The latest catch stats show that an estimated 1,349 spring Chinook have been kept by Lower Columbia River anglers through March 20, including 531 bonked in the last week and 1,069 for the month.
At roughly the same point last year, 2,462 had been retained for the season.
Fifty-four percent of the boat catch has been hauled aboard between I-205 and the mouth of the Willamette — the Interstate stretch — while 28.7 percent have come from there down to the mouth of the Lewis.
Despite a forecast of at least 300,000 springers headed back to the Willamette and Upper Columbia/Snake tribs, it has not been an ideal start to season. Anglers have been battling cold, high, muddy conditions.
Last week, flows at Bonneville were as high as 245,000 cubic feet per second. Though they’re now running around 200,000, that is still 33 percent higher than the 10-year average, according to data from fisheries biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver.
He also points out that water temperatures at the dam are running 40 to 41 degrees, well below the 10-year average of 44 to 45 degrees.
The Willamette has also been fugly — and there’s a worrisome lack of that river’s 5-year-olds in the fish box so far. Around 60 percent of the 104,000 spring Chinook forecast back there are expected to be that older age-class salmon, but 88 percent of all the springers kept on the Columbia so far have been identified as headed to tribs beyond Bonneville.
“Typically, Willamette 5-year-olds are early returning. It would be kind of a surprise that they would be so late,” says Hymer.
Runoff from the Cowlitz may also be affecting the Cathlamet-area fishery. Just 26 have been caught by boat anglers below the mouth of the Washington trib.
A total of 32 springers have been retained by bank anglers, 22 from the Oregon shore below the Cowlitz, 10 on the Washington side between Vancouver and Kalama. At this point last year, 185 had been kept by plunkers of both states.
Anglers have made an estimated total of 35,731 trips to the river this season, and have caught around 15 percent of the 7,750 available in the upriver springer guideline.
“Salmonid effort more than doubled from the previous week with 931 boats and 514 bank anglers counted during the Saturday March 19 flight,” Hymer wrote in an email sent out to fishheads. “However, effort down about 40% from the same time last year (1,634 boats and 824 bank anglers).”
Another potential sign of fish abundance in the Columbia is that a commercial fishery for this week was canceled when a Sunday test netting yielded only 17 Chinook.
The Bonneville count is also lagging, at just 6.39 percent of the 10-year average through yesterday (74 vs. 1,158.1).
Then again, at this time last year, only 122 had gone through Bonneville. Through May 31, 2010, a total of 244,423 were counted there, and that run ended up being the third largest on record.
And anglers are looking ahead to milder flows in the mainstem.
“After the water dropes its amazing how the bite comes back and we start catching again! Bonneville please keep the water coming down!” wrote guide Brandon Glass on his Facebook page yesterday.
“I’m betting a BBQ springer dinner that catch rates will start to soar next weekend — especially with another week without gillnets in the river,” adds Andy Schneider, Northwest Sportsman‘s Chinook hound.
This Saturday, the Spring Fishing Classic will be held on the Columbia as well as Willamette, Sandy and Clackamas.