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Originally published Saturday, December 8, 2012 at 8:01 PM

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Columbia upriver spring chinook forecast down but solid

The first day of winter is less than two weeks away, but many salmon anglers are catching spring fever. Fishery managers announced the 2013...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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The first day of winter is less than two weeks away, but many salmon anglers are catching spring fever.

Fishery managers announced the 2013 Columbia River upriver spring chinook forecast of 141,400, which would be the 12th largest return since 1985.

"The forecast is down from what we're used to seeing in recent years, but it's still not one of the worst ever and could be an average-size return," said Kathryn Kostow, Oregon Fish and Wildlife and Columbia River Technical Advisory Committee chairman, comparing data back to the 1980s.

Predictions on spring chinook returns vary wildly and can be inaccurate. Last year's forecast of 314,200, which would have been the fourth-largest since 1980, fell far short at 203,100.

The largest spring chinook return on record was 416,500 (364,600 was the forecast) in 2001, and the worst was 9,800 (12,000) in 1995.

A forecast for another popular spring chinook fishery, the Willamette River, could be out this week.

Washington Fish and Wildlife is finalizing spring chinook forecasts for the Cowlitz, Kalama and Lewis, tributaries of the Lower Columbia River.

The forecast in tributaries above Bonneville Dam such as Wind River, White Salmon River and Drano Lake usually come out in late January.

The Columbia River spring chinook are highly sought after for their tasty Omega-3 laced, red-orange-colored meat similar to Alaska's Copper River salmon.

A few early spring chinook return in January and February, but the height of the run is March and April.

Fishing last season was slow through March, and then ramped up in April. Fishing last season below Bonneville Dam was supposed to close April 6, but stayed open until April 22.

Spring chinook fishing opens Jan. 1 in the Columbia River downstream of I-5 Bridge. Daily limit is six hatchery-marked salmon, and two may be adult fish.

A total of 114,675 angler trips were taken on the Lower Columbia last season, with 13,332 adult spring chinook kept (11,105 kept from April 1-22) and 2,409 released.

Fisheries managers also released a forecast of 73,500 Upper Columbia summer chinook compared to 91,200 last year with an actual return of 58,300. These fish are commonly known as "June Hogs" for their size. A sport fishery has steadily grown in early summer targeting hatchery kings.

Fishing seasons will be decided Jan. 30 by state, federal and tribal fishery managers in Portland.

Word on razors

Some of the best low tides are happening during the next coastal razor clam digs beginning Tuesday.

"We've also expanded the opening at Long Beach with one extra day of digging on Dec. 16," said Dan Ayres, the head state Fish and Wildlife coastal shellfish manager.

Ayres said a total of 4,600 diggers harvested 36,000 razor clams from Nov. 26 to Dec. 1, but stormy weather hampered success and turnout. Digging was excellent Nov. 26-28 before the storms at Twin Harbors, where many had their .

Digs are: Tuesday through Thursday at Twin Harbors; Friday and Saturday at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks; and Dec. 16 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks. Digging is open after noon each day.

Other tentative dates are: Dec. 28 at Twin Harbors; Dec. 29 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors and Mocrocks; Dec. 30-31 at Long Beach, Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks.

Mark Yuasa: 206-464-8780 or myuasa@seattletimes.com

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