Fall Klamath kings return in smaller numbers

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Mara Nursement of Alta, CA landed this nice Smith River steelhead last Friday while taking part in the Rowdy Creek Steelhead Derby. The big steelhead measured 36 inches long and was the largest fish landed in the two-day derby that took place last weekend. Nursement was fishing with guide Patrick Burns, pictured right, of North Coast River Adventures. Photo courtesy of North Coast River Adventures/Patrick Burns

The handwriting has been on the wall for a couple years now. Stuck in the midst of a 4-year drought and on the heels of a sub-par ocean salmon season along the North Coast, it should come as no surprise that the number of returning Fall Chinook to the Klamath Basin in 2015 came in below forecasts. According to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC), who recently completed their preliminary stock assessment evaluation, the 2015 preliminary postseason river run size estimate for Klamath River Fall Chinook (KRFC) was 77,749 adults compared to the preseason-predicted river run size of 119,800. Only 28,120 adults escaped to natural spawning areas, which was well below the 40,700 adult needed for the conservation objective.

The estimated hatchery return was 11,085 adults. Jack returns to the Klamath Basin totaled 6,097 including 3,476 that escaped to natural spawning areas.

Spawning escapement to the upper Klamath River tributaries (Salmon, Scott, and Shasta Rivers), totaled 10,682 adults. The Shasta River has historically been the most important Chinook salmon spawning stream in the upper Klamath River, supporting a spawning escapement of 27,600 adults as recently as 2012 and 63,700 in 1935. The escapement in 2015 to the Shasta River was 6,612 adults. Escapement to the Salmon and Scott Rivers was 1,978 and 2,092 adults, respectively.

Riding the wave of healthy returns the previous few years, the KRFC will not be classified as over fished under the terms of Amendment 16 to the Salmon Fishing Management Plan. KRFC are considered to be overfished when the 3-year geometric mean spawning escapement falls below the minimum stock size threshold of 30,525 natural area adult spawners. The geometric mean of adult spawning escapement in natural areas for years 2013-2015 is 54,084.

KRFC are also considered to have been subject to over fishing if the estimated exploitation rate exceeds their maximum fishing mortality threshold of 0.71. An estimate of the 2015 KRFC exploitation rate is not yet available. However, fisheries in 2014 resulted in an exploitation rate of 0.36, which is lower than the MFMT.

To view the complete ocean salmon fishery report, visit www.pcouncil.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Review_of_2015_Salmon_Fisheries_FullDocument.pdf

Next up is the Annual Ocean Salmon Information meeting, which will be held March 2, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Sonoma County Water Agency office located at 404 Aviation Blvd. in Santa Rosa. Ocean abundance will be discussed, which will then trickle down to river quotas. For more information on the meeting, please contact CDFW Environmental Scientist Kandice Morgenstern at (707) 576-2879 or visit www.wildlife.ca.gov/Fishing/Ocean/Regulations/Salmon/Preseason

Weekend Weather
According to Reginald Kennedy of Eureka’s National Weather Service, we can expect Thursday to be dry, followed by the first of a couple weak systems that will hit the North Coast. “Light rain will begin falling Friday afternoon and should stick around through the evening. Rainfall totals for Del Norte and northern Humboldt will be from a half to one inch. South of the Mad basin could see anywhere from a quarter to three-quarters. Saturday is looking dry, but another weak system is forecasted for Sunday. Rainfall totals won’t be much and vary from a quarter to three-quarters of an inch. Dry conditions are predicted for Monday through next Wednesday in Northern California, but the Chetco basin will likely see showers on Monday.

The Rivers:
Chetco River
The Chetco has plenty of fish, but the river is really starting to clear reports guide Alan Borges of Alan’s Guide Service. He said, “There were a lot of fish caught on Monday, but it’s gotten a little slower since. Most of the boats are landing three to four fish per day and there’s a good mix of fresh and hatchery fish in the river now.”

Smith River
Pretty tough conditions on the Smith right now reports guide Mike Coopman. “The river is getting clear, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of fish around, and there are lots of seals in the river. That’s not really a good combination for success. The good news is the fishing pressure has been light,” Coopman said.

Eel River (main stem)
Fred Grundman of Rio Dell’s Grundmans Sporting Goods reports the main stem Eel is still a big, but the color is coming around quickly. “It looks like it’s dropping faster than previous weeks, but will likely be marginal at best by the weekend,” Grundman added.

Eel River (South Fork)
The South Fork is starting to clear up top, but the lower end should be just about perfect, both color and flows. The fishing has been sub-par to far this season.

Van Duzen
According to Grundman, the Van Duzen is just starting to come around and is looking olive green. “About six inches of visibility was what I heard on Wednesday, should be in good shape by the weekend,” said Grundman.

Mad River
The Mad is green with about a foot and a half of visibility reports Justin Kelly of RMI Outdoors in Eureka. He said, “Fishing hasn’t been red hot the past few days, we may be getting towards the end of the run. The amount of fresh hatchery fish in the river has dropped off, and so has the fishing pressure. The rain coming on Friday and Sunday should add a little bump in the flows, but it shouldn’t be enough to blow it out.”

Upper Trinity
Tim Brady of Weaverville’s Trinity Outdoors reports the steelhead fishing is winding down on the upper Trinity. He said, “I haven’t heard of very many fresh steelhead around, especially on the upper end. My guess is we’ve reached the end, or pretty close to it. The fishing pressure has also waned, except for a few fly boats still giving it a go.”

Find “Fishing the North Coast” on Facebook and fishingthenorthcoast.com for up-to-date fishing reports and North Coast river information. Questions, comments and photos can be emailed to kenny@fishingthenorthcoast.com