Fall Chinook 2009: To fish or not to fish?

Normally that would be a very stupid question. Kings are our greatest salmon, and we are fortunate to have strong wild runs in almost all of our coastal rivers. But 2009 marks a turning point for Oregon.

ODFW has closed the Nehalem and Winchuck Rivers, as well as the Chetco terminal area, to chinook fishing this summer and fall due to incredibly low returns. It probably should have closed the Siletz and Alsea, too, but the agency’s reluctance to limit fishing opportunity trumped that hope.

Caption: The stunning Nehalem River estuary basks in the late-summer sun. In 2003 the Nehalem saw 30,000 kings. This fall ODFW expects less than 2,000.

So, with several rivers in crisis, does it make sense to fish for kings this year? It’s a great question, one we all need to be willing to ask. Looking at the Oregon Coast as a whole, and in spite of some serious crashes in specific drainages, the answer is an emphatic “Yes.”

The majority of Oregon’s coastal chinook populations are not in crisis. While they are not enjoying bountiful returns, most are expected to hold somewhere near their 10-year average. The Columbia, Wilson, Trask, Nestucca, Yaquina, Siuslaw, Umpqua, Coos and Rogue will all have good fisheries, barring asteroids from space. And with “ocean conditions” improving, we can expect these populations to increase over the next few seasons.

Caption: A perfect tidewater chinook shows off her ocean-fresh chrome on a chilly fall morning.

If you do plan on fishing for kings this summer and fall, there are some important guidelines to follow:

1) Avoid Catch & Release in warm water. C&R is a great management tool for fisheries biologists, allowing for expanded angling opportunity with minimal impacts. But as an ethic, C&R is a bust when water temperatures reach into the 70s. If you’re fishing in bath water, it’s probably better to kill your fish and go home.

2) Fight ’em hard and fast. Prolonging the battle with a fish you plan to release is a mistake. It’s better to break the fish off than to risk it’s life.

3) Keep kings in the water and avoid netting them if you plan on releasing them. If you can’t get your fly or lure out of its mouth quickly, just break it off. If you want a photo, lift, click, and set back in the water. Even a few seconds out of the water can risk a life.

3) Give the Nehalem, Siletz and Alsea a rest. These are some of our greatest treasures, and they are facing seriously hard times. We can lead by example and either hang up our rods or move to another river.

If you don’t plan on fishing for kings this year, more power to you. Hanging it up is one of the most profound actions an angler can take to show his support for the fish.


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1 Response to Fall Chinook 2009: To fish or not to fish?

  1. Mitch says:

    Great article bud.

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