Columbia spring Chinook managers are preliminarily considering an initial fishery below Bonneville that would run seven days a week through Friday, April 5, and provide an overall kept catch of 4,424 of the year’s first salmon.
A final decision won’t come until a Columbia River Compact call scheduled for February 21, and depending on how the run comes in fishing could always actually close earlier or stay open a few more days, but ODFW and WDFW met with sportfishing advisors this afternoon to present that early option and talk about other fishery modeling for the 2024 season.
As always, the popular fishery is constrained by a host of factors, from this year’s preseason prediction of 121,000 upriver-bound springers, including 9,200 natural-origin Snake River fish, to a 30 percent runsize buffer off the top to guard against a blown forecast, a 1.6 percent Endangered Species Act nontreaty fishery impact rate, catch sharing between fisheries, and nonconcurrent allocation differences between Washington and Oregon.
After you get out your slide rule and punch all of those variables into your handy dandy calculator, up pops the number 3,906, the total upriver spring Chinook mortalities that are available below Bonneville to recreational anglers prior to May’s runsize update, about 40 percent fewer than 2023’s 6,487 fish.
According to the DFWs, modelers based their calculations on 2018’s similar-sized run. They estimate that the Lower Columbia sport fleet and plunkers would be expected to burn through 3,334 of those 3,906 available upriver mortalities through April 5, leaving a balance of 572 while yielding a total kept catch of 4,424 springers.
(Hatchery Chinook from the Willamette, Cowlitz and other lower river tributaries contribute to the overall catch below Bonneville.)
That first week or two of April is about the time that catch rates can really ramp up for anglers and guides as the run starts to build – and give managers headaches as they try to balance prosecuting the fishery while protecting ESA-listed stocks.
Keeping springers open one more day on the Lower Columbia, through Saturday, April 6, would put the catch balance 96 fish over, while running it through the full weekend would blow it out by 765, according to the DFWs’ modeling.
Going over could come back to bite folks in the butt, especially if the run ultimately comes in low and doesn’t cover the overage.
Also being mulled today, fisheries on the mainstem Columbia from the upper Bonneville Pool east to the state line above McNary Dam, so-called Zone 6. There, options range from April 1-May 2 to just May 1-6 to tap into the 558 upriver mortalities.
Another 493 fish are available for harvest on Washington’s Snake, while 279 more springers are left unallocated due to nonconcurrence between the states.
Meanwhile, back down below Bonneville, management documents indicate that there would not be any bubbles around the mouths of the Cowlitz and other Lower Columbia tribs that a few years ago were struggling to meet broodstock goals. Catch modeling also assumes the usual bank-only fishing above Beacon Rock and bank and boat fishing from there down to Buoy 10.
On a related note, ODFW has already made the call to allow spring Chinook anglers to fish with two rods on the Willamette with the endorsement starting as early as March 1 below the falls, thanks to a forecast of 48,800, which is about 10,500 more than 2023, though recent years’ predictions haven’t all panned out to preseason prognostications.