Klamath fall king returns on the rise

Sue McCormack of Victor, Montana landed this jack salmon last fall while fishing the Klamath River. The number of returning jacks (two year-old kings) to the Klamath basin were below average last year, which could indicate a smaller run size this fall. Photo courtesy Kenny Priest /Fishing the North Coast

Last fall produced some of the best king salmon fishing on both the Klamath and Trinity Rivers in recent memory, and the preliminary number of returning kings seem to reflect just that. While we’re still not back up to average runs sizes, we’re headed in the right direction. The CDFW predicted a river run size of 91,873 in 2018, and they were nearly spot on. According to the “Review of 2018 Ocean Salmon Fisheries” document, recently released by the PFMC, preliminary postseason river returns showed 92,293 adults returned. Considering where we were in 2016 when just 27,353 adults returned, prompting a full fall-run closure in 2017, I’d say the numbers are going the right way. On an average year, we’ll see right around 122,000 adult kings return to the basin. So, we’ve got a little ways to go before the stocks are rebuilt completely.

“The 2018 Klamath fall chinook returns were slightly below average and the number of jacks returning also fell below long-term average,” said Wade Sinnen, Senior Environmental Scientist on the Klamath/Trinity Rivers. In 2018, only 11,114 jacks, or two-year-old salmon, returned. During the previous ten years, the average number of returning jacks was roughly 22,600. The real bright spot according to Sinnen was the number of returning three-year-old fish. “These fish are part of the 2015 brood year, which made a good showing last year as two-year-old. This brood will translate to a decent preseason abundance forecast of age four fish this year.”

The bottom line of low jack counts is next year’s adult return may not be as robust, and therefore a smaller recreational quota for the whole basin. “In terms of fishing opportunity this coming year, it’s too early to say for sure,” said Sinnen. “We will know more after the Ocean Salmon Information meeting in Santa Rosa. However, I do not expect a large in-river quota based on past runs of the magnitude we experienced this past year.”

While the jack count was low, most of the information coming out of the report was positive for the basin. The number of natural area spawners was 53,624 adults, which exceeded the preseason expectation of 40,700. However, the stock is still in “overfished” status as escapement was not met the previous three seasons. The estimated hatchery return was 18,564 adults for the basin.

Spawning escapement to the upper Klamath River tributaries (Salmon, Scott, and Shasta Rivers), where spawning was only minimally affected by hatchery strays, totaled 21,109 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 2018 to the Shasta River was 18,673 adults. Escapement to the Salmon and Scott Rivers was 1,228 and 1,208 adults, respectively.

According to the report, the Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes shared a federally-reserved right of 50 percent (18,122) of the available harvest surplus of adult Klamath fall Chinook. Tribal adult harvest was 14,769 (Yurok: 12,444 adults; Hoopa Valley: 2,325 adults), which was 81 percent of the tribal allocation.

Next up is the annual Ocean Salmon Information meeting, which will be held February 27 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 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, contact Chenchen Shen at 707-576-2885 or Chenchen.Shen@wildlife.ca.gov

The weather ahead
“The next couple days will be dry, but the rain will return over the weekend,” said Kathleen Zontos of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “Del Norte will be the first area hit with the rain beginning on Saturday morning before it moves south on Sunday. Right now, it’s looking like widespread and heavy rain will fall on Monday and potentially on Tuesday. Through Tuesday evening, the Smith basin can expect four to five inches of rain. There’s a little uncertainty about the rainfall totals hitting Humboldt. Both the Mad and Eel basins could see up to five inches, but it will probably be a little less. Several inches are definitely possible. Next Wednesday and Thursday are looking dry, but another storm is forecasted for the weekend,” said Zontos.

HSU Fishery Seminar
John ‘Carlos’ Garza, of NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center and UC Santa Cruz will be giving a presentation titled “The origins of ecotypic differentiation in Pacific salmonids” on Wednesday February 27 at 4:00 p.m. in WDFS 258 on the HSU Campus. This is a timely topic given the potential listing of the Upper Klamath-Trinity River spring Chinook salmon as endangered.

