We're barely into winter, but anglers can look forward to another fairly good Columbia River spring chinook fishing season.
"The (upriver spring chinook) run is actually not a huge forecast, but it is an above-average one when you look at all our data going back to 1980," said Kathryn Kostow of Oregon Fish and Wildlife and chairman of the Columbia River Technical Advisory Committee.
TAC is a group of state, federal and tribal fishery biologists who study the Columbia River fish runs.
The Upper Columbia spring chinook return forecast of 198,400 fish is the sixth largest since 1979.
"That's not bad," said Larry Snyder, president of the Vancouver Wildlife League and an avid spring angler.
The return is well under last year's forecast of 470,000 (315,000 was actual return). The largest return was 437,900 in 2001, and the 10-year average is 219,000.
Chris Kern, an Oregon Fish and Wildlife biologist, said the good news for the 2011 return is quite a few larger-sized 5-year-old fish are expected. The bulk of the annual returns are comprised of 4-year-old fish.
A decent forecast for the Willamette River is good news both for anglers there and in the Kalama, Longview and Cathlamet areas.
The Willamette adult spring chinook return is 104,000, compared to a forecast last year of 63,000 (110,000 was the actual return).
In 2008, spring chinook fishing in the Columbia River downstream of the Willamette was nearly nonexistent because of a weak Willamette run. Lower river fishing also was limited in 2009.
Cindy LeFleur of the Washington DFW said the 2011 Willamette spring chinook forecast is strong enough for lower Columbia angling.
"There are plenty of Willamette fish for the Willamette and the mainstem," LeFleur said.
Columbia River spring chinook are prized for their tasty, Omega-3-laced, red-orange-colored meat, which is similar to fish from Alaska's Copper River.
The height of the spring chinook return is March and April, when anglers breaking out of the winter doldrums create long lines at boat ramps on both sides of the Columbia. The run also stirs a frenzy from tribal and nontribal commercial fishermen.
Sport angler trips in the Lower Columbia have averaged 129,000 since 2002.
Washington and Oregon fishery officials next will discuss the Columbia forecast with various sport and commercial fishing groups.
Allocation of the harvest is a complicated balancing act involving non-Indians and the four Columbia River treaty tribes, plus splitting the non-Indian catch between sportsmen and commercial fishermen.
Kostow says a decision will be made about spring sport and commercial fisheries in January, and the seasons will be set in February.
Poor forecast for Cowlitz, Kalama, Lewis
State biologists are predicting another weak year for spring chinook runs on the Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis rivers.
Cowlitz: A return of 6,600 is forecast, which would be down from 8,900 a year ago. The 2010 forecast was 12,500.
The spawning need is 1,250.
Kalama: Only 600 spring chinook are forecast, which would be down from 750 in 2010. The 2010 forecast was 900. Sportsmen caught 200 chinook and restictions are likely again in 2011.
As poor as the Kalama forecast is, the record-low return is 338 adults in 1985, followed by 350 in 2009.
The spawning goal is 500 spring salmon.
Lewis: The prediction is for 3,400 spring chinook. A year ago, the forecast was 6,000, yet only 2,800 returned. The sport catch was 950 kept.
The spawning goal is 1,250 spring chinook. Fishing restrictions are likely to start the 2011 season.
General forecasts, but not specific numbers, are out for the fall salmon stocks.
The upriver bright fall chinook run is anticipated to be above average in 2011, while the other stocks should be about average.
Coho returns are again expected to be below average. The forecast for 2010 was 286,600 while the actual return was about 390,000.
The upper Columbia summer steelhead return is expected to be similar to the 10-year average, which is not bad.
State biologists also note that shad returns have declined six consecutive years. The 1 million shad run of 2010 compares to a 10-year average of 3.1 million.
— The Vancouver Columbian