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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

April 22, 2009 at 2:15 PM

Is the near-record Columbia River spring chinook run late or just not coming back like expected?

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As the Lower Columbia River sport fishery for hatchery spring chinook comes to a close today, many are still throwing caution into the wind about whether or not the predicted near-record run size of 298,900 will actually materialize.

“Given the very low counts at Bonneville to date we have enormous uncertainty of what the run size will be at this point,” said Stuart Ellis, a biologist with the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “The run is off to an extremely late start, and we are looking at one of the latest timed spring chinook runs ever.”

Fisheries managers from the state also confirm that right now there is just too much variability to nail down what size the spring chinook return will be. But, a longer winter combined with colder than usual water temperatures and the big sea lion population combing around Bonneville Dam could be delaying the fish from moving upstream.

“Where this run is going, we just don’t know at this point,” Ellis said. “But, the fish counts at Bonneville did creep up over the weekend.”

The count at Bonneville Dam through Tuesday was just 4,353 spring chinook, but the single-day counts have gone up dramatically in recent days. On Sunday, 742 were counted, on Monday another 616 made it up and by Tuesday it rose to 1,164.

If the forecast pans out this would make it the third largest spring chinook return since 1977.

The state and tribal fisheries managers are saying it will be around the first of May when they’ll get an updated run size.

Early last week, the tribal and nontribal commercial fishermen had urged state Fish and Wildlife to close down the lower river sport fishery, but was rejected.

(Photo by Mike Siegel, Seattle Times staff photographer)

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