The spring chinook forecasts for tributaries above Bonneville Dam will mirror what we saw last year, and that entailed some pretty good fishing.
“What we saw last year is what we’ll see this coming spring,” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist in Vancouver.
The spring chinook forecast for the Wind River is 8,400 fish compared to an actual return of 7,800 adult fish under a forecast of 4,900.
Hymer says the forecast for 2012 is for another strong return of 9,500 adults to the tributary mouth of the Little White Salmon River (Drano Lake).
The return of spring chinook to Drano Lake last spring was 12,200 adult fish returning to the tributary mouth. The return was similar to the preseason forecast of 12,600 adults, and similar to the recent 10-year average of 11,600 adults.
The Klickitat River forecast this spring is 2,100 adult fish, compared to an actual return of 1,400 last year and a forecast of 2,100.
“Catches are down a little bit in Drano with the tribal fishery getting more efficient, and last spring we saw pretty good returns and the Upper Klickitat opened in early June,” Hymer said. “The Wind River was also still good. Everything was delayed last spring by fish passage over Bonneville, but once they got over they were right on track.”
The Yakima River spring chinook forecast calls for 12,000 compared to 13,400 last spring.
Washington and Oregon Fish and Wildlife fisheries managers are forecasting 314,200 upriver spring chinook, which would be the fourth highest return since 1980.
Cindy LeFleur, the state Fish and Wildlife Columbia River Policy Coordinator says 277,400 are expected to be four-year-old spring chinook, and 36,400 will be larger-sized five-year-old fish.
The largest on record occurred in 2001 when 440,300 returned.
Add to that 83,400 destined for the Willamette River in Oregon, a tributary in the Lower Columbia River system. Last year, the forecast was 104,100 with an actual return was 80,254.
Salmon stocks are taking advantage of La Nina’s colder water upwelling conditions in the ocean that produces good survival rates.
The Columbia River spring chinook are prized by anglers for their tasty, Omega-3 laced, red-orange-colored meat, which is similar to fish from Alaska’s Copper River.
A few early spring chinook return in January and February, but the height of the run is March and April when thousands of anglers turn out for this popular fishery that creates long lines at boat ramps on both sides of the Columbia. It is also a big boost for tribal and nontribal commercial fishermen.
A total of 154,895 angler trips were taken on the Lower Columbia last year with 11,694 spring chinook kept.
Last year, sport fishing for spring chinook in the Lower Columbia River was open from Jan. 1 to April 4, and reopened April 8-19 and May 15 to June 15.
The 2012 adult spring chinook returns for the Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis rivers — tributaries of the Lower Columbia — look slightly better than last year with a total forecast of 12,100 compared to 10,600 forecast in 2011 and an actual return of 6,300.
The Cowlitz forecast is 8,700 (4,100 returned last year); Kalama, 700 (800); and Lewis, 2,700 (1,400). The spawning goals in the Cowlitz and Lewis are 1,250 each; and the Kalama is 500. Spring chinook fishing restrictions could happen in the Kalama and Lewis.
If the Willamette forecast pans out then it would rank second behind 2010 return of 110,000 spring chinook.
Fishing seasons in the Lower Columbia River will be decided by state, federal and tribal fishery managers at the Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel this Thursday (Jan. 26) that begins at 10 a.m. Fisheries above Bonneville will be decided some time next month.
(Photos by Seattle Times photographer Mark Harrison and Associated Press)