There is a lot to be happy about for the upcoming fishing season as state Fish and Wildlife unveiled their salmon return forecasts today in Olympia.
The total Columbia River fall chinook forecast is 651,300, which is up from the 10-year average of 569,400, and should offer good fishing off the coast. More than half of those fish will be upriver bright chinook stocks, and is expected to be the fourth largest return since 1964 if it all pans out.
Of those close to 191,000 are hatchery chinook, also known as tules, forecasted to return this year to the Lower Columbia River. Tules have been the key driver for the ocean fishing seasons.
While it is still early in the process, anglers should see an ocean fishery fairly similar to the last couple of years, according to Doug Milward, a state Fish and Wildlife ocean salmon manager.
Another 323,863 coho headed for the Columbia River will also account for a significant portion of the ocean catch.
Mix in a strong coho return in many coastal rivers of 595,265 (444,928 was forecasted last year), which includes the Queets, Quillayute, and Hoh, as well as to Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay.
“If the wild runs come in at forecast, fishing opportunities for coho in those areas should be great this year,” said Pat Pattillo, the state Fish and Wildlife salmon policy coordinator.
The Grays Harbor coho forecast is 198,012 (133,054 last year), and Willapa Bay will also see a jump of 170,099 (112,446 last year).
The Queets River forecast is a liberal 62,554 compared to 29,610 last year. Other coastal streams are about the same or just under last season’s decent returns.
In Grays Harbor, 29,706 chinook are predicted to return this fall. In the Humptulips alone it is 9,191, and in the Chehalis it is 20,515.
The Willapa Bay chinook forecast is a nice 45,739 compared to 33,100 last year when anglers saw a pretty decent sport fishery along the buoy line in late August through mid-September.
“It has been about four or five years since we had a chinook fishery in Grays Harbor, and those numbers look like we might get something out of it this season,” said Tony Floor, a state Fish and Wildlife sport fishing advisory board member and director of fishing affairs for the Northwest Marine Trade Association. “I also really like that forecast for Willapa too.”
The highlight for the Puget Sound region is that another sockeye fishery in Baker Lake could happen if a predicted return of 35,366 occurs this summer. On the other hand just 45,871 sockeye are expected back to Lake Washington nowhere near the spawning escapement goal of 350,000.
Sockeye returns elsewhere are more than 2.1-million expected back to the Fraser River in British Columbia, and 462,000 in the Columbia River, which 431,300 will be headed to the Okanogan River and 28,800 to the Wenatchee River.
The total Puget Sound chinook return is 224,166, which is down a bit from last year but a strong hatchery return should provide decent fishing in the summer.
On the sport fishing “wish list” is to begin the hatchery summer selective king fishery on July 1 instead of the standard July 16 opening date that has been in place since 2007. If the early opening doesn’t happen other sport fishing constituents would like to have the early July season open for salmon catch and release.
Skagit, Snohomish, Stillaguamish and south Puget Sound chinook returns are down this year, but Nooksack/Samish return is 44,000 up from 37,500 last year.
The Puget Sound coho returns will be somewhat leaner this year with a forecast of 334,400 hatchery and 357,100 wild fish compared to 334,800 hatchery and 600,100 wild coho last year.
As always state Fish and Wildlife and their tribal co-managers, and constituents will work on establishing fishing opportunities on abundant runs of hatchery salmon while protecting wild fish populations of concern.
2012 North of Falcon Salmon Preseason Planning Meeting Schedule
March 2-7, Pacific Fishery Management Council Ocean Salmon Fishery proposals developed at Doubletree Hotel Sacramento, California, 2001 Point West Way 95815.
Monday, March 12, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., North of Falcon Meeting to Develop Inside Fishery proposals matching ocean proposals at WDFW Offices in Olympia at the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Room 172.
Tuesday, March 13, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Coastal Regional Public Meeting Willapa Bay fishery discussion at the Raymond Elks Lodge – 326 3rd St. in Raymond.
Wednesday, March 14, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Columbia River Public Meeting commercial & sport fishery discussions in Vancouver, Washington, Vancouver Water Resources Education Center, 4600 S.E. Columbia Way in Vancouver.
Thursday, March 15, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Puget Sound salmon fisheries discussion at City Hall Council Chamber, 321 E. 5th Street in Port Angeles.
Tuesday, March 20, 6 p.m.-8 p.m., Coastal Regional Public Meeting Grays Harbor fisheries discussion at Grays Harbor Montesano City Hall, 112 North Main Street in Montesano.
Wednesday, March 21, 6 p.m.-9 p.m., Pre-season Columbia Basin salmon forecasts and fishery outlook, Benton PUD, 2721 West 10th Avenue in Kennewick.
Saturday, March 24, 10 a.m.-Noon, Puget Sound Recreational salmon fisheries discussion at state Fish and Wildlife Mill Creek Office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd. in Mill Creek.
Monday, March 26, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., North of Falcon Meeting for Columbia River and Ocean discussions at WDFW Offices in Olympia at the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Room 172.
Monday, March 26, 7 p.m., Public Hearing on Ocean Salmon Management Options, at the Chateau Westport, 710 West Hancock in Westport.
Wednesday, March 28, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., North of Falcon Meeting for Puget Sound discussion on inside salmon seasons and regulations at Lynnwood Embassy Suites, 20610 44th Ave. West in Lynnwood.
Friday, March 30, 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Coastal Regional Final public discussion of Willapa Bay & Grays Harbor salmon seasons at WDFW Offices in Olympia at Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E., Room 172.
Sunday to Friday, April 1-6, all-day, Pacific Fishery Management Council all ocean and inside salmon fisheries finalized at Seattle Sheraton Hotel, 1400 Sixth Ave. in Seattle.
(Photo by Mark Yuasa and courtesy of Westport Charters)