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Columbia could be flooded with spring chinook salmon

Salmon anglers on the Wind River, a Columbia River tributary in Skamania County, could have a whopping good time if forecasts hold true. (File)
Salmon anglers on the Wind River, a Columbia River tributary in Skamania County, could have a whopping good time if forecasts hold true. (File)

Signals for record run leave biologists wondering if forecast model is skewed

The biggest run of spring chinook salmon – almost a half million – since before construction of Bonneville Dam is forecast to enter the Columbia River in 2010.

A record-high return of 470,000 spring chinook is predicted for the Columbia River upstream of Bonneville Dam, although some scientists wonder if changing conditions have made their traditional forecasting models less accurate.

Nevertheless, especially big returns are expected from Drano Lake in Skamania County, with improving runs anticipated in the Willamette, Klickitat, Wind, Cowlitz and Lewis rivers, too. The Snake River should get a big share.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is forecasting 14,000 adult spring chinook will return to Wind River and a whopping 28,900 to Drano Lake, a large backwater at the mouth of the Little White Salmon River.

The agency also is predicting 12,500 spring chinook back to the Cowlitz River and 6,000 to the Lewis River. Yakama Indian Nation biologists are forecasting 4,500 to the Klickitat River.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is forecasting a run of 62,700 Willamette River spring chinook will enter the Columbia, up from 39,400 this year and just 27,000 in 2008.

That includes 47,000 hatchery-origin Willamette chinook.

Willamette spring chinook returns tend to be cyclical, with a recent high of 144,000 back in 2004.

Here’s a look at the six Washington tributaries with spring chinook:

Wind River: If 14,000 chinook return, it will be the largest since 2003, said Joe Hymer of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The return of jacks (3-year-olds) to the Wind River was the second best since at least 1970.

Wind River has popular fishery at its confluence with the Columbia just west of Home Valley. Anglers troll plugs such as Magnum Wiggle Warts along with spinners and herring.

The stream also has a productive in-river fishery in May.

Drano Lake: This year’s forecast of 28,900, if it materializes, would be the largest return since at least 1970, topping the recent-year record of 17,600 in 2002.

The jack return in 2009 was almost five times the previous high.

Drano Lake will be packed with trollers with such a large return forecasted.

Klickitat: The forecast of 4,500 is for the second-highest run since at least 1977.

The largest run is 5,250 fish in 1989, but that included 4,100 adult spring chinook from Carson National Fish Hatchery. A 2010 return of 4,500 would the largest return of Klickitat-only spring chinook.

Lewis: The forecast a year ago was 2,200 and the actual run was 1,900. That was the worst of the decade.

But the return of 3-year-old jack chinook was the best since the early 1990s, fueling the improved forecast of 6,000.

Kalama: The 2009 return of 350 was the second worst since at least 1980. The only worse year was 338 adults in 1985. The spawning goal is 500 spring chinook.

There’s reason expect some improvement in 2010, Hymer said.

Cowlitz: If the run of 12,500 materializes, it would double the recent five-year average.

A year ago, the forecast was 4,100 while the run came back slightly larger at 4,900.