2012 Klamath River Chinook predictions high
Written by Larry Ellis, fishing columnist   
March 10, 2012 05:29 am

Brookings residents John Stover and Rex Trout fished aboard the Kingfish on Thursday and nailed these lings on herring they recently caught in the Crescent City harbor. The Pilot/Larry Ellis
 

Fishing report for 

March 2-8

While I don’t claim to be a poet, the title of a new hit single, “The KMZ Has a Hold On Me” has been running through my head like a broken record. That’s because this year’s projection of 1,651,800 Klamath River kings swimming in the ocean has rekindled the lost salmon spark of many Chinook aficionados, including me.

 

 

The words king and Chinook are names for the same species of salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha to be exact, but no matter what you want to call them, they will be available in the ocean to Brookings anglers this year – weather permitting, of course.

Most Chinook are designated as either north- or south-migrating fish, meaning, they tend to head in a particular direction in order to find food. Chetco Chinook, for example, are south-migrating fish. They’re rarely caught above Humbug Mountain.

But Klamath River Chinook are an enigma. They don’t really venture very far from their river mouth. Far, of course is a relative term, because they do travel both ways from the middle, covering an area from Humbug Mountain in southern Oregon as far south as Horse Mountain, California, an area called the KMZ.

There are also going to be a lot of salmon originating from the Sacramento in the ocean this year. The Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s (PFMC) Salmon Technical Team (STT) makes these salmon predictions, and they have also projected that there will be 819,400 Sacramento Chinook salmon doing flipper kicks in the ocean as well. Together, these combined stocks total 2,471,200 Chinook that will be available for salmon fishermen this year.

Last week, Richard Heap, Oregon sport fisheries representative for the Salmon Advisory Subpanel, attended a seven-day meeting of the PFMC in Sacramento to hash out three different salmon options for Washington, Oregon and California. When the phone rang, Rich was on the other end.

“What do you want to hear about salmon – other than sharpen your hooks and buy bait?” he said.

That was about the best news I have heard in years. Rich was obviously excited about the salmon options, and so was I. It looks like we’re going to finally get a good season this year with fish to match. All three options look OK to me, but I’m kind of partial to option 1, because it gives us a chance to also have some coho opportunity as well.

For the Brookings area, from Humbug Mountain down to the California/Oregon border, option 1 calls for a Chinook opener that begins May 1 and extends through September 9. That’s 132 continuous days of fishing.

In option 1 there is also a mark-selective coho fishery that extends from Cape Falcon to the Oregon/California border lasting from July 1 through the earlier of July 31 or until a landed catch of 14,000 coho is attained. A mark-selective coho fishery means you would only be permitted to take adipose fin-clipped (hatchery) coho.

The coho fishery may or may not occur in our area though, depending if other areas north of Humbug Mountain get a non-mark-selective coho fishery. Non-mark-selective means you can keep either wild or hatchery coho.

A 14,000 coho quota could conceivably be met in a couple of weeks under ideal sea and weather conditions, so that proposal is looking a little iffy for folks south of Humbug Mountain.

“We’re going to try and stick some coho fishing in the zone if we can,” said Heap. “The public sentiment on this issue is that they overwhelmingly do not want to go to mark-selective fishing. They want to catch the first two fish (coho) they can and quit.”

Last year’s non-marked-selective coho fishery was so popular that the 6,000-coho quota was reached in four days, so if we south of Humbug do not get a coho fishery, it won’t hurt my feelings one bit, because the high projections of Chinook that are anticipated should well make up for a lack of a silver (coho) fishery.

Anyway, it’s kind of like this. Since the KMZ is expected to get a banner year of Chinook, I think that it wouldn’t be a problem at all in giving up some or all of our coho quota to other areas of the state, if need be.

But here’s another thing to consider. The projections made for ocean abundance of Klamath and Sacramento River fish were not based on the same formula. Both rivers had approximately 85,000 jacks return to their river basins in 2011, practically identical figures: 85,719 jacks went to the Sacramento while 85,840 jacks returned to the Klamath. That’s only a difference of 121 fish.

If the same fish-abundance formula was applied to both rivers, you would think that the same amount of adults would be swimming in the ocean per river. But the projected ocean abundance of fish from Klamath origin almost doubles the projected ocean abundance of fish from Sacramento origin.

The formula actually used for ocean abundance of Sacramento River fish was based on the last three years (2009, 2010 and 2011) of data, because the preseason forecasts exceeded the postseason estimates, by something like 35 percent.

Had the STT used the same formula as they always have used to project Sacramento River ocean abundance, the figure would have been 2.2 million Chinook.

But because of the over-projection of preseason versus postseason fall Chinook, the 2.2 million Chinook figure was whittled down by approximately 35 percent to get the present 819,400 Chinook ocean abundance estimate.

But just for a thought experiment, what if that 2.2-million Sacramento figure comes to fruition? That would make an overwhelming 3,851,800 kings available to anglers this year.

I doubt that last figure would happen, but trust me on this one, everybody has their eyes carefully peeled on this figure, because it could conceivably happen.

But let’s take a worst-case scenario and say that the scientists have over-projected their original estimates by over 50 percent. Just for the sake of argument, let’s cut those original projection figures in half.

That would mean that there would still be 409,700 Chinook from the Sacramento and 825,900 Chinook from the Klamath at everyone’s disposal in the ocean this year, for a grand total of 1,235,600 Chinook! Any way you slice it, everyone is going to get a piece of the Chinook Pie. The fishing at the very least, is going to be phenomenal. Start counting down to May 1.

Tight lines!