on the minds of many, but the start of fall salmon fishing begins Aug. 1 at Buoy 10, where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, and many are making plans for one of the strongest king returns seen in a long time.
The Columbia River fall king — commonly referred to as chinook salmon — forecast of more than 1.6 million is the largest expected fall return since record-keeping began in 1938, and twice as large as last year.
Add to that a robust forecast of 1.2 million coho, and you’ve got the recipe for one of the most significant runs seen in years that could rival the 2009 season.
Coho and king catches in the ocean off Ilwaco and Westport have been stellar with relatively easy two-fish daily limits. Feed has been very bountiful, and with another few weeks of growth these coho will be in the 13- to 18-pound range once they hit the river.
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“The salmon freight train is bound for the Columbia, and it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get ready for what should be a lights-out August fishery,” said Tony Floor, a longtime Buoy 10 angler and director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association.
Floor got hooked on this fishery when he started salmon fishing the Lower Columbia in 1986 during the biggest coho return of the century, followed by gigantic king runs in 1987 and 1988.
The bulk of the king return is made up of 973,300 “upriver bright” stocks headed for the Columbia’s Hanford Reach area that use the pasture grounds off northern British Columbia and southeast Alaska to fatten up before migrating back to local waters.
Many upriver brights are intercepted during the southeast Alaska troll fishery, which produced off-the-charts fishing earlier this month. An initial harvest of 171,300 chinook was expected to be reached in two to three weeks, but fishing lasted only seven days with a catch of about 26,000 daily.
Usually, the Lower Columbia fishery at Buoy 10 peaks around the third week of August, but in the past few years the run has arrived somewhat earlier than expected.
“The arrival of fish depends on the big incoming tides that push fish into the river, and the tides aren’t really strong until around Aug. 8 to 10,” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. “That would be a good starting point, but with a big run forecast you could see a larger leading edge and a longer tail end of the return.”
If you go
• Buoy 10 will be open for chinook, and hatchery coho and steelhead from this Friday through Sept. 1. Daily limit is two salmon, and only one may be a chinook. Through Aug. 29, any hatchery fin-clipped or unmarked chinook may be kept, but Aug. 30-Sept. 1 only chinook with an adipose or left ventral fin clipped may be kept.
Only hatchery coho and steelhead may be kept with a three-fish daily limit in the Buoy 10 area from Sept. 2-30. Sport fishing along the Oregon side at the mouth of Youngs Bay is closed from Aug. 1-Sept. 15.
• Salmon action will hit a crescendo in the Columbia well above Buoy 10 later in September through October, from below Portland all the way up to the Pasco-Hanford Reach and Priest Rapids Dam areas.
• Daily chinook catch limits also will be more liberal in certain areas of the big river.
In the Lower Columbia from Warrior Rock light line up to Steamboat Landing Dock in Washougal, anglers may keep up to two chinook daily, and from Steamboat Landing up to the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco, the daily limit will be three chinook.
The Hanford Reach area up to Priest Rapids Dam opens beginning Aug. 1, and the daily limit is six salmon and up to three may be adult. The lower half of Hanford Reach is open through Oct. 31; and the upper half is open through Oct. 22.
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