Fall Klamath king returns fell short in 2019

Following a promising 2018 fall Chinook salmon season on the Klamath that saw the run size trending upwards, the 2019 returns fell significantly short of expectations. Looking at the numbers presented in the PFMC “Review of 2019 Ocean Salmon Fisheries” document, it’s likely we’ll have some severe restrictions both in the ocean and in the Klamath and Trinity rivers in 2020.

“Based on PFMC’s 2019 salmon review, the 2019 return of fall Chinook salmon to the Klamath basin did not meet expectations for returns, harvest or escapement,” said Wade Sinnen, Senior Environmental Scientist on the Klamath/Trinity Rivers.

The CDFW predicted a river run size of 97,912 in 2019, however according to Sinnen, the post season estimate was 37,270 adult fall Chinook, roughly 38 percent of the projection and fifth lowest return on record. “The return of fall Chinook jacks was 9,991 fish, which is also below the long-term average of 17,740. Both the tribal and in-river recreational adult Chinook harvest quotas went unmet in 2019.  Returns to hatcheries were also down and it is unlikely that full mitigation production for fall Chinook will be achieved in the coming year.” According to Sinnen, the cause for the lack luster performance of Klamath stocks this year appears to be related to poor survival and growth conditions, fish were significantly smaller at age this year as compared to most years. “The population can rebound quickly if suitable environmental conditions prevail in the future. As an example, the population doubled between 2017 and 2018 and the basin had a record high return of 316,754 fish in 2012. It is too early to prognosticate regarding 2020 Klamath fall Chinook population levels and fishing opportunities,” said Sinnen.

Spawning escapement to the upper Klamath River tributaries (Salmon, Scott, and Shasta Rivers), where spawning was only minimally affected by hatchery strays, totaled 8,564 compared to 21,109 adults in 2019. 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 2019 to the Shasta River was 5,926 adults. Escapement to the Salmon and Scott Rivers was 957 and 1,681 adults, respectively.

According to the report, an estimated 5,365 fall Chinook adults were harvested in the Klamath Basin recreational fishery, which was roughly 70 percent of the 7,636 allocated quota. The Yurok and Hoopa Valley tribes share a federally-reserved right of 50 percent (32,401) of the available harvest surplus of adult Klamath fall Chinook. Tribal adult harvest was 5,974 (Yurok: 3,909 adults; Hoopa Valley: 2,065 adults), which was 18 percent of the tribal allocation.

Next up is CDFW’s Annual Salmon Information meeting on February 27, at 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at the Sonoma County Water Agency, 404 Aviation Blvd., Santa Rosa. The meeting marks the beginning of a two-month long public process used to develop annual sport and commercial ocean salmon fishing recommendations. The process involves collaborative negotiations with west coast states, federal and tribal agencies, and stakeholders interested in salmon fishery management and conservation. Public input will help California representatives develop a range of recommended season alternatives during the March 3-9 PFMC meeting in Rohnert Park. The PFMC will finalize the recommended season dates at its April 4-10 meeting in Vancouver, WA. Agenda and meeting materials will be posted as they become available. Contact Grace Ghrist for more info at 707-576-2375 or Grace.Ghrist@Wildlife.ca.gov.

The weather ahead
“We’re not seeing any substantial rainfall through the end of February, but a couple weak systems could bring some precipitation,” said Alex Dodd of Eureka’s National Weather Service. “There isn’t any rain in the forecast through Saturday, but there is a weak front that could clip our area late Saturday night or Sunday. Rainfall won’t be much, if any. Smith basin may see up to a tenth, and just trace amounts here locally. After that we’ll dry out again, with another weak system moving into the area Wednesday night that may bring some light rain. It doesn’t look like any of the river levels will be impacted,” said Dodd.

The Rivers:
This weekend’s rain added enough color to the Chetco to kick steelhead fishing into high gear, producing a couple days of nearly wide-open fishing according to Andy Martin of Wild Rivers Fishing. “Some guides were getting two to four steelhead a rod on Sunday and Monday,” said Martin. “By Tuesday, the river was clearing and catch rates dropped. There are still a lot of fish in the river, but flows are their lowest of the season, expected to drop to 650 cfs by the weekend. Expect a crowd with the derby Friday and Saturday. Steelhead fishing has been fair on the Elk, Sixes and Rogue. All are low and clear and will benefit from the next rain.”

Smith River
The Smith is low and as clear as it can get, but there are some fish around according to Mike Coopman of Mike Coopman’s Guide Service. He said, “Conditions are tough, but guys are catching a few each day. Most are averaging about a fish per rod, and some days are better. The fish are spread out and are holding wherever there’s broken water. Expect a busy weekend with lots of boats due to the Rowdy Creek Derby.”

Eel River (main stem)
The main stem was running at just under 1,700 cfs on Wednesday and is still holding some color. Some of the spots are running out of current, but there’s still plenty of areas where fish are holding. Over the weekend, which wasn’t too crowded, boats were getting two to six fish per trip. Even without rain, the main stem should continue to fish.

Eel River (South Fork)
Hovering around 400 cfs on the Miranda gauge as of Wednesday, the South Fork is low and clear. A few boats are still drifting, but most have moved down to the main. There should be plenty of fish in some of the deeper stretches. When the rains do return, we should see a real good push of downrunners.

Van Duzen
The Van Duzen is getting very low, but still has some color. Flows were right around 270 cfs on Wednesday. Reportedly there are quite a few steelhead in the lower river. The Duzen would be a good choice if you’re looking for bank fishing options.

McKinleyville resident Whitney Floyd holds a nice hatchery steelhead landed last Friday on the Mad River. Despite low water conditions, fishing remains excellent for winter steelhead on the Mad. The season is open through March 31. Photo courtesy of Tracy Mac

Mad River
Like the rest of the coastal rivers, the Mad is getting low. However, according to Justin Kelly of Eureka’s RMI Outdoors, the river is still holding some nice color. “Even with the low water, there’s still lots of fish being caught,” said Kelly. “The fish are spread out now, and holding mostly in the spots where there’s broken water or in the deeper holes and slots. There’s still plenty of fresh fish coming in from the ocean every day, and there’s lot of chrome hatchery fish around now. The past few days the bite has been much better in the morning.”

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