More fish are expected to return to Cowlitz and Kalama Rivers, but forecast is lower for Lewis River.
More Columbia River spring-chinook forecasts have come to light in recent weeks, and the outlook for tributaries below Bonneville Dam is looking fairly good, with one lowlight.
“The forecasts are much improved, and you have to dig back quite a few years to get something as large as what we’ll see at places like the Cowlitz River,” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.
The Cowlitz spring-chinook forecast of 25,100 and the actual return this past year of 23,800 (11,200 was the preseason forecast) are the largest adult fish returns dating back to the early 1980s.
“We’d have to go back to 1981 to get a return that was larger,” Hymer said. “We saw lots of jack chinook this last spring in Cowlitz and Kalama, and hopefully it transforms into what we have forecast.”
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Some precocious chinook return to the rivers one or two years sooner than their cohorts, and are referred to as “jacks.” These salmon are typically smaller (under 24 inches), but are sexually mature and return as 2-year-olds.
In the Kalama River, the 2016 forecast is 4,900 spring chinook compared to a forecast this past year of 1,900 and an actual return of 3,100. The Kalama 2015 actual return and 2016 forecast are the largest adult fish returns since 2002.
The 2016 forecast for the Lewis River of 1,000 spring chinook is below the five-year average, and similar to the 1,100 forecast and 1,000 actual return this past spring.
In Oregon, the Willamette River spring-chinook forecast is 70,100 with 57,500 of them expected to be of hatchery origin.
Last spring’s chinook forecast for the Willamette was 55,400 with an actual return of 87,100 — a major contributor to the Lower Columbia mainstem sport fishery as well as the Willamette itself.
Oregon Fish and Wildlife says this is the highest preseason spring-chinook forecast dating back to 2012, and if the run pans out as expected, it would be the second-highest return in the past five years.
In 2015, the Willamette River was open daily for spring-chinook fishing, and generated 94,355 angler trips from March 2 to June 21 with 13,324 adult fish kept and 1,870 released. The hatchery-mark rate (fish with a missing adipose fin) was 88 percent.
The Clackamas River — a tributary of the Willamette — had 3,306 angler trips below River Mill Dam with a catch of 412 adult fish kept and 52 released. The Clackamas spring chinook forecast in 2016 is 8,300 compared to an actual return of 8,446 last year.
Spring-chinook fishing last season on the Cowlitz and Kalama was fairly good depending on when an angler hit the water.
“Fishing was really good on the Cowlitz, and we saw some days when anglers caught a bunch of fish,” Hymer said.
“It was pretty good on Cowlitz below the mouth of the Toutle and from Lexington downstream. We also saw some good catches on the Kalama.”
Hymer says the first spring chinook usually will arrive at the Cowlitz Hatchery in February, and will peak in the April-to-May time frame, with good fishing extending well into June upriver toward barrier dam.
“The key to how good fishing will be is what we’ll get as far as water flows this coming spring,” Hymer said.
“If we have good flows, especially at places below the Toutle, then that will enhance where the fish are caught.”
The Cowlitz spring fishery started off with a two-fish daily limit, and was boosted to three adult fish beginning May 17, with a total of 3,700 adult fish kept.
The Kalama started off with a more conservative daily one-fish limit, and then went up to two adult fish on May 17, with a total of 1,000 adult fish kept.
“With the escapement goals we have in place, we should see fairly normal fishing seasons in Cowlitz and Kalama, but we are still struggling in the Lewis,” Hymer said.
“We closed the Lewis to salmon fishing on March 1 this past year, and it probably needs more restrictions until things get figured out.”
Anglers need to keep in mind that making predictions don’t necessarily mean slam-dunk fishing, and can vary wildly from year to year.
This could be the case this coming season as fish in the ocean may have likely encountered hostile water conditions like the dreaded “Blob” — a large mass of warm water on the Pacific Ocean that affected some local salmon species this past summer.