All posts by Andy Walgamott

SW WA (Not) Fishing Report

SALMON/STEELHEAD

Kalama River – Light effort and catch.

Lewis River – About 1 in 4 bank anglers at the salmon hatchery had kept a hatchery winter run steelhead when sampled last week.  Flows are currently 4,400 cfs, about half the same time last week.

Through early December, hatchery winter run steelhead returns to several Washington lower Columbia hatcheries are lagging behind last year.

Station                 2009                       2008

Cowlitz                 467                         1,039

Kalama                 69                           84

Lewis                    32                           408

Washougal         135                         169

STURGEON

Lower Columbia from the Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam – Light effort and no legals sampled last week.

TROUT

Klineline Pond and Battleground Lake – Both were planted with 2,500 catchable size rainbows Dec. 7.  Depending on the weather/availability of staff/trucks, they are expected to be stocked again before the holidays.

Report courtesy Joe Hymer, PSMFC

Oregon Tuna Classic Sets Records

(OREGON TUNA CLASSIC PRESS RELEASE)

The books are closed on the 2009 season for the Oregon Tuna Classic. The upside down economy had the organizers wondering if they’d see a decrease in participants and sponsors as they worked diligently through the spring making final preparations for the first event in Newport on July 18th.

(OREGON TUNA CLASSIC)

That question was answered by a record number of participants that exceeded well over 1,400 people involved in this past summer’s events. Allstate agents Ron Brockmann along with Dennis Pendley, from Corvallis Oregon, were the title sponsors while Shimano, G.Loomis, Daiwa, The Mill Casino and Coast 105 Radio anchored the sponsorships with a combined $65,000 in donations between just the top six. That generosity and support carried over to another 81 sponsors making it another record year with sponsorships.

The popularity generated from past events drew teams from Montana, Idaho, California, Washington and Oregon. To witness the energy and excitement from 500 people setting inside one of those big tents this year is contagious and you can really see the heart of a fishermen when it comes to helping those in need.

People are still talking about the impressive line of boats that slowly worked their way out of the port of Ilwaco in the dark, it looked like a Christmas boat parade. That sight was witnessed again, a few weeks later, when over 100 spectators gathered in the dark standing on the north jetting and watched the boats come out of Garibaldi. They couldn’t see the flare start due to the fog that moved in on the beach but they could hear the tremendous roar of engines as everyone raced offshore to their favorite fishing spot.

(OREGON TUNA CLASSIC)

To say these events grew this year would almost be an understatement. Today, the Oregon Tuna Classic is the fastest growing charitable fishing tournament on the west coast. When registrations started pouring in the organizers were forced to rent three very large tents capable of handling 500-600 people. People were coming out of the woodwork to volunteer because they wanted to be a part of the excitement.

Some sponsors jumped in at times and gave more than their donations as witnessed by the guys from Weldcraft Boats who were there just to watch but got caught up in all the excitement and the next thing you knew they were helping to unload fish and help with whatever else was needed.

The growth of these events is starting to bring much needed economic benefits to the communities visited by the armada of fishermen, volunteers and spectators. Businesses in Ilwaco saw record sales for the year while Garibaldi City Manager John O’leary speculates the Oregon Tuna Classic might rival the annual Garibaldi days in generating business.

The original purpose of the Oregon Tuna Classic, OTC as many call it, was to provide a forum for fishermen to have a little friendly competition, catch albacore and donate it to the local food bank. This past summer those fishermen gave coastal food banks 18,600 pounds of tuna in addition to the economic aid from just visiting their communities.

Since 2005, over 44,300 pounds of tuna and $103,000 has been donated to the Oregon Food Bank. The OTC’s donation helped the Oregon Food bank purchase six pounds of food for every dollar donated, equivalent to a contribution weight of over 662,300 pounds of food.

(OREGON TUNA CLASSIC)

Dates have been set for the 2010 summer events, plans are being made and sponsors are being contacted to again get ready for another season. With the continued support of volunteers and sponsors alike, the OTC will continue the fight against hunger bringing its armada of fishermen and spectators into these communities.

Thank you for your support and involvement in 2009.
Del Stephens
OTC Chairman

Steelhead Cutbacks In WA’s Blues?

As we warned last spring* in Northwest Sportsman magazine, Washington steelhead managers are increasingly uncomfortable with the large runs of hatchery fish back to the Grande Ronde and Tucannon rivers in the Blue Mountains, and they may turn the smolt spigot down in the future.

Rich Landers of the Spokane Spokesman-Review takes the story up in a piece picked up recently by the Tri-Cities Herald.

