Columbia Springer Manager Not Worried About Forecast So Far

The dam count sucks, test fisheries have been so poor that the commercial guys skipped netting this week, there’s a surprising lack of those beefy 5-year-old Willamette springers in the catch, and now a cranky Oregon blogger is wondering if salmon managers based their 2011 preseason Chinook forsoothery on last year’s shad count or something.

But is Cindy Le Fleur, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s Vancouver-based Columbia River salmon supervisor, pulling her hair out over this year’s run?

Not exactly.

“I wouldn’t say I’m worried about our forecasts,” she said yesterday when I called to talk about how this season is progressing.

Actually, I was wondering if we might get an extension on the season — hey, it never hurts to ask — which is otherwise slated to run through April 4 below Bonneville Dam.

As of March 20, we’d retained only 1,187 of the 7,550 upriver-bound springers available for harvest, leaving 85 percent of the guideline for the last 15 days of season.

LeFleur pointed out that the catch usually picks up at the end of this month and in April, so putting an extension on season from this vantage point would be pretty tricky.

“Let’s see where we’re at when we get closer,” she allowed.

As it stands, managers will take a look at the run size in late April and reconsider any openings.

Anglers have been buoyed in recent days by mellower flows out of Bonneville; a picture Brandon Glass posted to his Facebook page yesterday shows two beauts in the box, and the guide reports releasing another and losing a fourth at the boat.

“I hope this catching gets better fast before were kicked off the river!!!!” Glass posted.

I asked LeFleur if she was surprised by how the fishery has progressed so far, to which she laughed heartily.

(That’s how biologists commonly respond to most of my questions, so I wasn’t taken aback by it.)

“The first half of March is slow anyway,” she said, though added that the February catch of 280 — the second best since 1978 — was surprising.

Overall, Snake/Drano/Upper Columbia fish have been dominating the catch, representing 88 percent all of the springers that have gone into fish boxes. That’s odd because around one-third of all the springers predicted to enter the Columbia this year are bound for the Willamette, and about 60 percent of its run is forecast to be those early-returning 5-year-olds.

One of her office mates yesterday said it would be a surprise if all those older kings were late to the ball.

So, Cindy, what’s up with that?

“That’s partly due to where the catch is occurring,” she pointed out.

According to the latest estimate, just over 50 percent of the boat tally has come from the Interstate, between I-205 and the mouth of the Willamette.

The Willamette as well as Cowlitz have been ugly, and that’s shown up in catch estimates. Boaters have kept all but 43 of their fish below the mouth of the Lewis.

While sledders are dominating the catch, one interesting note from the data is that 160 summer steelhead have been landed by plunkers on the Oregon shore from, basically, Prescott down.

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