The Curry Coastal Pilot

SMITH RIVER andndash; Big king salmon are surging into the fish trap at Rowdy

Creek Hatchery at such a rate the all-time record will likely be broken

sometime this week.

Through Friday morning, 2,519 fall Chinook had been counted at the

hatchery, which supplies salmon and steelhead for fisheries on the Smith

River. Most of the fish were released back into Rowdy Creek after

entering the hatchery fish trap, but some have been kept to spawn.

Last year, 2,775 salmon returned to the hatchery, breaking the 1997 record of 1,186 adult salmon.

"It's pretty exciting," says hatchery manager Andy Van Scoyk. "It's amazing we are going to break the record so easily this year."

Nearly 300 salmon arrived at the hatchery on Wednesday, and another 200 were counted on Thursday. When Van Scoyk checked the trap Friday morning, more salmon could be seen inside, while dozens more splashed in the creek below.

"There are a lot of big fish this year," Van Scoyk said. "There is a really good number of 4-year-old fish."

While the average size fish appears to be more than 30 pounds, the hatchery says hundreds of fish over 40 pounds and five over 50 pounds have returned so far. One of the fish was just under 60 pounds.

"We've had lots of fish, good quality fish, great fishing and great water conditions this year," said guide Mick Thomas, who serves on the board of directors of the hatchery.

Thomas credits the hatchery, which is non-profit and relies on donations and fund-raisers to operate, for helping fuel this year's big return of salmon on the Smith.

"The crew at the hatchery has always done an outstanding job," Thomas said. "Their track record shows it. It's one of the finest crews on the whole West Coast."

The year-to-date numbers at the hatchery are almost double the tally through Dec. 3 last year. Through Thursday, 1,127 adult males had returned to the hatchery, compared to 656 at the same time in 2009. Another 1,281 adult female salmon had returned, well up from the 690 a year ago. The jack count, however, was down, at 111 compared to 509 at the same time in 2009.

The number of fish the hatchery raises is limited by the state, so most of the salmon are returned to Rowdy Creek after they are counted and marked.

In addition to the thriving run of kings returning to the hatchery, this season's early steelhead returns are well above average. Forty-nine steelhead, most of them hatchery fish, had returned to the fish trap as of Thursday, compared to 10 at the same time last year.

Van Scoyk and Thomas credit good water conditions in the river, and outstanding ocean conditions for this year's bumper crop of salmon.

Guide David Castellanos, who watched as salmon were being taken from the fish trap Friday morning, said another good run is expected next year. He said the large return of jacks last year serves as an indicator for the number of big 4-year-old salmon expected to come back in 2011.

Visitors are welcome to watch the fish return to the hatchery. The best time to view the fish is between 1 and 4 p.m.