While West Coast ocean salmon fishermen are gritting their teeth against an impending disaster, Klamath River anglers may be set up for one of the best seasons of the decade.

Ocean fishermen have for years been prevented from fully tapping rich Sacramento River stocks that make up the largest part of the California, Oregon and Washington fishery. Fish managers have tried to prevent too many Klamath salmon -- which mix with other stocks -- from being taken in an effort to leave enough wild chinook salmon to spawn in the river.

From 2004 to 2006, the Klamath didn't reach that target, and ocean and river fisheries felt the pain. Because of that, the Pacific Fishery Management Council was required to craft a rebuilding strategy, which it will consider along with a host of other issues in April.

As proposed, it calls for 5,700 more wild chinook to be allowed to return to the Klamath to spawn for two years in a row, or for at least 35,000 wild fish to return in three out of four years.

”If one of those two things happen, we're out of the box and we start over,” said council staff officer Chuck Tracy.

In a regular year, ocean fishermen can only catch up to 16 percent of the 4-year-old Klamath fish believed to be at sea. Remaining available fish go into the river's tribal and sport fisheries on the Klamath and its main tributary, the Trinity River.

This year it's Sacramento River stocks that have crashed, and there may be no ocean salmon fishing at all. But the Klamath is expected to see a strong return of big, 4-year-old fish this fall. Since ocean fishermen will take few or none of them, many more can be allocated to the river fisheries.

In a year when lots of fish are expected to run up the Klamath, fishermen may have their hands full.

There are likely to be lots if salmon for the sport fishery in the Klamath basin, said Willow Creek fishing guide E.B. Duggan.

In 2006, Duggan saw much of his business evaporate during the crash of Klamath stocks. People from out of town didn't bother to make the trip, he said. In 2007, business came back up to normal, and this year could be a boom.

In fact, Duggan expects there may be conflicts worse than in 2007. He said there were several accounts of fistfights over fishing territory.

The approximately 100 boats working the Trinity alone might be joined by 50 or more from Sacramento River fishermen not able to fish their own river, he said. Even then, liberal bag limits are likely to be set, he said.

”It's going to benefit the business people tremendously,” Duggan said.

The California Fish and Game Commission sets fishing regulations after the council makes its decision on ocean fisheries in April.

Hotels, restaurants, guide services and tackle shops along both rivers stand to benefit from the increased visits.

It's part of the ebb and flow of salmon. If it ebbed from 2005 to 2007 and flows in 2008, it seems likely to ebb again in 2009.

Tracy said that the prognosis for Klamath salmon in 2009 is weak, which will almost certainly affect fishing along the coast and in the river again.

”We could be looking at more slim times in the Klamath again,” Tracy said.