Sockeye Forecast Doubled – Fisheries Soon?

Salmon managers will get together via teleconference tomorrow to talk about this year’s surprising sockeye return to the Columbia, and could open a season as early as this weekend on the lower river if they like what they see.

Over 77,000 have gone over Bonneville Dam the last three days alone — “the second, third and fourth highest counts on record,” says Joe Hymer, a fisheries biologist in Vancouver — and word is that this season’s run forecast has been doubled to 250,000.

“Some folks think it will be higher than that,” says Hymer.

While Monday’s count of 26,783 came within 329 fish of tying the all-time record of 27,112 set July 7, 1955, a total of 134,058 have topped the dam through yesterday.

Not a lot is known about how to catch the shoreline-running salmon outside of an old fashioned fish wheel, but some sockeye have been caught incidentally and released by bank anglers probably plunking Spin-N-Glos and shrimp while targeting summer Chinook and steelhead in the Lower Columbia since last week’s opener.

“Reports on the river are that there are still sockeye rolling all the way down to the estuary,” Hymer adds.

The fish are running 3 1/2 pounds or so, with some out to 5 and 6 pounds, he says.

Based on passive integrated transponder, or PIT tag, data, a large number of sockeye counted at Bonneville appear to be bound for Lake Wenatchee. While the preseason forecast called for only 14,300 fish back to the Chelan County lake, a doubling of the run size would provide enough to open up a fishery there for the second season in a row.

Yesterday we reported that 1955’s run of 237,748 was the largest on record. That was the largest on record at Bonneville according to data from the Fish Passage Center, but did not include downstream harvest. Hymer says the all-time run record is 355,300 from 1947.

As for the summer Chinook fishery, it’s been clouded by high, dirty water, but true kings from the upper Columbia have begun entering the catch, including salmon to 40 pounds, Hymer says. Best fishing has been around Bonneville.

While the volume of water has been hampering anglers, it’s delighting Liz Hamilton of the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association.

“Everybody’s salivating over the outmigrating spring Chinook smolts,” she said this afternoon. “Two years from now, I’ll buy you a beer, dinner, a guided fishing trip for springers if we don’t get 350,000 back.”

You’re on, Liz.

In the meanwhile, I’m scrounging around for more definitive wisdom on slaying sockeye in the lower river.

EDITOR’S NOTE: THE ALL-TIME RECORD FIGURE IN THE SIXTH TO LAST PARAGRAPH HAS BEEN UPDATED FROM 319,052 IN 1952 TO 335,300 IN 1947 AFTER FURTHER CHECKING BY THE SOURCE, JOE HYMER.

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