He reports simmering resentment from Washington and Idaho anglers as “hints” about a cutback emerge. Word is that the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife will hold public meetings on future steelhead plans this winter.

Biologist Glen Mendell, whom we spoke to last winter about this, reiterates that hatchery returns are well above the mitigation goal of 1,500 back to Cottonwood Creek on the Ronde about 2 miles upstream from the Highway 129 bridge and Boggan’s Oasis.

“Reducing the releases from Cottonwood is one of the options for reducing competition between hatchery fish and wild fish on spawning beds,” Mendell tells Landers, adding, “In the past five years, steelheaders have had a really wonderful situation in the Snake and Grande Ronde, but I don’t know whether we’ll be able to maintain it at these levels.”

Stay tuned.

* An earlier version of this piece mis-stated when we first reported on Blue Mountains steelhead cutbacks. While I learned about it last winter while putting together our March issue, I reported on it in our May 2009 issue. AW

How The Springer Forecast Came About

Reaction to yesterday’s prediction of 470,000 spring Chinook back to the Columbia River in 2010 ranges from “We are going to have a very fun year next year it looks like” to “Even half of the prediction would be very nice!” to “I’ve got ten bucks that says they have over-estimated. Their track record for making estimates is horrendous.”

Those comments came from posters on ifish known as Fish Hawk Adventures, allwaysfishing and Bait Bucket.

Similar statements were also registered on three other Northwest salmon and steelhead fishing boards, piscatorialpursuits, gamefishin and steelheader.net, and anglers quoted by Allen Thomas of The Columbian all arched their eyebrows at the prediction.

Added Mark Coleman of All Rivers Guide Service (425-736-8920) , “The forecast of 470,000 springers sounds great and I’m hopeful that the actual return will be that large. Even if we only get a percentage of that number, we will still be looking at a lot of springers to catch. I normally start my guide trips around the middle of March, but if we are really getting over 40o,ooo fish, we could have good fishing a week or two earlier.”

A GOOD DAY ON THE INTERSTATE, APRIL 2008. (SWANNY'S GUIDED FISHING, 206-755-1204)

Indeed, we springer fiends can’t help but be giddy and leery at this potential blockbuster of a Christmas present.

A) The run, as predicted, may be the largest of all time, topping the current mark by over 50,000!

B) This year saw a run that was only 54 percent of what the same team of forecasters said it would be!

Indeed, in the inexact science of trying to forsooth how many salmon might return to the Columbia from a 93,000,000-square-mile body of water based on how many of a certain age came back last year, the margins of error in recent years have been huge.

Four of the past six years’ runs have been well below forecast.

But anglers sometimes forget that we’ve also had years where managers got it right (see 2007), and there have been seasons where more than expected have returned (see 2001, The Best Year Ever) as this graph from ODFW and WDFW shows:

The difference, though, is that the number of underforecast fish is much fewer than the number of overforecast fish. That is, since 2000, 211,000 unpredicted fish have returned to the Columbia River, but 534,000 forecasted springers have failed to come back.

It’s led anglers to roll their eyes at any forecast, but the missing fish have also given managers fits in recent years.

Part of the run consists of threatened wild springers which require protection, and as Hal Bernton writes in today’s Seattle Times, “Accurate forecasts are necessary to set harvest at levels that meet treaty obligations and conservation requirements under the federal Endangered Species Act.”

Columbia Chinook are required to be managed by what is actually coming in — thus the all-important midseason update — vs. what is merely forecast. Part of the problem is that in the last five years, the midrun mark has unexpectedly moved deeper into the year.

It’s all led to sometimes herky-jerky seasons and angler discontentment.

SPRINGER ON, UNDER I-5. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

This year, managers also have had to contend with a strange new signal from the salmon: A record 81,000-plus jack, or 3-year-old, springers returned past Bonneville, four times the previous high.

Managers figure that the jack Chinook run is a certain percentage of the overall year-class, and more or less multiplying out that percentage will give you the following year’s return.

When folks like Stuart Ellis of the U.S. v. Oregon Technical Advisory Committee did that “back of the envelope” math last spring, they came up with a run forecast of 1 million to 1.5 million adults in 2010.

In November, however, he told me that it was “unreasonable” to expect even a doubling of the current record return, 2001’s 416,000.

But he also told me, “Nobody’s going out on a limb to say a record return.”

And yet that’s what the forecast released yesterday says.

Four hundred and seventy thousand! “Holy f#$%*#@ *%t!” is what I said.

