Columbia Fall Chinook Forecast Released, Up Over 2019’s Prediction, Actual Return

In what feels like a winter of almost never-ending bad news that has Northwest sportsmen in a very foul mood, there’s a sliver of hope this morning.

MORNING AT “BUOY 10” … OR AT LEAST A FEW KLICKS EAST OF THERE NEAR THE ASTORIA-MEGLER BRIDGE. (BRIAN LULL, NORTHWEST SPORTSMAN)

Columbia salmon managers expect the fall Chinook run to be larger than last year’s.

Granted, last year’s run up the big river was a sliver of any one of last decade’s glory years — 2013, 2014 and 2015, which each saw a million-plus fish.

But the February forecast out this morning from the DFWs says 431,000 are expected overall in 2020.

That compares to the 2019 winter prediction of 340,400 and the actual return of 375,700.

Officially, managers term it “some improvement” over last year.

“I think fall Chinook will be the season’s savior,” notes Robert Moxley, a Columbia River Recreational Advisory Group member.

Indeed, this year’s Columbia spring Chinook run — the season for which was set this week — is expected to be among the lowest of the past 10 years, while the summer king forecast is about the same as last year though sockeye are expected to sharply increase.

Those last two will perk up the ears of the Upper Columbia fleet, but as for the boys and girls down at the buoy …

Columbia coho, which were supposed to be the “silver lining” last fall but weren’t whatsoever, are expected to produce another weak return.

That means state managers will need to get creative as they begin to craft fishing seasons up and down the Columbia.

Coming up with the forecasts is among the first steps in that process, which will culminate in early April as North of Falcon wraps up in Vancouver.

Last year saw a 21-day Chinook season at Buoy 10 (but two-salmon limit based on the coho forecast), an early closure for kings below Bonneville and a reduced bag limit in the Reach.

As for the actual Columbia fall Chinook forecasts, there are seven stocks and four of them are expected to see “improved” returns, according to the DFWs.

Those include lower river wilds returning to the Lewis, Bonneville Pool tules, pool upriver brights and — importantly — upriver brights returning to the Hanford Reach and elsewhere in the Inland Northwest.

They are forecast to come in at 117, 170, 55 and 80 percent of the 10-year average, respectively.

Ocean conditions have declined for Columbia salmon since the mid-2010s due to The Blob, the persistent marine heatwave that reduces productivity and moves forage species around.

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