Chinook salmon were the topic of boom and gloom last week during the Big Horn Outdoor Adventure Show.
Washington is forecast to be flooded with a record 1.6 million fall chinook headed to the Columbia River this season. For perspective, the record 2013 returns of a million fish exceeded the best previous year on record by around 400,000 fish.
Meanwhile, the world- famous runs of monster kings to Alaska’s lower Kenai River will be closed to fishing or severely restricted this year because of record lows.
Even an Alaska guide who came all the way from the Juneau area to promote his business at the Spokane sportsman’s show was downplaying the fish that normally puts the fat in an outfitter’s wallet.
Michael Legowski of Elfin Cove Resort – an idyllic hideaway on the coast – was advising potential clients that nonresidents must pay $55 for a king salmon permit in Southeast Alaska even though they can keep only one fish for the season.
“But our coho and halibut fishing is still great,” he said. “You can catch six coho and two halibut a day and then go out the next day and do it again. Anglers can fill fish boxes pretty darn fast.”
In contrast, just up the aisle at the Big Horn Show, Elmer Hill was beaming from his Mid Columbia River Guide Service booth.
“Word’s out about the record run (forecast for the Columbia),” he said. “If you want to get in on the action, you need to book as early as possible. Most Columbia River guides already are nearly full.”
A good forecast run of spring chinook should peak in the mid-Columbia around May 1 before the scheduled May 9 closure. A second season could be opened on June 1, depending on the run size and catch rates.
Late-summer and early-fall trips are booking fast for the colossal forecast run of big upriver brights to the Hanford Reach.
“If a group cancels – usually it takes something like a death in the family – I’ll fill the slots from my waiting list,” he said. “Whoever answers the phone first wins.”
Some procrastinators want to catch a king so bad they’ll wait along the Columbia at the launch in case a guide’s first group limits quickly.
“Last year was a record run and the fishing was so good some days I’d limit with five anglers and come back and take out another group,” Hills said. “One day last year I even took out a third group. We were out until after dark but we got our fish.”
Meantime, he said, catch-and-keep sturgeon fishing is open upstream from The Dalles Dam. “People get so focused on salmon that they forget about that,” Hill said.
Skipper Jim Richson of Top Notch Charters in LaPush was upbeat about the flood chinook forecast to migrate along the Washington coast.
“We had our best king season in nine years last year and this year could be even better,” he said.
He honestly pointed out that no one can predict when the salmon will stack up in that area. “I’ve had to run south toward Westport to find them sometimes.”
But there are other advantages to fishing one of only three charter boats operating out of this quiet Olympic Peninsula port: “Sometimes we get to offer two kings in the daily limit when other areas can offer only one a day,” Richson said.
“And there’s no rough Columbia bar to cross to get out the ocean. Because of the rocky nature of the northwest coast, we motor only a quarter mile and we’re into deep water.”
But one old salt on the Washington Coast is too calloused to be too optimistic about predictions for big chinook runs. Milt Gudgell has been dumped like the baggage from a busted romance more than once.
Asked if he was excited about the 1.6 million chinook plus another million coho bound for his fishing area, the Pacific Salmon Charters skipper didn’t blink.
“It will be good if they don’t foul it up when they set the seasons,” he said.
That’s the perspective an Ilwaco charter boater who’s been fishing all the ups and downs of the Pacific salmon since 1962.
“Whenever the states of Oregon, Washington, the tribes and the federal government get together, you never know what’s going to happen.”
He was referring to the North of Falcon salmon fishing season setting that will be completed April 5-10 in Vancouver. “Seems that Canada has put some fish on their endangered species list and that might affect us.”
After he vented a bit about the regulations salmon fishing outfitters have had to endure over the last few decades, he got around to being optimistic.
“With 2.6 million salmon coming to our doorstep, the ocean fishing should be good from day one when the season opens in June.”
Another perspective was offered at a Kenai Peninsula fishing outfitter’s booth staffed by Dick Anderson of Spokane.
“It’s pretty rough for Kenai guides,” he said noting that the early season has been canceled on the lower river that produced the world-record 97 pound chinook. “No word yet about the late season.
“We’ll be fishing sockeye and coho this summer, but, of course, we’re famous for the kings.”
Asked if the guides at RW’s Fishing on the Kenai Peninsula were angry at the fishing closures, he said nobody wants to be the one who catches the last Kenai king.
“Truth is, they’re 10 or more years late with the restrictions on the Kenai,” he said. “Alaska Fish and Game is under a lot of political pressure, but they should have been restricting both the sport and commercial seasons a long time ago when the symptoms were showing.”
Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email firstname.lastname@example.org