“That’s what we thought — wow!” Ellis tells me this morning.

(ALL RIVERS GUIDE SERVICE, 425-736-8920)

I called him to find out more about how he and the rest of the committee — which includes Oregon, Idaho and Washington fish and wildlife departments, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (on behalf of the Nez Perce tribe, the Umatilla tribe, the Warm Springs tribe and the Yakama Nation,) the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, the National Marine Fisheries Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — settled on that number.

Turns out, it’s just a midpoint from seven different mathematical models that spat out run sizes of anywhere from 366,000 to 528,000 adults next year.

And it almost sounds as if Ellis et al, in their attempts to deal with all those jacks, looked at 470,000 different ways to forecast the run.

“We looked at a huge number of models and then settled on 18 that had any validity,” he says.

In previous years, they’ve used a straight linear graph of jacks on the X axis, adult 4-year-olds on the Y axis to come up with a number, but among the new approaches was a nonlinear curve.

They also used models that factored in ocean indicators such as water temperatures, upwellings and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, climactic and environmental conditions that haven’t been used before.

They shortened up their data set.

They looked at jack returns to home hatcheries, not just past Bonneville Dam.

And they calculated the absolute lowest number of adults that have come from a jack return.

ANGLERS LAUNCH BEFORE DAWN AT VANCOUVER'S MARINE PARK RAMP. (ANDY WALGAMOTT)

“With the 18, we did ‘hindcasting’ to narrow things down based on error rates,” Ellis says. “We chose seven that would have been acceptable in the past. They tended to have the lowest error rates.”

The group then talked over those seven models’ pros and cons, and in the end averaged them, he says.

“They’re all quite reasonable as far as predictors,” Ellis says, but he adds that right now, they’re “not trying to assess how accurate (the forecast) will be. There’s no history with this size of jack return.”

“It’s kind of tricky when you’re dealing with records,” he says.

“You can make extreme theories  on jacks — outrageous inriver and ocean survival, so lots will come back. There’s lots of evidence pointing that way.

“But another theory you can’t disprove is, maybe there’s a big change in maturation rates in the ocean. For some reason, a huge proportion came back as jacks and we don’t have a lot of adults out there. That line of thinking leads to lower estimates. That’s possible; we can’t rule it out.

“But the sum total is, we should get a pretty good return,” Ellis says.

Looking at 2009’s actual return, 169,000, he says, “I think we’re going to do a fair bit better, but don’t bet the farm.”

According to today’s Columbia Basin Bulletin:

The upriver forecast includes 272,000 Snake River spring/chinook, of which 73,400 are expected to be wild fish, and 57,300 Upper Columbia spring chinook (including 5,700 wild). The balance of the upriver forecast is comprised of mid-Columbia spring chinook.

Now that we at least have a number, Ellis says that the season setters can begin to craft recreational, tribal and commercial fisheries. We already know that they’re going to chop 30 percent off the forecast as a run buffer and move some of the allocation upstream, as Bill Monroe of The Oregonian detailed, and which has pissed off two commissioners of a lower Columbia River county on the Washington side.

Ellis has no doubt we’ll be fishing — “It would be well worth making sure your spring Chinook gear is in tip-top shape, where you’re going to get your bait, and your boat motor will start up” — but he’s warned me before and he warned me again today that we will need to be flexible in our late winter and spring fishing plans.

“The opportunities may not be in your favorite area, or your preferred area to fish. You may have to go to choice number two or three,” he says. “Hang loose.”

Planning fishing trips months ahead may be more difficult, he suspects.

UPRIVER ANGLERS LIKE JEFF MAIN FISHING AT "THE WALL" BELOW LITTLE GOOSE DAM WILL GET A BIGGER CUT OF THE SPRINGER PIE IN 2010. (LAZER SHARP PHOTO CONTEST)

Asked why his committee’s guesses have been well off in recent years, Ellis says that springers are pretty difficult to forecast due to their timing, the wide geographic landscape they return to — not to mention the fact that as smolts a couple months out to sea, they literally disappear off the face of the earth for one to two years. Who knows what sort of ocean conditions they’re swimming through.

The “intense interest” in the species — widely viewed (at least in the Northwest) as the best-tasting fish on the planet, and a substantial cash cow for river cities and the sportfishing industry as a whole — magnifies those errors.

Ellis points to the Spring Creek tule Chinook stock that returns past Bonneville Dam in the fall. That run has come in 50 percent below forecast, or at 150 percent, and outside of the managers, not too many folks are wringing their hands.

“They’re just not as impressive to anglers. They don’t tend to gripe as much,” he says.

