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Columbia Fish Counts are High,
Bolstered by Shad and Sockeye

by Rob Phillips
Yakima Herald-Republic, June 28, 2022

Graphic: (Columbia DART) 'Quick Look' sockeye count at Bonneville, McNary, Ice Harbor, Lower Granite, Preist Rapids and Wells Dams The folks who oversee the fish counting procedures at the dams on the lower Columbia River have been quite busy as of late. Not only is this prime time for the almost always large run of shad swimming up the big river, a nice run of sockeye salmon is returning to the river in larger-than-anticipated numbers.

On Monday alone, there were over 243,000 shad that migrated through the fish ladders at Bonneville Dam, along with 40,584 sockeye salmon, 4,584 summer chinook salmon, and almost 1,600 steelhead. Throw in a few jack salmon and 264 lamprey eels and that makes for one busy day for the counters.

According to Andy Walgamott's always-informative posts on the Northwest Sportsman magazine's Facebook page, the sockeye salmon count on Monday was the second largest daily number since 1938, the year Bonneville was constructed. Only the sockeye count of 41,573 on June 26, 2012 was larger.

We'll have to wait and see what the final total is for this year's run of sockeye, but as of Monday the run total of 239,575 was already well over the preseason forecast of 198,700. In 2012, when the largest single day count was recorded, the total run of sockeye was over a half million.

The largest run of sockeye recorded on the Columbia was in 2014, when 614,179 fish were counted at Bonneville. Normally the peak of the sockeye run at the first dam on the Columbia is this week, so all the sockeye anglers out there are watching with great anticipation to see just where this year's run will end up.

The 4,584 summer chinook over Bonneville on Monday, was the largest single day number this month, and was well ahead of last year's 1,777, and the ten year average for June 26 of 2,209. The current run of summer chinook is running just ahead of the ten-year average.

Hopefully this all means some good fishing in the days and weeks ahead. The seemingly always huge run of shad has already provided some excellent fishing in the lower Columbia just below Bonneville Dam.

The Columbia below Pasco, is currently closed for sockeye salmon fishing, but the river above Pasco, up to Priest Rapids Dam, is open for fishing, and anglers are just now starting to catch the tasty salmon. So far just over 50,000 sockeye have migrated up through the ladders at McNary Dam, and with more coming, the fishing in the stretch of the river around and above the Tri-Cities will get better and better.

On Friday, the Columbia above Priest Rapids to Wells Dam will open for summer chinook and sockeye fishing. One of the popular spots for anglers when that part of the river opens is in the turbulent waters just below Wanapum Dam. With only about 2,000 sockeye and 3,000 chinook above Priest Rapids so far, it might be a bit early, but it is a good bet there will be plenty of anglers hitting the Wanapum Dam fishing hole.

This year's cooler water temperatures and higher waters have been good for the salmon migration. In 2015, a year when we had low water in the rivers, the Columbia River reached fatally warm temperatures, which ended up killing tens of thousands of sockeye salmon.

That year the run of sockeye over Bonneville was over 510,000, but a large number of the fish perished between Bonneville and McNary Dams because of low waters, and really hot temperatures in July.

That shouldn't be an issue this year.

The majority of the chinook salmon moving up the Columbia are headed to the upper Columbia. Some of the best fishing for the big chinook can be found in the Columbia near Chelan Falls, and in the waters around Brewster and Bridgeport.

The sockeye head to the Snake River, the Wenatchee River, and the Okanogan River. On some years there are enough fish to provide a sport fishery on Lake Wenatchee, but the main sockeye fishery on the upper Columbia is in the Brewster pool, where the salmon stage before making their run up the Okanogan River.

Anglers working the Brewster pool have a chance at both the larger chinook, and the small, but great-eating sockeye. The best fishing in that part of the Columbia usually comes in late July and early August.

A few sockeye also return to the Yakima River each summer. Hopefully this year's big bounce in the sockeye numbers will bode well for the run of sockeye on the Yakima. Biologists have been trying to restore and build the run on our local river for years.

The ten-year average of sockeye returning to the Yakima is just over 2,500. Last year only 95 sockeye salmon were counted at Roza Dam, so we could really use a boost.

Monday was a big day at Bonneville Dam. The folks who count the fish swimming up through the fish ladders at the dam had their hands full. It's encouraging to see for sure.

Hopefully there are a bunch more to come. Not only for this year, but for the foreseeable future.

Rob Phillips is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer who has written the Northwest Sportsman column for more than 30 years.
Columbia Fish Counts are High, Bolstered by Shad and Sockeye
Yakima Herald-Republic, June 28, 2022

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