‘Better late to the party than never’ was the theme of the day when Chetco River chinook salmon finally kept their date for a free ride to the Elk River Hatchery.

Earlier on Tuesday, Dave Kuehn of the Oregon South Coast Fishermen of Brookings admitted, “We are starting to get pretty worried,” after talking about how the fish failed to show up Oct. 29 during the group’s last attempt to capture some for the hatchery program.

The water was quiet, with few signs of any fish, as the boat began to let a net out in a big loop at Social Security Bar. But the quiet didn’t last long as the net was hauled in by a dozen volunteers, plus Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) staff.

State fish-seiner-in-chief Andrew Wells was both surprised and ecstatic to see more than 50 fish turn up in the first setting of the net. It took just one more set of the net to get the 80 fish needed for the ODFW hatchery program.

“We use that many to diversify the mix,” said Leonard Krug, president of Oregon South Coast Fishermen of Brookings. “It’s a really well-run, conservation-minded hatchery program.”

Each year, the group releases 40,000 to 50,000 fingerlings back into the Chetco River.

On Tuesday, it took quite some time to corner, tail, measure and decide which of the numerous fish to keep. Volunteers spent that time wrestling the fish and running them in relay teams to the truck.

The captured fish were a good mix of hatchery and native chinook, with several measuring longer than 35 inches.

Three coho, a federally protected species, were released unharmed from the net. According to Krug, the fish are not widely known to be in the Chetco River, although they showed up this day.

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