And even as Ellis says the run could come in above and below what those seven models spit out, he’s confident in all the work that’s gone into 2010’s prediction.

“We do think the effort we put into the forecast — we’ve made a real good effort to reduce the risks of very large errors. We hope it’s accurate, but we’re not guaranteeing it,” he says.

THE ONLY GUARANTEE IS HEADACHES THE WHOLE WAY AROUND, FOR FORECASTERS, FOR FISHERY MANAGERS, FOR ANGLERS LOOKING FOR OPEN WATER -- AND FOR HERRING- AND PLUG-BITING SPRINGERS. (ANDY WALGAMOTT

Of Frozen Squid And Not-frozen Snails

A pair of invasive species are in the news this cold morning, one dying and freezing on the beach and the other not dying and freezing in a lake.

Oregonbeachconnection.net reports that over three dozen Humboldt have washed up across 100 miles of the Oregon coast in recent days, then frozen into the sand.

“Staff from Seaside Aquarium have received reports of dozens of them washing up, coming in from Pacific City all the way up to Sunset Beach near Warrenton,” the site reports.

So far, 40 squid from 4 to 5 feet long and up to 25 pounds have been reported.

They’re also leaving “really neat squid prints,” as a photo from the Seaside Aquarium shows.

People are warned not to eat the dead Humboldts, but in the article, ODFW’s Brandon Chandler says they’ll make good crab bait. Crabbing opened Dec. 1 on the coast.

At Washington’s Capitol Lake, managers drew down the water to try and freeze and kill recently discovered invasive New Zealand snails. But according to The Olympian, the results were “inconclusive.”

“Biologists found some frozen New Zealand mudsnails and others that may or may not have died from exposure to the frigid overnight temperatures, said Allen Pleus, an aquatic invasive species coordinator for Fish and Wildlife,” reports the paper’s John Dodge.

In an earlier story, Pleus worried about the affect the algae-snarfing snails would have on other species.

“These things are nasty, and if they take over, your biodiversity is gone,” he told KUOW radio.

470K Springers, Panel Says

Well, if as many springers as they say are coming in actually come in, Northwest anglers could be in for one whale of a season!

Late today, word came from a panel of Columbia River salmon managers that the 2010 run could be a whopping 470,000 fish — the most in more than 70 years of record-taking.

Can you say HOLY F@#$%@% $@&T!?!?!?!

Can you say GET YOUR HERRING NOW?!?!

Can you say GET IN LINE AT THE MARINE PARK LAUNCH NOW!?!?

(Can you say THE GLEASON RAMP BETTER BE READY TO GO!!!!!!!!!!)

Can you say GET IN YOUR LANE IN THE INTERSTATE DRIFT NOW!?!?!

Dude!!!!!!!!!!!

Swanny, Mark, Jack, Brandon, Don, Shane, Pat, Andy, Terry — keep seats open for me!

I should not drive home at this point. I’m a trembling wreck. Chrome fish streak in front of my eyes, thousands of them, tens of thousands of them, all heading for Northwest anglers from Astoria to Enterprise to Leavenworth to Riggins.

More than came back in 2001, The Best Run Ever, the season that ruined my rotator cuff on the banks of Drano Lake.

Breathe, slow down, think, Walgamott. Remember, these are the same managers who have basically blown almost every spring Chinook forecast they’ve ever put together — and those in recent years egregiously so.

But for what it’s worth, here’s the official word from On High, the press release put together by the Washington and Oregon departments of fish and wildlife, and the Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission on the forecast:

The technical committee advising Columbia River fishery managers has released its forecast for the 2010 spring chinook run. If the fish show up as projected, the forecast of 470,000 spring chinook would be the largest return to the Columbia since 1938.

The forecasted run is up significantly from last year’s final run of 169,300 fish.

Because of challenges in forecasting the spring chinook returns in recent years, members of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) had to reconsider the model they have used in past years to predict the number of returning fish.

According to Stuart Ellis, current chair of the TAC and fisheries scientist of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), committee members were leery of the record number of spring chinook “jacks” counted at Bonneville Dam in 2009. Jacks are immature, precocious males that return after just one or two years in the ocean.

In the past few years, forecasts relying heavily on jack counts from the previous season had overstated the actual return of adult fish by an average of 45 percent. An accurate preseason forecast is necessary to set commercial and recreational harvest levels that meet treaty obligations under U.S. v Oregon and conservation mandates to protect fish runs listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Ellis said this year the committee considered several additional models that took into account other factors such as ocean conditions.

