The number of adult fall-run Chinook salmon forecast to be swimming off the coast of California seems to be trending upward from last year. That was the good news delivered at last Wednesday's annual Ocean Salmon Information meeting hosted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The number of Sacramento River fall-run Chinook salmon predicted in the ocean this season is 396,458 compared to 271,000 last year, a 45-percent increase. This year's ocean abundance for the Klamath River also came in above the 2021 forecast, with 200,100 adult fall Chinook salmon predicted to be in the ocean. Although an improvement, it's still well below the stock's historical levels.
Even with an increase in ocean abundance, both commercial and recreational anglers will likely face tougher restrictions this year to protect the Klamath stocks. One of the main reasons behind the restrictions is the harvest rate of 4-year-old Klamath fall Chinook. The harvest rate is currently set at a maximum of 16 percent. In 2021, the harvest rate shot up to 27 percent, mainly due to the Klamath salmon intermixing with the Sacramento fall run in the San Francisco Bay region, where the baitfish were plentiful. This concentration of both stocks also made them vulnerable to sport and commercial anglers.
The Klamath, where the fall-run Chinook were declared overfished in 2018, is also lagging in adults and jacks returning to the river. In 2021, 64,591 adults returned, which is just 54 percent of the historical average. And the 2 year olds, or jacks, were also well short of long-term averages. Last year 10,384 returned, 60 percent of average. These low returns have led to years of missed natural escapement numbers. In 2021, the natural escapement objective was 31,574 but just 30,196 were counted. The geometric mean of adult natural escapement for the past three years is 25,111, which is well short of the minimum floor escapement of 40,700. A whopping 85,251 natural area spawners are necessary in 2022 for the stock to be considered rebuilt.
What the PFMC chooses to do with these numbers will be determined in the next couple of months. Up next, the PFMC will meet March 8 through March 14 in San Jose to determine whether any in-season actions are required for fisheries scheduled to open prior to May 16. They will also craft three regulatory alternatives for ocean salmon fisheries in effect on or after May 16. Final adoption of alternatives for public review is tentatively scheduled for March 14. To view the salmon preseason process, visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Salmon/preseason.
The weather ahead
According to Jonathan Garner of Eureka's National Weather Service office, the weather pattern looks more favorable for rain starting Saturday. "We'll likely see slightly less than a half inch of rain between Saturday afternoon and Sunday." He added, "There is the potential for heavier rainfall on Monday. Right now, there's a 40 to 60 percent chance of an inch or greater falling. There is some rain forecast for Tuesday, but after that it looks like we'll be dry through the rest of the week."
Bass Tourney coming to Ruth Lake April 2
The Alderpoint Volunteer Fire Department is hosting its first Roger Coleman Sr. Memorial Bass Tournament on Saturday April 2 at Ruth Lake. Check in is Friday night between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. or Saturday morning between 4 and 5:30 a.m. This is a catch and release tournament with a 13-inch minimum length. Blast off is 7 a.m. or at first safe light. For more information, call Thomas Bruce at (707) 223-6258 or Roger Coleman Jr. at (707) 223-3858.
As of Wednesday, the South Fork Eel, Middle Fork Eel, Mattole, Redwood Creek, Van Duzen and Mad are currently closed to fishing due to low flows. The South Fork Eel is closed from its mouth to Rattlesnake Creek. The Middle Fork Eel is closed from its mouth to Bar Creek. The Mattole is closed to fishing from the mouth to Honeydew Creek. Redwood Creek is closed from its mouth to the confluence with Bond Creek. The Van Duzen is closed from its junction with the Eel River to the end of Golden Gate Drive near Bridgeville (approximately 4,000 feet upstream of Little Golden Gate Bridge. The Mad is closed from the Hammond Trial Railroad Trestle to Cowan Creek. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife will make the information available to the public no later than 1 p.m. each Monday, Wednesday and Friday as to whether any stream will be closed to fishing. The rivers can be opened up at any time. The low flow closure hotline for North Coast rivers is (707) 822-3164.
Eel River (main stem)
As of Wednesday, flows were right around 1,180 cubic feet per second at Scotia. The water is low and clear, and the fishing remains up and down. The few boats still fishing are getting a chance at a few fish per trip. There are still plenty of fresh fish moving in.
The Smith is back under 900 cfs as of Wednesday. There are fish in the river, including fresh ones, but the conditions are tough. The water is extremely clear and you'll need to be stealthy to get bit consistently.
Southern Oregon Rivers
"After dropping below 400 cfs, the Chetco got a much-needed boost in flows last week, reaching 3,000 cfs while giving steelhead anglers their best action since early January," said Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. "Big numbers of steelhead were caught Thursday, Friday and Saturday before the action stalled somewhat on Sunday. The river will be low and clear again by the end of this week before another storm arrives next week. Steelhead are spread throughout the river, with a mix of wild and hatchery fish, with about half of the catch downrunners. Steelhead fishing has remained slow on the lower Rogue, but has improved near Grants Pass. The Elk and Sixes both fished well over the weekend, but could be too low to drift again by this weekend. Plenty of fresh steelhead were caught on both rivers after last week's big rain."
Brookings ocean report
Calm ocean conditions are expected Thursday and Friday out of Brookings, according to Martin. "The sport fleet was sidelined by wind and stormy seas last week. Monday was fishable, but still choppy. Limits of rockfish have been quick. Lingcod are biting on calmer weather days."
Kenny Priest (he/him) operates Fishing the North Coast, a fishing guide service out of Humboldt specializing in salmon and steelhead. Find it on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and www.fishingthenorthcoast.com. For up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information, email [email protected].