Ocean salmon outlook great

Salmon anglers planning on hitting the ocean this summer could be in for a stellar fishing season.

The total forecast, known as the Oregon Production Index (OPI), calls for more than 1.284-million coho to arrive off the coast, compared to an actual return of 736,300 (276,100 predicted) last year.

"It is the biggest number of coho we've seen since 2001, and I would like to think we'll have a good ocean fishery this summer," said Doug Milward, a state Fish and Wildlife salmon resource manager.

In 2001, the early coho return was predicted to be 1 million and late coho stock was 491,000.

"We saw a wonderful ocean fishery (in 2001), and we had something like a 300,000 coho quota split with recreational anglers and trollers," Milward said. "That was still a lot of fish, and they were there when the season opened."

Last summer, the coho catch quota was so small that fisheries managers had a tough time trying to make sure enough Columbia River wild coho made it back to spawning grounds, while carving any type of fishing off Ilwaco, Westport and north to Neah Bay.

In hindsight, coastal anglers last year were fishing under selective rules (only hatchery-marked coho with a missing adipose fin were kept) thus allowing a summer season to occur.

Even with the scrawny coho catch quotas, "last year we managed to stay open all season, but so few people were coming out and it was mainly because gas was almost $5 per gallon," Milward said. "I don't think we would be in that boat this coming season. People will come out when we put out a better prediction, and once people start catching their two fish it will lure others too."

Milward says the chinook numbers also look fairly decent this summer.

So what is behind this resurgence of coastal salmon?

"We had a marvelous upwelling and beautiful ocean conditions, and those young fish came out of the rivers and hit the ocean, found an abundant food source, and survived well from May clear into August," Milward said.

"We were out fishing in the ocean around the first of August, and we limited on kings that day, plus we foul hooked two young coho smolts while just fishing for kings," Milward said. "If it happened once we'd say OK that was a fluke, but when you turn a second young coho loose then you start to suspect something."