“The number of jacks that returned in 2009 was four times greater than anything we’ve seen before, which made the number a statistical anomaly,” Ellis said. “At the same time, we know the environment for young salmon appears to be changing and we needed to account for that.”

“We’re still projecting a strong return for upriver spring chinook salmon next year, but we needed to temper last year’s jack return with other indicators of spring chinook abundance,” he added.

The seven models chosen by TAC generated a range of predicted run sizes from 366,000 to 528,000 adults. The committee members agreed on 470,000 as an average of the models.  This forecast will now be used by the managers to develop preseason fishing plans.

The Technical Advisory Committee was established under the US v. Oregon and includes representatives from Oregon, Idaho and Washington fish and wildlife departments, the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission (on behalf of the Nez Perce tribe, the Umatilla tribe, the Warm Springs tribe and the Yakama Nation,) the Shoshone-Bannock tribe, the National Marine Fisheries Commission and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Chrome Coho For NWS Pen

Jason Brooks, one of my Western Washington writers, floated the Humptulips River on the southwest side of the Olympic Peninsula for coho earlier this week with guide Mark Coleman (425-736-8920). Here’s his report:

Andy,

So, my buddy Grant calls me on Sunday to let me know that the trip is “on” for Monday and that we need to meet Mark Coleman (All Rivers Guide Service) at 5:30 near the Humptulips, which means I had to pick up Grant at 3:30!

All goes well, and we spend some coin at the local 7-11 in Aberdeen, fill that gas tank as well, and head to the river with a balmy 21 degrees — not including wind chill.

As we stand on the gravel bar launch at 6:00, I start to tell Grant that it won’t be daylight for another hour or more when Mark walks up after parking his rig and says, “Let’s go!”

SLAVE-DRIVER COLEMAN ON THE STICKS. (JASON BROOKS)

Now my idea of fun isn’t exactly floating down a river in the dark in sub-freezing temperatures, more like a margarita on a sunny beach in Mexico, which is what I kept telling myself as I began to lose the feelings of all my extremities!

IT'S FUH-REAKIN' COLD! (JASON BROOKS)

Let me say, that “Boat Chute” just above the hatchery on the Hump is a bit like “Splash Mountain” at Disneyland, minus the warm sun, Briar Rabbit theme or the popcorn and cotton candy at the end.

OK, looking back on it, it is nothing like Splash Mountain, but again I kept telling myself, “This will be fun…”

At the moment of commitment, passing the point of no return, Grant and I get into a discussion of our PFDs. Mine is the auto inflatable one and his is the neoprene vest type. Mark isn’t wearing any and we both conclude that if the boat does flip, he is the smartest guy on the trip. After all, he will succumb quickly, while Grant and I will become bobbers and die slowly.

Just then the boat gets sucked down the chute … and we came out floating down the other side.

Finally the sun comes up and we begin to fish, and by 10:15 we had landed 10 coho and had our limit of chrome!

GRANT FIGHTS A COHO. (JASON BROOKS)

COLEMAN SHOWS OFF A CHROME COHO. (JASON BROOKS)

GRANT AND JASON WITH A QUARTET OF SWEET LATE COHO. (JASON BROOKS)

We tossed spinners and other lures, and fished your basic coho holding water — back eddies, frog water areas and the inside of the river bends (again, back eddies).

It was fast and furious — Grant caught three fish in four casts — but we did learn after pulling a few fish out of a hole the hole would go “dead” and we would move on. Mark said that the fish are stacked up tight in the holes and that once they get “stirred up,” it took a while for the fish to calm down and this was the reason we launched in the dark, as he wanted to be first at a certain hole he likes to fish. It turns out there was only one other boat on the river the entire day, so we pretty much had the entire river to ourselves.

We decide to spend the rest of the day float fishing jigs for steelhead, attempting to break my reputation. It was a close one: Grant had two take-downs but my reputation is well intact — no steelhead!

Hope all is well and sleep comes soon,

Jason

How Gregoire’s Budget Would Affect WDFW

Skip the county fair, lay off some high honcho in Olympia, buy 11 percent less hay for hungry deer and elk next winter.

Just a few of the lowlights for the Department of Fish & Wildlife from Gov. Christine Gregoire’s proposed 2010-11 supplemental budget, revealed Dec. 9. She’s attempting to deal with a $2.6 billion shortfall.

While her budget is balanced as mandated by law, Gregoire is also discussing raising taxes to “buy back” some social programs that would otherwise be cut.

