There’s a beacon of light ahead for Columbia River salmon fisheries in 2024! The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) released early forecasts for the Columbia River spring, summer, and fall Chinook and sockeye fisheries that likely point toward decent fishing opportunities.
The wild and hatchery spring Chinook forecast is 187,400[sb1] , compared to a forecast of 315,600 and an actual return of 216,586 in 2023. Despite this drop, if the numbers fall around the prediction, the 2024 return could still potentially be the sixth largest spring return seen in the last ten years and the 18th largest since 1979. In general, spring Chinook returns over the past several years have been trending upward. Improved ocean conditions, ideal outmigration paths due to the lack of drought, flooding, or dangerous elevated water temperatures could be some of the positive factors towards this resurgence.
The spring Chinook run moves into the Columbia River from February through June and peaks in March through early- to mid-April, with spawn in tributaries from August through October. It isn’t unusual each winter to see the first spring Chinook caught in early February in the Lower Columbia, Multnomah Channel, or Lower Willamette River.
Under the current permanent WDFW regulations, the 2024 spring Chinook fishery on the Lower Columbia is open daily through March 31 from Buoy 10 to the Interstate-5 Bridge. On the Washington side of Columbia, the 2024 spring Chinook forecast for Kalama is 1,900; Cowlitz, 4,700; Lewis, 3,400; Wind, 4,200; Drano Lake, 5,300; and Klickitat, 1,300. On the Oregon side, the Willamette River forecast is 48,700. Washington and Oregon fishery managers will officially consider Columbia River spring Chinook fisheries in late February. Extending the season is possible if the run appears larger than expected.
Other Promising Forecasts
In 2023, the early summer fisheries for sockeye and Chinook on the Upper Columbia River up to Brewster were above par, and anglers will likely see the good times roll along in 2024. During the past several years, anglers have found fair to excellent catches depending on the timing.
For example, the 2024 Upper Columbia summer Chinook salmon predicted return is a promising 53,000, down from a forecast of 85,400 and near an actual return of 54,722 in 2023. When the Upper Columbia summer Chinook fishery opened on July 1 in 2023, fishing was good right out of the starting gate. The month of July is the best period, and it can stay productive into early August as waves of fish move upstream and hold in cooler water. Anglers can track when it is time to wet a line by checking the dam counts along the Columbia. The hype around the Upper Columbia sockeye fishery may hold up its reputation again during the summer of 2024 as a promising forecast of 401,700 is expected to push into the river.
The upper-river fisheries are fueled by an Okanogan sockeye forecast of 288,700 in 2024 (187,400 was forecasted with an actual return of 179,655 in 2023, and 175,700 and 513,317 in 2022). Many of the sockeye linger in the Brewster Pool; and between Pateros and Brewster is a popular early-summer, deep-water salmon fishing location in Upper Columbia. Sockeye migrate from the confluence just below Chief Joseph Dam, north into headwater lakes in British Columbia that are known for a notoriously warm water barrier and changing river flow patterns each summer.
In 2023 and 2022, colder water throughout the mid- and upper-Columbia had sockeye shooting straight up into the Brewster Pool and this generated very good fishing from July through mid-August. The summer-migrating sockeye are learning to adapt their upstream migration timing in recent years; therefore, most fish returns are peaking sooner than later in the summer. Over the past few decades, the run would peak by early July, but it’s now shifted to late June and has resulted in higher sockeye survival in recent years. The Lake Wenatchee sockeye salmon forecast is also promising with a whopping 97,000, up from a 44,300 forecast in 2023 with an actual massive return of 146,875. The 2024 forecast is well above the spawning escapement objective of 23,000 at Tumwater Dam, and, if that happens, look for an excellent late-summer sport fishery in the lake.
Other statewide salmon forecasts will occur during a WDFW public meeting in March, with updates in the months beyond. This meeting will debut many forecasts for Washington salmon including Chinook, coho, sockeye, chum, and pinks, so be sure to get those lines ready and stay tuned.