Deschutes River Fall Chinook Report

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Fall Chinook Salmon are big brawly fish that start entering the Deschutes River around September 1. By September 15 there are hundreds (maybe several thousand) very bright 20 to 40 pound fish strung out throughout the lower forty miles of river. Since 2011 there has been a marked increase in run size. The past four years have been especially large.

All Fish Mark Recapture above Sherars Falls
Marked Examined Recaptured M-R Estimate 95% CI
1977 1,083 635 128 5,344 4,500-6,345
1978 1,312 882 227 5,085 4,467-5,788
1979 1,056 602 134 4,721 3,991-5,584
1980 825 513 112 3,757 3,127-4,513
1981 982 706 145 4,760 4,095-5,594
1982 385 835 57 5,564 4,311-7,172
1983 286 516 36 4,010 2,918-5,496
1984 62 268 6 2,421 1,201-4,538
1985 195 437 24 3,434 2,338-5,015
1986 263 684 33 5,319 3,819-7,384
1987 460 551 53 4,712 3,618-6,129
1988 542 232 30 4,081 2,886-5,749
1989 324 286 55 1,666 1,285-2,157
1990 188 178 21 1,538 1,022-2,297
1991 197 153 17 1,694 1,080-2,628
1992 239 123 24 1,190 810-1,738
1993 160 105 11 1,422 824-2,393
1994 151 225 25 1,321 906-1,916
1995 348 73 11 2,152 1,247-3,622
1996 426 134 18 3,034 1,957-4,658
1997 340 210 17 3,997 2,548-6,200
1998 382 363 18 7,338 4,732-11,264
1999 321 289 29 3,113 2,189-4,408
2000 434 608 70 3,731 2,962-4,697
2001 849 932 96 8,176 6,708-9-961
2002 543 776 84 4,973 4,026-6,139
2003 820 971 161 4,926 4,225-5,742
2004 666 625 106 3,902 3,232-4,710
2005 787 864 118 5,728 4,790-6,848
2006 338 703 66 3,562 2,809-4,513
2007 347 790 56 4,829 3,734-6,239
2008 654 1,016 135 4,898 4,143-5,789
2009 604 1,287 99 7,792 6,412-9,466
2010 468 1,730 115 6,999 5,839-8,386
2011 627 1,507 90 10,407 8,485-12,759
2012 447 3,546 126 12,512 10,523-14,874
2013 1,669 3,759 416 15,058 13,682-16,572
2014 1,462 2,853 307 13,557 12,127-15,154
2015 1,390 2,558 296 11,985 10,699-13,425


I asked ODFW fishery scientist, Bob Hooton, "Why the increase in this fishery when most fishery news concerning anadromous fish runs is about doom and gloom?"

His reply:

Mark,
"I'm at a statewide Fish Bio meeting through Thursday; I'll check in with Rod French and Chris Kerns on rationale for good Chinook survival.

Deschutes fall Chinook are all wild. Some of the increased abundance in the Snake River basin and the Upper Columbia is due to enhanced hatchery production.

Some of the good survival is undoubtedly related to good ocean survival conditions. Court mandated spill at main-stem dams have also surely helped.

Changes of temperature management at PGE's Deschutes dams have not hurt survival of fall Chinook, and may have helped."
Bob

A couple of days later:

"I caught up with our Deputy Fish Chief for Marine and Columbia River resources, Chris Kerns this morning.

He says, "Besides good ocean survival conditions up north, and spill at main-stem dams, reduced sport and commercial harvest in Canada and Alaska fisheries (as part of the US Canada Treaty) has also played a role in increase fall Chinook escapements into the upper Columbia including the Deschutes basin."
Bob

ODFW has monitored adult fall Chinook populations in the Deschutes by conducting a Peterson mark recapture estimate since 1977. The adult salmon and steelhead trap at Sherars Falls is the main component to our monitoring in the Deschutes. ODFW typically tags several hundred jack and adult fish from late June to the end of October with an orange Floy (dart) tag. Tagged and non-tagged fish are subsequently examined at the Pelton/Round Butte Trap at the base of Round Butte Dam and conducting post spawn carcass surveys to estimate annual returns. Due to the importance of ODFW surveyors recovering tagged and untagged carcasses, you are asked to leave a tag intact if you observe one in a Deschutes River fall Chinook.

From my observations starting around 1972, Fall Chinooks went from being rarely seen, to pretty common from late August through late November. During that time the Deschutes Canyon habitat has changed from being over-grazed by domestic livestock, to being managed for other more outstanding and remarkable aspects. Livestock removal began in the early 1980's with acquisition of the grazing rights by the state of Oregon, and has continued thought to the present time under the guidelines of the Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Fall Chinooks are "main-stem / lower watershed spawners", which means that protecting the lower canyon has cleaned up their bedroom. This has to be a plus.
Spring Chinooks are primarily upper watershed spawners, with populations still in jeopardy within this same river system. Their main spawning and rearing habitat has been cut off by inadequate fish passage at dams, and even if they could get there, this habitat is been badly degraded by agricultural abuse (work for future conservationists).
Fall Chinooks have been hard to catch by most sportsmen. Currently the largest sports fishery that targets Fall Chinooks on the Deschutes is located from Shearers Falls downstream to the Lower Trestle, a section where bait is allowed. Fall Chinooks in the Deschutes have been notoriously hard to catch for sports fishermen for a number of reasons. There is a tradition that they can only be caught with bait, so most anglers don't try anything else. The places where the majority of these fish congregate are deep boily pools, which are a waste of time for fly anglers and lure fishers alike. The fact that these types of pools are normally situated where a river narrows and deepens means that they also happen where the river is easiest to span with a bridge. So this means that they form a choke point for human migration as well. These pools are situated where humans can observe them, and get to them easily with a minimal amount of physical effort.
Lately as runs have increased in size, more fall Chinooks have been landed by lure and fly fishers as an incidental catch while steelhead fishing.
The majority of the Chinooks caught by fly fishers are while using Skagit style tackle which enables the fly to get down to the level of the fish. In all of the years that I have fished the Deschutes, I have only caught three Chinooks with a floating line. Two of these were jacks that were about 6-pounds each, and one dark colored adult buck which was about 35-pounds. It ate a #4 Green Butt Skunk. The battle lasted about an hour with an eight weight single-hand rod and 10-pound test Maxima for a tippet.
During each season several Fall Chinooks are hooked by myself or clients while fishing with sinking tip lines. The majority of these fish that are landed, are jacks from 5-8 pounds. Since most of the adult fish are over twenty-pounds, few of these fish are landed on steelhead tackle. Last year I was able to concentrate on Chinooks a little more than usual. Several adult Chinooks were hooked. Once again my tackle was too light, and only one made it to the beach where it too was lost before a picture could be taken. Like I said earlier, these fish average 20-40 pounds. I did learn a few things however that I will be glad to share with paying clients on the river. Please call if you are genuinely interested (four days minimum, party no larger than two anglers, ).MB

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