As for positives, the agency is tasked with opening 200,000 more acres of private land for hunting, but the Department of Natural Resources is also being asked to close 22 primitive recreational facilities around the state.

Here’s a rundown of what would be affected for WDFW:

Reduce Outreach and Education
Funding for outreach and education programs is reduced by six percent. This reduction decreases funding for partnerships offering youth fishing opportunities, and eliminates funding for natural resource law enforcement education and outreach at fairs and outdoor shows.

Reduce Executive Management
The Department will reduce one executive management position and consolidate administrative and policy functions.

Reduce Wildlife Disease Monitoring

Funding for the Puget Sound Ambient Monitoring Laboratory and testing for contaminants in salmon and other species is reduced by 18 percent in Fiscal Year 2011.

Reduce Winter Feeding of Wildlife

Funding for the winter feeding of wildlife is reduced by 11 percent on a one-time basis.

Reduce Wildlife Area Management Planning
The Department manages over nine million acres of wildlife habitat. Funding for wildlife area management planning is reduced three percent, delaying approximately 20 plans and updates and the input from citizen advisory groups needed for those plans.

Fund Hatcheries Using Partnerships
The Department will identify hatcheries that primarily benefit a specific region, with little commercial production, that are suitable for partnerships with local groups. It is assumed that two hatchery facilities will operate without General Fund-State support by July 2010.

Reduce Fisheries Management Authority
Reductions are made to the expenditure authority for five accounts. No planned work will be reduced. (Special Wildlife Account-Federal, Sea Cucumber Dive Fishery Account Nonappropriated, Puget Sound Crab Pot Buoy Tag Account-Nonappropriated, Washington Coastal Crab Pot Buoy Tag Account-Nonappropriated, Recreational Fisheries Enhancement Account-State)

Less Scientific Assistance for Salmon Recovery

On a one-time basis, technical assistance to local salmon recovery efforts is reduced by 2.5 percent. This reduction means lead entities will have less access to engineering and biology technical support from the Department.

Eliminate Regional Fisheries Enhancement Group Advisory Board #

Funding is eliminated for the Regional Fisheries Enhancement Group Advisory Board. (Regional Fisheries Enhancement Group Account-Nonappropriated)

Restore Aviation Funding

As part of a re-evaluation of statewide aviation needs, funding is restored for the maintenance and operation of the Department’s Partenavia aircraft. The Partenavia is ideally suited for survey missions and fish planting, and will assist the Department of Natural Resources with fire suppression coordination.

Revenue Accounting Correction
The Department will correct the way in which payments to the contractor who developed and operates the Washington Interactive Licensing Database system are accounted. The contractor receives a fee from the license surcharge paid by users of that automated licensing system. The contractor’s fee has been treated as negative revenue, rather than as revenue into and expenditures out of the State Wildlife Account. Correcting this will require higher expenditure authority for the agency and increases accounted revenue by an equal amount. This accounting correction has no net fiscal impact. (State Wildlife Account-State)

Maintain Core Administrative Functions

The Department’s indirect rate for administration and overhead from federal grants has been reduced, resulting in a net loss of approximately $3.8 million for the 2009-11 Biennium. The lower revenue creates a deficit in basic administrative services, such as payroll, contracts, budget, and accounting. The Department will absorb roughly half of these impacts through vacancy management. Funding is provided on a one-time basis to partially restore the loss from the lower indirect rate. This funding allows the agency to avoid eliminating 26 administrative staff positions above the 28 positions eliminated in the 2009-11 Budget. (State Wildlife Account-State)

Operating Costs for New Wildlife Lands
In Fiscal Year 2009 the Department completed land acquisition transactions for 9,067 acres. These acres were acquired with legislatively approved and allocated capital funds through the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. The necessary operating funding to maintain these new land acquisitions is provided, enabling the Department to utilize and manage new wildlife areas, natural lands, and water access sites, and to provide safe access, clean toilets, and weed control.

Wildfire on Department of Fish and Wildlife Lands

One-time funding is provided for fire suppression activity costs incurred during Fiscal Year 2010. The majority of these costs are for on-site fire suppression, but also include restoring native perennial vegetation to control erosion and limit the spread of noxious weeds.

Payments in Lieu of Taxes and Assessments
Ongoing funding is provided to pay for statutorily required payments to local government entities. The Department is required to compensate counties for lost property tax revenue for department owned lands through payment in lieu of taxes. In addition, the Department pays local assessments for weed control, storm water management, lake management districts, and diking districts.

Derelict Gear Removal Technical Adjustment
Funding for derelict fishing gear removal is redistributed between fiscal years so that the program can operate steadily throughout the biennium.