Humboldt Steelhead Days Awards Party and Pints for Nonprofits Event Humboldt Steelhead Days # 6 concludes with an awards ceremony for the fishing and photo contest winners on Saturday evening from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Mad River Brewing Co in Blue Lake. Registered anglers who submitted photos of the three biggest hatchery steelhead from the Mad river will receive their prizes donated by HSD sponsors and partners. The leaderboard for the Mad River has Tyrone Bachus in the lead with a 32.5-inch fish, Julie Jewell in second place with a 32i inch fish, and Wyatt McBroom in third with a 31-inch fish. A 37-inch hatchery steelhead caught by Gary Fogle won the Mad River contest last year. No entries qualified for the Trinity river portion of the contest this year. In addition, ten entries were submitted for the best fishing photo contest that can be viewed on the HSD Facebook page. Winners will be announced at 6 p.m.

During this pints for nonprofits event, HSD will also host a silent auction fundraiser that includes wines from Fieldbrook Winery, framed art from Michael Zontos and John Freidenback, a guided river fishing trip from Rivers Edge Adventures, gift cards from Pierson Building Center and NHS, oil changes from Lithia of Eureka, a photo book of the Eel River with “A River Last Chance” documentary DVD and posters donated by Jason Hartwick and much more. The silent auction will conclude at 7p.m. 

HSD #6 hosted several events during the steelhead winter run enabling them to raise more than $8,000 that will go toward Mad River Alliance’s (the founder of the HSD contest) science and monitoring, education and conservation programs in the watershed. The clean ups to remove river pollution and garbage dumping will be able to occur every other month thanks to the efforts of HSD. 

The Rivers:
The Chetco has its biggest numbers of steelhead so far this season spread throughout the river reports Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. He said, “The past few days most guides are getting two to six steelhead a day, with a mix of fresh wild and hatchery fish and spawned out fish heading back toward the ocean. The river dropped to fishable levels on Monday and was in prime shape Tuesday after being blown out for a week. Expect a crowd this weekend because of the derby,” added Martin.

“After a week of high water, the lower Rogue was fishable again Monday,” said Martin. “Plunkers are catching good numbers of steelhead on Spin-N-Glows, while jet boaters also are starting to catch fish again. Conditions should be prime all week.”

Smith River
Last weekend saw some of the best steelhead fishing to date on the Smith River. Guides and sport anglers were back on the water Sunday and the scores were good. Most boats landed fish during the high water, and Monday and Tuesday were even better. Conditions should be excellent the rest of the week, but flows are predicted to rise quickly beginning Sunday morning. If the rains come as predicted, the river could be blown out on Monday.

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem was running at 18,000 cfs on Wednesday and nowhere near fishable. The rain coming on Saturday is forecasted to bump the flows back up to 35,000 cfs. Will need a couple solid weeks of dry weather before it will fish.

Eel River (South Fork)
Hovering around 4,500 cfs on the Miranda gauge as of Wednesday, the South Fork was still quite a few days away from being fishable. The storms coming this weekend will put us back a square one. It’s predicted to hit 10,000 cfs by early Monday.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen was right around 1,200 cfs as of Wednesday. According to Paul Grundman of Rio Dell’s Grundmans Sporting Goods, there’s a chance it’s fishable above Yager Creek. “It was still a little dirty on the lower end, but it would be worth looking at above Yager,” Grundman added. Flows are predicted to drop to 850 cfs on Friday and Saturday, which should be good. It’s predicted to blow back out on Sunday.

Mad River
The river is still high and muddy, but a few fish were caught just below the hatchery this week reports Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors. “The color is still way off, but guys are catching a few right at the hatchery. With more rain coming this weekend, it doesn’t look like it will be green anytime soon,” added Kelly.

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