Fall Chinook Update 09/07/2019

This is the first fall chinook update for 2019. Fall chinook season fishing is not as common or popular as spring chinook fishing on the Salmon River, but juvenile releases around White Bird in 2018 (returning ocean run) and 2019 (jacks that haven’t yet left) have created a real potential for a great fishing opportunity this fall. If you like salmon fishing but don’t like the combat fishing of the Little Salmon, this fishing is for you.

In 2018, 1 million fish from the Irrigon, Oregon fish hatchery were released from the Hammer Creek boat ramp. 100% were clipped, 200,000 were coated wire tagged, and 3,000 were tagged with PTAGs (which allow us to track, show in the data below).

In 2019, 1 million fish from the Irrigon, Oregon fish hatchery were released from the Hammer Creek boat ramp. 200,000 of these fish were clipped, and 800,000 were not.

(Source: Idaho Fish And Game, Irrigon Fish Hatchery)

So far here’s a look at how chinook have returned over the last dam, Lower Granite. In this data, we’re looking for the Irrigon fish (IRRI):

Screen Shot 2019-09-07 at 12.54.34 PM.png
Screen Shot 2019-09-07 at 12.54.18 PM.png

As you can see, there’s been a pretty good push of fish around the middle of August. From PTAGIS data, this is mostly a pod of wild fish released from the Lower Granite ladder. We see 3 spring fish bound for Rapid River (RAPH) and the Sawtooth Hatchery (SAWT). But so far we’re not seeing our IRRI fish, which assuming some of this tagged 3,000 (.3% of the 1 million) has survived, the tracked fish would most likely indicate more untagged fish, as chinook tend to return in groups.

Looking downstream all the way to Bonneville (their first challenge), we only find 2 IRRI fish, bound for other locations. So we may be getting pods moving up that we’re blind to, but it’s also possible that our indicator IRRI fish haven’t shown up with their pods yet. Don’t despair, however, as a huge amount of the population is not tagged. The PTAGed fish will probably be a lagging indicator for big pods coming, but that doesn’t mean untagged pods aren’t moving up.

Screen Shot 2019-09-09 at 6.43.03 PM.png

We also looked at the entire year range of those 2018 juvenile IRRI fish released in the Salmon River. Of the 3,000 PTAGed fish, 170 juveniles survived down to Bonneville Dam (5.6%). Typical returns back to the typical hatchery are expected at around .1%.

Either way, falls chinook fishing feels a little early. But, you can also get into some great fish with no crowds (we love doing this in the spring). Chinook were all over while fishing in Astoria, so they’re coming. If you’re itching to go, get out there and try your luck. Could there be untagged IRRI fish moving up along with other fish like LGRLDR? We’ll be studying this season to see if fish of different origins group reliably. If tagged IRRI start showing up with others downstream, we can start inferring that. Either way, it’s time to get out there and to start testing the waters, and then to start comparing the river with the data. With 1 million fish a year released just at Hammer Creek, there’s a huge potential for fish. We’ll see you on the water.

Colby Blair