Fund Support Programs Proportionately
Funding is provided to help replace General Fund-State subsidies that were eliminated in the 2009-11 Budget, using available fund balance in a dedicated account. As part of the Department’s review of how various funds contribute toward agency-wide services, funding ($210,000 per year) is provided beginning in Fiscal Year 2011 to pay for administrative support services proportionately. Another $250,000 per fiscal year will support the automated Washington Interactive Licensing Database system, allowing it to operate at its normal capacity after state general funds were eliminated. (State Wildlife Account-State)

Increase Hunter Access on Private Land

In response to the demand for additional hunting lands, the Department will bring 200,000 additional acres of private land under contract for recreational access. Contract leases provide a new revenue source for rural landowners, and the Department provides some funds for minor improvements to prevent or mitigate litter and vandalism. Hunting generates $350 million of economic activity annually, which is especially welcome in rural parts of the state. The program is funded through special hunting permit application fees. (State Wildlife Account-State)

What’s Fishin’ In Oregon

Highlights from the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife’s weekly Recreation Report include:

SOUTHWEST ZONE

  • Over 200 adult, fin-clipped coho were stocked into Galesville Reservoir recently. Anglers can harvest one of these fish per day as a “trout” over 20 inches. For information on boat launching conditions, call 541-837-3302.
  • Both the Smith and South Umpqua rivers open for winter steelhead fishing on Dec. 1.
  • Winter steelhead are starting to appear in many rivers and creeks, including the Chetco, Coos, Coquille, Rogue, Umpqua and Tenmile. Look for fishing to pick up after some good rain helps get fish moving.

NORTHWEST ZONE

  • Big Creek is low and clear. A few early winter steelhead are being caught. Expect angling to pick up over the next few weeks as more fish enter the system. This small stream is a good bet early in the season. Bobber and jig, spinners, or baits drifted along the bottom all will produce fish.
  • A few early winter steelhead are available in the Klaskanine system. Look for fishing to improve steadily over the next few weeks. More rain is needed to raise the stream to good, fishable levels. Use light gear and approach holes carefully to avoid spooking fish.
  • A few early winter steelhead are available in the lower Necanicum. A few chinook are still be in the river, but most are spawning and should be left alone. The river is very low.

WILLAMETTE ZONE

  • Large brood trout were released this week at several Willamette Valley ponds, including Junction City, Walter Wirth, Walling, West Salish, Mt. Hood, and St. Louis #6. The fish are 4- and 5-year-old rainbow trout from ODFW’s Roaring River hatchery and range in size from 8 to 18 pounds.
  • Winter steelhead are starting to arrive in the lower Willamette, Clackamas and Sandy rivers.
  • Sturgeon fishing is fair on the lower Willamette River.

CENTRAL ZONE

  • Good numbers of summer steelhead remain in the Deschutes primarily from Maupin upstream to Pelton Dam. The highest density of steelhead are likely to be from South Junction upstream to Warm Springs. Anglers are reporting good success on both flies and lures. As a reminder, the Deschutes River upstream of the northern border of the Warm Springs Indian Reservation closes December 31, 2009. Anglers who catch a tagged hatchery steelhead with an orange anchor tag, are encouraged to report catch information to ODFW at 541-296-4628 or via the internet at http://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/The_Dalles/fish_tag_returns.asp. Anglers catching a tagged wild fish should release it immediately without recording any information.

NORTHEAST ZONE

  • Water conditions on the Umatilla River have been low and clear and steelhead fishing has been good.

MARINE ZONE

  • Bottom fishing is good when ocean conditions permit. Ling cod should begin moving into shallower waters to spawn. Divers may find success spearing along rocky jetties for ling cod and black rockfish.
  • A series of minus tides starting around sundown on Sunday, Dec. 12, will provide clamming opportunities for those with lanterns. Recreational and commercial clam harvesting is open on the entire Oregon Coast, from the mouth of the Columbia River to the California border. This includes clam harvesting on beaches and inside bays.
  • Ocean crabbing opened Dec. 1. Crabbing in the ocean this time of year can be very productive, but also dangerous because of wind, sea and bar conditions.

Jacked Up

Let’s get the absurdly large number out of the way first.

Plugging 2009’s off-the-charts jack return past Bonneville Dam into the standard run-prediction model, anywhere from 1 million to 1.5 million adult spring Chinook could begin returning to the Columbia in the next few months.

Yeah, up to 1.5 million of the best-tasting fish in the solar system, all holding at some point in the Interstate hole.

