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Originally published Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 10:09 PM

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Forecast for coho returns looks promising | Outdoors

One Fish and Wildlife official calls the forecast coho returns "the best we've seen since 2009."

Seattle Times staff reporter

Reel Time Northwest

Seattle native and lifelong angler Mark Yuasa blogs on fishing in the Pacific Northwest.

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Some pieces to the summer salmon-fishing puzzle are finally fitting into place.

The Oregon Production Index, which provides ocean coho abundance forecasts, was released recently by fisheries officials.

The forecast calls for 716,400 coho to arrive off the Washington coast, compared to a preseason forecast of 632,700 last year, when 306,100 actually returned.

"The coho returns are a huge piece of the puzzle, and our (coastal and Columbia River) fisheries live and die by it," said Doug Milward, a state Fish and Wildlife coastal-salmon manager. "These coho numbers are the best we've seen since 2009."

The forecast in 2009 called for 1.2 million coho, with an actual return of about 1.05 million in what Milward called a "wonderful ocean coho fishery season."

The ocean sport fishery off the Washington coast has had about 80,000 hatchery coho quota for the past three years, and fisheries managers are optimistic with the status quo or a slightly higher catch total this summer.

"It will be something similar to that and possibly a little more," Milward said. "The good news is the better coho forecast gives us more fish to play with when we start the season-setting process."

As for chinook returns, it appears there could be somewhat more fish available for fisheries, as early Columbia River forecasts call for improved numbers compared to last year's.

The Columbia upriver bright chinook stock mainly headed to the Hanford Reach area. And the numbers destined for the Snake and Deschutes rivers should be strong this year, and above average or similar to the 2012 forecast of 466,500.

The 2012 fall adult chinook run in the Columbia River was predicted to be about 654,900, and the actual return was about 10 percent less.

A Lower Columbia fall chinook catch of 22,400 kept last year was the third-highest on record, and the 128,800 angler trips was the second-highest.

The early summer ocean hatchery chinook fishery opened last June off Ilwaco, Westport, La Push and Neah Bay with surprisingly decent catches. Charter boats were limiting right in front of Westport, and June 9-16 generated an average of 1 ½ chinook per rod (the daily limit was two).

When all was said and done, the early coastal summer fishery generated 5,500 angler trips with 5,400 hatchery chinook.

"The early summer hatchery chinook fishery will be one of the main things we'll talk about in our upcoming meetings, especially after such a successful season last year," Milward said.

Those good times rolled through the entire ocean summer salmon fishery until it closed in late September.

A good gauge of what to expect for chinook fisheries will be the coastwide tribal and nontribal commercial troll fishery, which begins May 1.

State Fish and Wildlife will unveil salmon forecasts 9 a.m.-3 p.m. March 1 at a public meeting in the Natural Resources Building, 1111 Washington St. S.E. in Olympia.

Preliminary drafts of possible salmon-fishing seasons for the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound will be made March 15 at the Natural Resources Building in Olympia; and March 27 at the Embassy Suites Hotel, 20610 44th Avenue W. in Lynnwood.

Final seasons will be set April 6-11. For a list of meetings, go to http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon.

More clam digs

Coastal razor clam diggers will see more opportunity in March after what has been a fantastic winter season. Digging is open Sunday at Twin Harbors and Long Beach; and Monday and Tuesday at Twin Harbors only. Digging is allowed after noon each day. Another brief dig is planned Feb. 23-24 at Long Beach and Twin Harbors.

Those will be followed by evening low-tide digs March 7-8 and 10 at Twin Harbors; and March 9-10 at Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis and Mocrocks.

The switch to morning tides are March 28 and March 31 at Twin Harbors; March 29-30 at Twin Harbors, Long Beach, Copalis and Mocrocks.

Fisheries managers say more digs will also be planned in April and May.

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

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