Lower Columbia River salmon and steelhead sport harvests, in some cases, were the best on record in 2011 and, with rosy return forecasts for many species, the fishing should be good again in 2012, according “preliminary draft” data compiled by the Oregon and Washington departments of fish and wildlife.
A “2011 Adult Returns and 2012 Expectations, Columbia River” wrap-up says that a record (since at least 1980) 147,000 angler trips were taken during the 2011 lower Columbia fall fishing season. The “lower” Columbia stretches from Bonneville Dam at river mile 146 down to Tongue Point at river mile 18 just upstream of Astoria, Ore. The fall season begins Aug. 1. The previous high was 117,975 angler trips in 2009.
Anglers landed a record 28,200 adult fall chinook from the lower Columbia mainstem during the August-October fall season, as well as a record 12,100 summer steelhead. That fall chinook catch bested a total 26,195 adults kept in 2003.
The bountiful fall followed a summer season, which began June 16, that saw a record 5,200 adult “summer” chinook salmon taken by anglers, as well as 2,400 “jacks,” on the lower Columbia. Jacks are young fish that return to freshwater after only one year in the ocean.
During May-July a total of 12,900 summer steelhead were caught and kept by sport anglers in the lower Columbia, which is also a record.
The nearly 25,000 summer-run steelhead kept between May and October 2011 was the highest on record (since at least 1975), far surpassing the 2010 total of 18,324.
In August, 2011 a total of 11,160 steelhead were caught and kept in the lower river. That’s a record for any single month since at least 1969. It broke the record set the previous month -- 8,549 steelhead.
The total steelhead “handle” – the total number of fish reeled in, including steelhead that were released -- in August was also a record at 18,509. The previous high total was 15,934 kept/released in July 2009.
The record catches are largely due to angler enthusiasm, but relatively large runs helped the cause.
The estimated 378,056 salmonid angler trips to the lower Columbia in 2011 is a record. It broke the previous high of slightly more than 371,000 angler trips in 2010, according to data assembled by the WDFW’s Joe Hymer.
A total of 364,900 upriver summer steelhead were counted climbing up and over Bonneville this year. That’s similar to the recent 10-year average.
According to the year-end estimates a total of 11,700 adult spring chinook salmon, and 5,500 3-year-old jacks, were landed during the 2011 season that began in earnest March 1. A total of 154,900 angler trips were taken during the spring season, which included 79 open fishing days, which amounts to 74 percent of the 107 days between March 1 through June 15.
Oregon’s Willamette River spring run proved to be particularly targeted with 22,400 chinook kept during 123,500 angler days. That catch total is the highest since 1991. Anglers must release unharmed unmarked spring chinook and steelhead. Most hatchery produced fish are marked with a clipped adipose fin. Most of the unmarked spawners are wild fish that are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Fishery managers estimate that a total of 80,254 Willamette spring chinook returned to the mouth of the Columbia in 2011. The Willamette feeds into the Columbia at Portland. About 21 percent of those returning fish were wild.
The 2012 preseason forecast is for a return of 83,400 Willamette spring chinook salmon to the mouth of the Columbia in 2012. The run should include about 60,700 4-year-old fish. About 21 percent of the run is forecast to be wild.
The 2012 upriver spring chinook run – fish bound for hatcheries and tributary spawning grounds upstream of Bonneville -- is expected to number 314,200, which would be the third largest on record. A total of 67,000 3-year-old jacks returned in 2011, which was the second largest total on record. That led to the prediction that 88 percent of the 2012 upriver run would be age 4 fish.
Going back to records that started in 1969, the 5,160 adult summer chinook kept in this year’s mark selective fishery on the lower Columbia is a record. The previous high was 4,924 fish in a non-selective fishery in 2006. A total of 75,818 angler trips to the lower Columbia during the summer season was the highest total since at least 1973.
And the fishing should be just as good next summer. A record high number of upper Columbia River summer chinook jacks, 35,400, returned to the basin in 2011. That prompted the prediction that 2012 will witness a record, dating back to at least 1980, return of 91,200 summer chinook. It is estimated that 4-year-olds will make up 65 percent of the 2012 summer chinook run.
Anglers in 2011 also caught and kept a record 1,427 sockeye in the lower Columbia, That’s nearly double the previous high total of 900 fish in 2009).
The return of sockeye last year was 187,300. Most were bound for the central Washington/British Columbia Okanogan River basin with a lesser total bound for the Wenatchee River drainage. The 2012 preseason forecast is for a return of a record 462,000 sockeye, including 1,900 spawners headed up the Columbia and Snake rivers to the Salmon River drainage in central Idaho. The Snake River fish are listed as endangered under the ESA.