The Lower Columbia fall chinook catch of 6,384 during October set a new one-month record by more than 4,600 fish.
Chinook salmon returns this past spring, summer and fall materialized into some memorable fishing outings for sport anglers in the Columbia River.
“The adult fall-chinook return is a record of nearly 1.4 million (forecast was 925,000 in 2015 and previous record was more than 1.2 million in 2013) that dates back to at least 1962,” Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist said of the numerous records broken this past season.
The good vibes along the big river began when a 102-day spring chinook fishery from Feb. 1-June 15 saw 151,713 anglers reel in 19,586 adult fish for a 0.16 fish per rod average.
“It was good for spring chinook and a big catch year, but not a record,” Hymer said.
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As the season progressed into early summer, chinook commonly referred to as “June Hogs” generated the highest catch of 5,928 adult kings since 1969 — the previous record was 2011 at 5,200 fish. From June 16-July 31, 50,555 anglers averaged 0.15 fish per rod.
Then it really started to ramp up in August for fall chinook at the Lower Columbia mouth, and never let up all the way into October as fish pushed well above the Hanford Reach area and into the Upper Columbia.
During the sport catch-and-keep season Aug. 1-29 at “Buoy 10” near the Lower Columbia mouth, the catch per rod average was 0.55, which was the second highest on record since at least 1982 — the record catch was 42,100 in 1987.
The Buoy 10 fishery produced 36,422 chinook kept and 23,553 released for 108,213 anglers, plus 37,854 coho kept and 23,802 released and 50 steelhead kept and 78 released.
Further up the Lower Columbia from the Rocky Point/Tongue Point line to Bonneville Dam, the 41,525 adult fall-chinook catch from Aug. 1-Oct. 31 was a record high dating back to 1969 — the previous record was 32,000 caught in 2013. The 131,374 angler trips was the fourth highest since at least 1977 — the record was 147,300 in 2011.
Adding to the record book was the Lower Columbia fall chinook catch of 6,384 during October that established a new one-month record by more than 4,600 fish.
The icing on the cake was the 3,330 angler trips with a catch of 1,090 adult kings from Oct. 27-31, which was higher than the total for the entire month of October in all but three of the past 40 years.
The Lower Columbia grand total of 240 fishing days (including Buoy 10) from February through October saw 441,315 angler trips with 103,461 adult chinook landed.
The fun didn’t stop there — anglers above Bonneville Dam to the Hanford Reach area of the Columbia near the Tri-Cities found great fall-chinook action.
Anglers hooked a generous 13,200 fall kings from Bonneville to the Highway 395 Bridge at Pasco from Aug. 1-Oct. 31; and the 35,432 caught by more than 48,000 angler trips in the Hanford Reach area was a record catch edging out the total of 32,427 for 44,098 angler trips in 2014.
Fisheries managers theorize these fish migrated out into the Pacific Ocean, and found plenty of feed and good environmental conditions.
Another rosy picture is being painted for most Columbia chinook -eturn forecasts in 2016.
The “upriver bright” chinook stock should have strong, above average returns — the five-year average is about 800,000 fish.
The “tule” wild chinook appears to be similar to recent five-year average of about 194,000.
The lowlight this past fall was the Columbia coho return of nearly 500,000 fish that never materialized.
“We saw a pretty small number of coho coming back to the Columbia, and much less than the forecast,” Hymer said. “It was interesting because the coho catch started off really strong at Buoy 10 during the first week, and then declined sharply, although they still caught almost 37,000.”
The preliminary outlook for coho in 2016 could be another downward trend.
State Fish and Wildlife will unveil additional 2016 Columbia River forecasts Jan. 4-6 for tributary spring chinook; Feb. 4 for coho forecasts; and Feb. 16 for fall-chinook run predictions.
Copalis Beach opens soon for razor clam digging
Coastal razor-clam diggers got their Christmas wish as state Fish and Wildlife gave final approval for a razor-clam dig at Copalis Beach on Dec. 24-26 — which would be the first digs since marine toxins closed all coastal beaches last spring.
“We got the final test samples from the (Department of Health) lab, and will proceed with digging,” said Dan Ayres, the head state Fish and Wildlife coastal-shellfish manager.
Copalis Beach covers the beaches from the Grays Harbor north jetty to the Copalis River, and includes Ocean Shores, Oyhut and Ocean City. Digging will be open during evening low tides only. The daily limit is the first 15 razor clams dug, regardless of size or condition.
Unfortunately the three-day window at Christmas has the only decent low tides this month so additional digging won’t occur until after the New Year, sometime between Jan. 8-12.
“We’ve got some good tides around the second week of January,” Ayres said.
State Fish and Wildlife needs three clean test samples before it can formally announce any type of openings on coastal beaches.
“What is even better news is the toxin levels also dropped at Long Beach, and if (additional testing) comes clean, then we’ll be able to open it during the next good low tide series,” Ayres said. “On the downside, the levels at Twin Harbors shot back up again so we’ll have to put that one on hold.”
The toxin level at Long Beach was 16 parts per million — the action level is 20 ppm — while Mocrocks was 25 ppm and Twin Harbors was 50 ppm.
State Fish and Wildlife alerted the public in early May after test samples of coastal razor clams showed rising levels of domoic acid — a natural toxin produced by certain types of marine algae — that can be harmful or even fatal if consumed in sufficient quantities.
Since 1991, when the toxin was first detected on the Pacific Coast, outbreaks of domoic acid have prompted the cancellation of three entire razor-clam seasons in Washington — the last one in 2002-03.
Razor-clam diggers have enjoyed back-to-back excellent seasons in 2013-14 and 2014-15 that rank as some of the best in more than three decades, and summer assessments show clam populations in good shape.
The season coastwide estimate from Oct. 7, 2014 to May 7, 2015 was 396,807 diggers with more than 5.49 million clams dug.