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Forecast: Record 700,000 Coho Headed For Columbia, Strong Summer Steelhead, Fall Chinook Run

Columbia Basin Bulletin, Fish and Wildlife News July 24, 2009
It's almost time for a changing of the fishing seasons on the Columbia-Snake river mainstem, and in the ocean and tributaries as well.

None of the soon-to-open fisheries is expected to draw more interest than the Aug. 1 start of the Buoy 10 fishery in the Columbia River estuary, according Heather Bartlett, a fishery manager at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"Buoy 10 is probably the most popular salmon fishery in the state -- and with good reason," Bartlett said. "This year, we're planning for a catch of 10,700 chinook and 119,100 hatchery-reared coho right there in the last 16 miles of the Columbia River. Fishing should be excellent."

In all, fishery managers are expecting more than 700,000 coho salmon to return to the Columbia River this year -- the highest number since 2001. To keep hatchery fish off the spawning grounds, anglers will be allowed to catch and keep up to six hatchery coho per day on a number of Washington tributaries to the big river. All wild coho, recognizable by an intact adipose fin, must be released.

The Columbia River also opens Aug. 1 for chinook from the mouth of the river upstream to the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco, and includes portions of all tributaries (except the Snake River) in between.

Saltwater areas in Washington that open for salmon fishing Aug. 1 include Marine Area 8-1 (Deception Pass, Hope Island and Skagit Bay), 8-2 (Port Susan and Port Gardner) and Commencement Bay near Tacoma.

All Washington ocean fisheries from Neah Bay south to Ilwaco will then be open for salmon fishing seven days per week.

Anglers will also get three more days (July 24-26) to catch sturgeon in the lower Columbia between Buoy 10 and the Wauna powerlines under an agreement reached Tuesday by Oregon and Washington fishery managers. Another 2,400 fish are still available for harvest under the catch guideline.

The daily catch limit is one white sturgeon, with a fork-length measurement of 41 inches to 54 inches. All green sturgeon must be released.

Based on a 2006-2008 management agreement, a total of 15,529 fish are available for 2009 fisheries below Wauna at river mile 40 near Cathlamet, Wash.

An estimated 1,125 white sturgeon were harvested by anglers from January through May. Based on preliminary data, an estimated 10,412 fish were kept during June 1-July 5 to bring the season total kept catch to approximately 11,537 as of July 5.

With a balance of approximately 4,000 fish still available, six additional retention days (July 10-12 and 17-19) were added to the estuary season with an expected catch of 3,000 kept white sturgeon. But the catch during the first period was well below expectations (averaging 178 kept fish/day) due to reduced effort and inclement weather on July 12. Catch rates improved during the second three-day period, averaging 334 kept fish/day which is similar to rates observed during mid-June through July 5.

The preliminary estimated kept catch for July 10-19 is 1,536 fish, leaving a balance of 2,456 fish available for the remainder of 2009.

"Fishing was generally good, but we didn't get the turnout we expected because a lot of anglers decided to fish for salmon off the coast," said Brad James, a WDFW fish biologist. "That left room for some extra fishing days."

From the Wauna power lines upstream to River Marker 85 below Bonneville Dam, sturgeon retention is allowed as planned through July 31. Retention of white sturgeon is permitted in that section of the river on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with a fork length limit of 38 to 54 inches.

Above, River Marker 85, the Columbia is closed to sturgeon angling through July 31. From Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, the area from Wauna power lines upstream to Bonneville Dam is scheduled to re-open to white sturgeon retention on Thursday through Saturday of each week.

Anglers with constraints on their time will have to choose their fishing days carefully in the weeks ahead. Anglers ready to go out right now will find good -- and improving -- fishing for hatchery steelhead from the lower Columbia River to the Bonneville Pool tributaries.

The upriver summer steelhead run has begun to build steam. The first count of more than 1,000 steelhead occurred on July 2 at Bonneville Dam's fish ladders and the first 2,000-steelhead count was on July 13. Bonneville, about 146 river miles from the ocean, is the first dam the fish pass on their journey toward spawning grounds and hatcheries in Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Those counts have continued to mount with more than 4,000 passing Bonneville Sunday, more than 5,000 on Sunday, plus 6,000 on Tuesday and 7,517 clearing the dam Wednesday. The year's total steelhead count there had climbed to 70,548 through midweek. That total includes an estimated 30,911 wild steelhead.

Through Wednesday 15,475 steelhead had been counted passing the Columbia's McNary Dam, the fourth hydro project in the Columbia-Snake mainstem hydro system. And 13,962 had reached the lower Snake River's Lower Granite Dam, the eighth dam the fish must hurdle.

