Columbia Sockeye Run Off To Fast Start

Big run? Record run? Just an early run?

It’s hard to say for sure, but the sockeye count at Bonneville Dam is popping eyebrows and raising expectations.

Through yesterday, 135,847 have been tallied at the lowest dam on the Columbia River, nearly 79,000 fish more than the 10-year average, a period that includes the two highest returns on record.


This year’s run also tied for the fastest to reach six digits, doing so on June 19, the same date 2016’s fish did.

And that’s where the asterisks might be pencilled in.

Even as 2016 started off like an Olympic sprinter in a 100-meter dash, it ended up with 342,498 fish, a total that is about midpack since 2008 and the modern rise of the run.

A fact sheet out from the DFWs earlier this week also noted that the Columbia at Bonneville is flowing well below the recent five-year average for this time of year, 199,000 cubic feet per second versus 264,000, and a degree cooler, 60 versus 61, and perhaps those are affecting timing.

“It is possible the run is early and/or larger,” allowed Ryan Lothrop, WDFW’s Columbia River manager.

He said that the U.S. v. Oregon Technical Advisory Committee, or TAC, will meet this coming Monday to review the sockeye run, as well as Upper Columbia summer Chinook.

That could lead to a runsize update for the sockeye run if managers feel we’ve reached the halfway point of the return, and that might help shake more fish loose into the bag limit further up the big river.

That’s all to be determined.

What will also be interesting to watch is how high 2024’s daily counts get over the coming week or so.

In 2022, which holds the crown for the record return – 663,253 – since 1938’s construction of Bonneville Dam and counting began, there were three straight 50,000-plus-fish days in a row in late June, topping out at 56,333 on June 27. If this year can muster a stretch like that, or set a spectacular new single-day high mark, 2024 might have a chance of setting a new record.

Most of these sockeye are heading for the Canadian side of the Okanogan/Okanagan River, thanks to reintroductions and fish passage work earlier this century. They will provide good fishing in the Tri-Cities area, a fishery featured in our June issue, before continuing on to the Brewster Pool, featured in our July issue.

A fair share are also expected back to Chelan County’s Lake Wenatchee – also featured in July; cross your fingers for 23,000 fish at Tumwater Dam – with smaller numbers returning to the upper Yakima Basin, Idaho and the Deschutes.

Meanwhile, Columbia anglers have not only been plunking up sockeye on the lower river downstream of Bonneville, but also an apparently strong run of hatchery summer steelhead and more than a couple hatchery summer kings.