FISHING — Big is still the operative term for the spring chinook salmon fishery nosing into the Columbia River.
Last year it was a big run. This year the emphasis is on the proportion of fish in the run that are big.
The forecast is for 198,400 upriver spring chinook returning to the Columbia bound for upstream this year, close to the 10-year average — the eighth largest run since 1980 — but well below last year's huge run of 423,000 fish.
The upside: more than 100,000 of those fish are forecast to be five-year-olds, going 18-30 pounds or larger, compared to only 26,000 of the larger fish last spring, said Joe Hymer, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department salmon specialist in Vancouver.
In other words, expect fewer chinook than last year but a much higher percentage of five-year-old jumbo kings.
Of the 198,400 upriver spring chinook expected to return to the mouth of the Columbia, about 66,000 should be hatchery fish bound for the Snake River and 24,000 should be wild Snake River fish.
Last year about 134,000 chinook bound for the Snake River returned at least as far as the mouth of the Columbia.
Idaho and Washington fish and wildlife managers will meet in March to discuss Snake River spring chinook seasons. If approved, about 600 chinook could be harvested from the lower Snake River, Washington Fish and Wildlife biologists say.
Glen Mendel, WDFW fisheries biologist in Dayton, said it's unlikely the state will be able to open all four areas where fishing was allowed in 2010.