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More upriver springers than have entered the big river in all the runs since 2002. And nearly four times as many as came back in 2001, the all-time record back to when they slapped all that concrete and steel across the Columbia on the eve of WWII.

Only problem is, the mathematical inputs to get a million-springer march are seriously suspect.

“I don’t think we’ll be predicting that, but I don’t know,” says Cindy LeFleur. “That’s just my personal opinion.”

Mike Matylewich is somewhat more certain: “I wouldn’t have a lot of confidence with that forecast.”

And Stuart Ellis is around 100 percent positive: “Nobody’s going out on a limb to say a record return, but we should see a pretty good run. But the crux is, what’s a pretty good run?”

LeFleur represents Washington on a panel of Columbia River fishery managers and biologists headed up by Ellis. It also includes the states of Oregon and Idaho, five Northwest tribal groups – repped by Ellis and Matylewich’s Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission – and three federal agencies, NMFS, USFWS and BIA.

A mil-plus springers is so stupendous that they’re all taking a much longer, harder look than usual at all the dam- and hatchery-count data, ocean conditions and what’s going on with other runs to figure out the 2010 preseason prediction. In the buildup to the expected Dec. 11 release, there has been “lots of meetings and lots of discussion about the causal factors to those high jack numbers and what to do about it,” says Ellis.

NEVER IN THE HISTORY of all jackdom have so many run up the Columbia as this year – 81,782 through June 15, the last day Chinook passing Bonneville are officially counted as springers. It pulverizes the old record, 24,363, set in 2000, which led to the biggest run since at least 1938, 439,895. And it begs the question, Why did all those so-called precocious, ready-to-breed 3-year-old salmon come back early to their tribs everywhere from Stevenson and Winthrop, Wash., to Orofino, Idaho, to Enterprise, Ore.?

Managers say they just don’t know.

According to Ellis, early speculation about what might have caused that “high jacking rate” included theories that some hatcheries were feeding their smolts richer fish chow or inriver conditions helped them get to the ocean quicker (the faster fish grow, the quicker they sexually mature, the more likely they are to jack). Another discounted suggestion was that they were just smaller than usual adults.

“What that kind of leaves is something going on in the ocean,” Ellis says.

Unlike fall Chinook which turn up in commercial catches out in the North Pacific and give some idea of where they roam, after just three or four months at sea, the biologists lose all sign of the prized spring salmon.

“We don’t know where they are, don’t know the factors affecting their survival,” says Ellis.

CLEARLY, COLD OCEAN TEMPS were a good thing for all Columbia stocks in ’09. But with springer returns the last five years coming in anywhere from 42 to 149 percent of forecast, and later and later too, there are now questions about whether the high numbers of jacks last April, May and June mean great survival for the entire year class of springers that went to sea in 2008, or just the jacks themselves.

“They may not mean much of anything for the adult run,” Ellis suggests.

And that’s a problem because managers generally use one year’s return of jacks and jills (3-year-old hens) to predict how many of their older brethren will return the following season, which in turn is important for fishermen.

If there are a lot of jacks, there should be a lot of adults and thus liberal bag limits; if there aren’t, there probably won’t be a big run and tighter rules govern.

Last year, 22,352 jacks came through Bonneville, roughly a quarter of this year’s return, and produced an adult run forecast just shy of 300,000, so ipso facto, 4 times 300,000 is …
Ellis was among a group whose “back of the envelope” jottings came up with a run size of 1 million to 1.5 million. But he says that it’s “unreasonable” to expect even a doubling of 2001’s record run.

So instead he and others are trying to figure out how to somehow “scale” the jack return to come up with a prediction.

“But what’s appropriate?” he asks. “We don’t know. We haven’t done this before.”

The only thing riding on it are, oh, say, impact limits to protect Endangered Species Act-listed wild spring Chinook which in turn dictate sport, tribal and commercial fisheries.

But far from giving Ellis a headache it’s part of what keeps him coming into the office and diving into data and the strange, strange ways of salmon.

“The fish are kinda doing their own thing. It’s a constant game to figure out what they’re doing, what’s affecting their survival and trying to nail it down,” he says. “These fish don’t let go of their mysteries as easily as we’d like them to.”

And while the mystery of how many may come in next year will begin to be unraveled this month, we won’t know for sure how accurate that guess is until next summer, when the run actually finishes up.

In the meanwhile, what should you and I expect?

“Be flexible in your fishing plans,” Ellis suggests. “We may see a whole lot more, or a whole lot less than we announce in December.”