OLYMPIA - The expected strong return of chinook salmon headed back to the Columbia River this season should make for some exceptional fishing along Washington's Pacific coast – as long as anglers don't catch too many wild coho salmon.
The early chinook fishery opens Saturday, (May 25) in Marine Areas 1 through 4, which is essentially from the Columbia River to the Neah Bay area. The fishery is open seven days a week through June 16, or until the season limit of 20,000 chinook has been taken. Anglers can keep two chinook a day, with a minimum size of 24 inches.
"This is a tremendous sport chinook fishing opportunity, the likes of which we haven't seen on our coast for at least two decades," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings.
Pre-season forecasts indicated a return of about 675,000 chinook returning to the Columbia River. That is nearly double last year's pre-season forecast of 365,000 chinook.
In sharp contrast to the anticipated chinook bounty is a projected weak return of Columbia River coho salmon. Biologists are forecasting a return of about 360,000 Columbia River coho this year, compared to last year's forecast return of about 1.5 million.
"Our over-arching conservation concern this year is for coho stocks returning to the Columbia River and Oregon's coastal streams," Koenings said. "We will carefully monitor the chinook fishery to insure we are not exceeding our coho by-catch estimates. Exceeding those estimates could mean a premature closure of the chinook fishery – whether or not there are chinook still available for harvest."
Anglers who hook coho should treat the fish with care. Keep the fish in the water, and avoid netting or boating the fish. Proper use of a de-hooking device can also reduce mortality.
Salmon fishing opens again on June 30 in Marine Area 2, and on July 7 in Marine Areas, 1, 3 and 4. Anglers should check the 2002/2003 "Sport Fishing in Washington" sport fishing rules pamphlet for additional season and catch limit information.