The 2009 preseason forecast is for a return of 351,800 upriver summer steelhead to Bonneville. That total includes 16,000 "Skamania" index fish, 278,900 Group A index fish, and 56,900 Group B index fish. The forecast for wild fish totals of 89,900 steelhead and includes a strong Group B component.

Overall, the 2009 upriver summer steelhead forecast is similar (99 percent) to the recent 10-year average of 357,000 fish. Group A and Group B index steelhead forecasts continue a stable trend, with the Group B component expected to be greater (121 percent) than the recent 10-year average, according to the July 16 "2009 Joint Staff Report: Stock Status and Fisheries for Fall Chinook Salmon, Coho Salmon, Chum Salmon, Summer Steelhead, and White Sturgeon" prepared by the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife.

Fish passing April through June are considered Skamania stock steelhead destined mainly for tributaries within Bonneville Pool. Steelhead counted at Bonneville July through October are categorized as Group A index or Group B index fish, based on fork length. Group B steelhead primarily return to tributaries in the Salmon and Clearwater rivers in Idaho, while Group A steelhead return to tributaries throughout the Columbia and Snake basins.

The total adult return of fall chinook to the mouth of the Columbia in 2009 is expected to number 532,900 adults, which is greater (119 percent) than the 2008 return of 449,000 adults, and is similar to the average return observed over the last 10 years.

"Bright" stocks represent 73 percent of the total forecast. The upriver bright forecast is 269,700, which would be 44 percent more than last year's actual return and 46 percent greater than the recent 10-year average, according to the joint staff report. That average includes banner runs of 733,600, 893,100 and 799,000 in 2002-2004.

The 2009 forecast for Snake River wild fall chinook is 6,600 fish, which is comparable to the recent 10-year average and significantly greater than the returns seen during the 1990s. The Snake River wild fall chinook run dipped as low as 722 to the mouth of the Columbia in 1998.

The Mid-Columbia bright fall chinook forecast is 98,000 adults. That would be 116 percent of the recent 10-year average, and also greater than the 2008 return.

The "lower river wild" fall chinook forecast of 8,600 adults is 58 percent of the recent 10-year average, but improved over the 2008 return. The "lower river hatchery" forecast of 88,200 adults is similar to the average returns observed during the recent 10 years and improved over the 2008 return.

The "select area bright" forecast of 12,000 fish is a significant increase over the recent 10-year average and similar to the 2008 return. The 2009 forecast includes adjustments for increased escapement due to reduced ocean chinook fisheries along the Oregon coast.

"Now is the time to make plans about where to go, where to stay and where to moor your boat," said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist. "A lot of fishing opportunities will be opening up in the coming days, and a lot of anglers will want to get in on the action."

Summer steelhead fishing has continued to heat up -- along with water temperatures -- on the mainstem Columbia River and tributaries stretching upstream to the Bonneville Pool. Boat anglers fishing between Rocky Point and Bonneville Dam averaged one fish for every two rods during the week ending July 19. Bank anglers netted a fish for every four rods.

The best catch rates were observed from Kalama, Wash., downstream and in the gorge, where 178 bank anglers pulled in 53 steelhead and released 56 others July 21.

On Washington's Cowlitz River, boat anglers have been reeling in hatchery steelhead from Mission Bar to Blue Creek. As daily steelhead counts continue to climb at Bonneville Dam, success rates have has also picked up at Drano Lake and on the White Salmon River in Washington.

In all areas, anglers may retain only hatchery steelhead with a clipped adipose or ventral fin and a healed scar.

"The good news there is that the proportion of marked, hatchery fish below Bonneville has increased in recent days," Hymer said.

Idaho anglers will have one more weekend of chinook salmon fishing in the Salmon River this summer. The reach from the city of Salmon upstream to the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery weir will close at the end of fishing hours on Sunday, July 26. It is the last part of the Salmon River to close to chinook fishing.

Fishery managers for Idaho Fish and Game estimate that, by the end of fishing Sunday, anglers will have taken 100 percent of the state's harvest share of adult hatchery chinook salmon returning to the Sawtooth and Pahsimeroi hatcheries. Harvest is estimated by weekly angler surveys.

Overall for the season, Fish and Game estimates that the salmon fishery in the Salmon River drainage, which opened on June 20, will generate more than 60,000 angler hours of fishing effort and lead to the harvest of about 3,000 adult and 1,000 jack chinook salmon.

A catch-and-release steelhead season opens in the Salmon River Aug. 1; the retention of fin-clipped steelhead will be allowed beginning Sept. 1. Catch-and-release seasons began July 1 in the Clearwater and its tributaries. Retention will be allowed beginning Aug. 1 from the Clearwater's mouth up to Lewiston but not until Oct. 15 on the mainstem above Lewiston or in the North or Middle forks.

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              Page Updated: Tuesday July 28, 2009 01:44 PM  Pacific

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