Chinook to make strong run up Columbia in 2009

VANCOUVER, Wash. -- Here is the number anglers have been waiting to learn: An excellent run of 298,900 spring chinook salmon is forecast to enter the Columbia River in 2009 destined for waters upstream of Bonneville Dam.

If accurate, that would be the biggest return since 2002.

Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said the forecast was developed Monday by a committee including state, federal and tribal biologists.

"Spring chinook are more difficult than some salmonids to develop accurate, specific forecasts," LeFleur said. "We know we had the second-best jack count on record in 2008 and believe this run will be a large one."

Spring chinook are the glory fish of the Columbia. They are exceptional table fare and return to the river in March and April, just as the days are lengthening, warming and sportsmen need a fix after six months of cabin fever.

Long lines and crowded boat ramps are the signature of spring chinook seasons. It's not uncommon to arrive at a boat ramp at 6 a.m. and find the parking lot full.

In 2008, a large fleet of trollers had three weeks of very good success literally underneath the Interstate 5 Bridge.

"It's the most anticipated fishery of the year," said Dan Grogan of Vancouver, president of Fishermen's Marine and Outdoor, a retailer with stores in north Portland and Oregon City. "I get call after call asking what spring chinook looks like."

Good spring salmon fishing fuels healthy sales of tackle and bait. Boat dealers say good spring salmon angling helps spark boat sales in the subsequent 12 months.

"It's the first time you put your boat in the water for the year," Grogan said. "If it gets off to a good start, it helps the whole season. If it's a downer (spring), the rest of the year tends to fall off, or at least start slower."

LeFleur said the prediction was made by comparing the return of jacks (age 3) to age 4 chinook for the 1990 through 2004 brood years and the relationship of age 4 to age 5 spring chinook for the 1990 to 2003 brood years.