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Conditions improve for ocean salmon rebound

 September 11, 2008, The Daily Triplicate, Crescent City

Editors note. The incorrect Andy Martin column ran on Wednesday. Below is the correct column.

Recent research in Oregon suggests the cycle of warm ocean conditions that contributed to poor salmon survival off the West Coast the last few years has ended, setting the stage for a rebound of Sacramento River fall Chinook.

Salmon from the Sacramento spend the vast majority of their saltwater life off the far northern coast of California and the southern and central Oregon coast.

The decline of the Sacramento's once robust Chinook run led to the complete closure of ocean salmon fishing off of Crescent City this summer.

Cool, nutrient-rich currents from the Gulf of Alaska combined with frequent northwest winds this summer have cooled much of the ocean off of Del Norte County and in Oregon to around 46 degrees, the ideal temperature for salmon to thrive.

The cooler water is packed with food for baby salmon, as well as the baitfish the older salmon feed on.

Researchers at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore., said the current ocean conditions are the best since 1999, which helped fuel the huge returns of Sacramento, Klamath and Rogue river salmon a few years later.

While the good ocean conditions could help boost the size of salmon returning to the Smith and Chetco rivers this fall, the full benefit will be seen over the next four years, when young salmon have better conditions to grow.

The greatly improved ocean conditions are also coming at a good time for salmon migrating down the Smith and Chetco rivers late this summer on their way to the ocean.

Biologists on the Chetco River this summer noted an impressive number of juvenile salmon in the Chetco's estuary during nettings earlier this year. Everything is falling into place for record-like salmon runs in three and four years in Del Norte and Curry counties.

Nettings off the Oregon coast, meanwhile, where Klamath River salmon spend a large portion of their ocean life, indicated increased numbers of young salmon offshore.

While the ocean conditions are now better, in-river conditions, especially on the Klamath and Sacramento rivers, also play a huge role in salmon survival.

After three weeks of good jack numbers but scarce adult salmon, fall Chinook fishing has picked up in the lower Klamath. Many guides limited out by mid-morning the past several days, with lots of fish in the mid-20s.

Side-drifting and dragging roe continues to be the best bet for Klamath fall salmon.

The large number of jacks, meanwhile, will be good news next year, as those good ocean conditions will produce abundant numbers of 20- to 30-pound Klamath kings

On the Rogue River, salmon have been scooting up to the Grants Pass area, but the bay remains good a few days a week. Several large fish, including a 58-pounder and several in the high 40s, were caught last week.

Half-pounder steelhead, meanwhile, are biting well in the Agness area of the lower Rogue.

Tossing spinners is a good way to trick the Rogue's summer steelhead into biting early in the morning and late in the afternoon, while drifting worms or crawfish is another popular method.

The trophy king season off the mouth of the Chetco River in Brookings opens for four day Oct. 1.

Outdoors writer Andy Martin, a former editor of Fishing & Hunting News, runs a halibut charter boat in the Gulf of Alaska during the summer and guides on America's Wild Rivers Coast during the winter.

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