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Originally published Saturday, February 23, 2013 at 4:14 PM

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If forecasts are right, the Columbia will be great for salmon fishing

Salmon anglers could see another blissful summer and fall fishing season. Fisheries officials are predicting a record 677,900 Columbia River...

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Salmon anglers could see another blissful summer and fall fishing season.

Fisheries officials are predicting a record 677,900 Columbia River fall chinook return, the highest since 2004 and greater than the 10-year average actual return of 547,900 and larger than 512,300 last year. The fall runs are split into six different stocks.

"I see the Columbia fall chinook forecasts as definitely being a good thing for our ocean and river fisheries," said Pat Pattillo, the assistant to the state Fish and Wildlife director. "While things are still in the very preliminary stages, it does give us a little more breathing room, and triggers an allowance for a slightly higher harvest."

"The early spring ocean fisheries (where only hatchery-marked chinook may be kept) are driven by these stocks, and we had such a great season last year," Pattillo said. "Mark rates in June were in the 70 to 80 percent range."

The Columbia River fall upriver bright stock is a record forecast of 432,500, and the highest actual return was 420,700 in 1987.

This stock tends to bite fairly well even when they arrive way up in the Hanford Reach area and as far as the Lower Snake River. Many are also caught in the Lower Columbia mainstem fisheries.

The hatchery portion of the upriver fall chinook return is also a record high forecast of 70,000. The actual return last year was 46,300 with a record high of 67,400 in 2003.

The lower river chinook forecast is 88,000, which is on par to the five-year average of 87,000 and the actual return last year of 84,800 (127,000 was the forecast).

The Columbia coho forecast of 716,400 (compared to a forecast of 632,700 last year, and an actual run of 306,100) was released a few weeks ago, and it's also looking much stronger compared to recent years.

Some Puget Sound forecasts have come to light, and anglers could see another decent summer season not only for chinook and coho, but for an abundant pink return.

"I don't have all the (forecast) numbers, but the Puget Sound fishing season might align well again," Pattillo said. "It looks like we'll have the same strength of chinook returns, and then it could roll right into coho plus pinks."

The Skagit River coho forecast is 120,000 to 130,000, which is almost twice as large as last year's prediction and higher than the actual return.

"I'm really excited about what I've seen so far, and you really need to grab ahold of all this optimism," Pattillo said.

While the Baker Lake sockeye forecast of 22,000 will be down from last year's prediction of 35,366, Pattillo says it should be enough to provide river and lake fisheries.

State Fish and Wildlife will unveil forecasts 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday at a public meeting in 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.

Lake Washington sockeye update

A glimmer of hope arrived last summer when an unexpected large return of 145,815 sockeye (45,871 was the forecast) returned to Lake Washington.

While it still fell short of the 350,000 spawning escapement goal, it did raise chances of seeing a fishery on the lake by 2016 provided their offspring fare well.

"We had one of the best hatchery fry productions, and a very good wild fry survival," said Frank Urabeck, a sport-fishing representative on Cedar River Adaptive Management Work Group.

There is a good chance that at least 35-million total fry will enter the lake by May — perhaps 12- to 15-million from the new hatchery and the remainder from wild production.

Urabeck says based on that 35-million there is a 50 percent chance a fishery could occur in 2016.

State Fish and Wildlife, under contract to Seattle Public Utilities, began operating the sockeye fry sampling trap in the Lower Cedar River on Jan. 24 with about 2,500 wild fry captured that night. That is just a small part of the total number of fry out-migrating during the first night of trapping operations.

The first release of hatchery sockeye occurred Feb. 4 with 790,000 fry passing directly into the Cedar River from the Landsburg hatchery. About a third or more of these fry will likely be lost from predation by rainbow trout and other fish during their 22 mile migration to Lake Washington, which can occur in just 24 hours.

"We've had very low stream flows and slower current in the river, and that leads to a higher mortality rate on juvenile fish," Urabeck said. "When you dump all those fry into the river it is like a swarm of food coming downstream so we could see higher predation."

"What happens in marine waters the following two or three years cannot be predicted with any certainty," Urabeck said. "Those are the only clouds on what could be a bright future."

While the bulk of the Lake Washington sockeye return in late summer and fall, some were coming back as late as January.

This coming summer the Lake Washington sockeye forecast is 97,000.

For a fishery to be considered, state Fish and Wildlife, tribal and other fish managers need to exceed the spawning goal, but many say that figure is inflated.

"There has been some discussion between state and tribes about revisiting that goal," said Urabeck, who feels it should land between 300,000 and 250,000.

The last time a sport and tribal fishery occurred was 2006, when 470,000 returned. That allowed an 18-day sport fishery, and was a great boost in the economy for all related industries and businesses.

Others sport fisheries occurred in 1996, 2000, 2002 and 2004.

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

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