I have added in the coded wire tag graphics as referenced in the email to jacksalmon. I used 2014 simply because it was a good robust year of samples in all areas for both coho and Chinook. If there are any questions, please contact me at the above email or phone number.Hey All: Some have been asking why the coho fishing has been so good down south (Newport e.g.) and others have said they would be moving north. That was followed by a few posts about where the Columbia smolts go when they leave the river. I sent a few questions to Eric Schindler of ODFW, who knows this stuff well and he was nice enough to take the time to provide a very detailed response to my questions, which makes for a very interesting read and will improve your knowledge of CR salmon greatly. Unfortunately, I could not get the graphics he provided to copy and paste for this post. I might try again and see if I have better luck. Here it is and many thanks to Eric for doing this:
Thanks for sharing the list of questions about salmon. Before I get into answering the questions as best I can, I want to make a couple of points. First, salmon are fairly predictable in their migration patterns. Second, every year is different, and patterns will change. Third, salmon are masters of making sure to not “put all of their eggs in one basket”. In other words, not all salmon from a run will follow the same migration route, and there will be variation in return timing and other factors. You are welcome to copy and paste this email with my contact information to the Salty Dog board, I hope it helps clear things up a little bit.
So here are the questions and my replies:
Question 1: Where do coho smolts (wild or hatchery) go when they exit the Columbia, north, south, both or just hang around the mouth of the Columbia give or take so many miles? If what was written has some validity, why would there be so many coho down south, but not so many around the Columbia itself? Is it correct that the coho that are down south right now will be migrating up to the CR later this summer? Are they of Columbia origin; or all those coho down south from other origins?
Reply: The Columbia River hatchery coho are lumped into two main categories: Type N (North) Coho and Type S (South) Coho. These two groups of fish have very different ocean distributions. With the Type S coho primarily heading to the far South (North to Central California Coast) while the Type N coho tends to have a more northern distribution with adults primarily from North-Central Oregon through South-Central Washington). The actual smolt distributions aren’t as clear as what we see with the adults, so I can’t give a firm picture of where the smolts over winter beyond what we see in the returning adults. If you look at the ocean entrance timing for coho smolts (April through June) that is when there are typically the strongest Northerly ocean currents and the Columbia smolts would be riding that current along with the Columbia River plume to the South.
The vast majority of the hatchery coho being caught off Newport are almost certainly of Columbia River hatchery origin. I just checked and the lab hasn’t read any of our 2021 ocean coded wire tag recoveries yet, so I can’t verify that is what we are seeing this year, but it is what we see almost every year.
One side note is that we had indications back in May that the coho may have distributed further South than what we normally see. We had reports from California Dept. of Fish and Wildlife that their recreational Chinook anglers were running into large numbers of clipped coho in the San Francisco area. Apparently that was a very unusual event, at least in recent years.
So, yes the clipped coho that are off Newport and Depoe Bay will be heading North to the Columbia soon. Typically we start to see a big drop in the marked coho rate on the Central Oregon Coast by mid-August. Here are a couple of tag summary pie charts from the 2014 season (Oregon CWT recoveries from North of Cape Falcon recreational ocean season and then the Cape Falcon to Humbug Mt. recreational ocean season):
Question 2: Then, there is the same question for chinook smolts that exit the Columbia. I have always thought that the prevailing wisdom is that they go north up to Alaska. However, do any significant number of Columbia chinook go south? Do any significant numbers of Columbia chinook hang around the Columbia mouth give or take so many miles, like north of Falcon and Washington Area 1?
Reply: You are correct, the vast majority of Chinook salmon smolts leaving the Columbia River (and most Oregon Coastal rivers) go North. Most Chinook smolts enter the ocean late in the summer after the Northerly currents have subsided, and ride the Southerly currents up to the Gulf of Alaska when the fall storm track starts to show up. There are a lot more stocks and diversity in ocean distribution with Chinook than with the coho stocks previously discussed. We do get good numbers of some of the Chinook out of the Columbia Basin showing up all the way to Northern California. Those are primarily Snake River fall Chinook, but even so, the majority of those fish migrate North. The lower Columbia River tule fall Chinook tend to be a bit less of a far north migrating stock with more of these fish showing up off B.C., the Washington Coast, and the Northern Oregon Coast (most typically North of Cascade Head).
As for the part of the question about are the fish hanging around the mouth of the Columbia, I would have to say that is not likely. When salmon return on the spawning run they may stage in front of a river system until the conditions are more ideal. Most commonly this is when river temperatures are too high in the late summer. Salmon in the ocean are growing and focused on going where the feed + ocean conditions are better. They will stay in an area only as long as they are finding appropriate conditions, and then they will start searching.
Here are some similar graphics of hatchery Chinook stock contribution off Oregon (also from 2014), but from the commercial troll fishery as we had a much better sample size to work from and it was good Chinook year. When you get South of Cape Falcon the central valley stocks from California dominate the contributions in the harvest.
Question 3: Since there would seem to be no significant return of northern chinook to the Columbia (upriver brights and tules) yet, how does one explain the presence of chinook around the Columbia at this time? Are they chinook that have not gone south or north, but instead, just hung around the Columbia? For example, in the early June chinook fishery, there are chinook available to catch. They can't be northern fish returning from Alaska. So, are they Columbia springers or summers; or are they young Columbia chinook that have not migrated much away from the Columbia, but instead have spent their first few years around the mouth and nearby?
Reply: If you review the CWT pie charts above, you can see the hatchery Chinook mix for pre-July off the Columbia vs. the July through September stocks. One thing of note, is don’t assume they all went to Alaska. For a number of stocks they tend to not go far North, and again some also head South. So it is likely that some fish didn’t go far at all, and found conditions to their liking off Washington. Typically the Northern Washington Coast holds more Chinook than the area off the Columbia. In regards to spring Chinook, it seems like they are a rare occurrence anywhere in the ocean fisheries.
I don’t typically burrow too deep into the coded wire tag data, but anyone can. All the CWT recovery and release information going back to the 1970’s for California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska is available at www.RMPC.org Fair warning, the site does have a bit of a learning curve.
Question 4: Essentially, what we posters were looking for was some info about where Columbia coho and chinook go when the leave the Columbia as smolts and whether any of them really don't travel far away from the Columbia, but instead just hang around the mouth and nearby, again such as North of Falcon and in Washington Area 1.
Reply: So my best assessment based on the CWT data is that no fish don’t just hang around one spot unless they have favorable feed and ocean conditions. But getting back to the “eggs in the basket” concept, there almost certainly will be a few fish that will not go far.
With regards to the low catch rates on coho off the Columbia so far this season, I am very surprised. The ocean feed conditions are good, water conditions are good, and the coho have not seemed to be concentrated. Off Newport, there have been good catches of coho from nearshore all the way out at least 15 miles - I don’t think anyone has salmon fishing further out. Those coho will be working their way up to the Columbia soon, and I would expect great fishing by early August, and Buoy 10 should be the best it has been for coho in a long time.
Ocean Sampling Project, Project Leader
Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife
2040 SE Marine Science Drive
Newport, Oregon 97365
TEL: (541)867-0300 x252
Thanks Eric, I could not get those graphics to copy when I copied your original e-mail to me. Glad to see you were able to post them here. Thanks again for taking the time to answer the questions and educate us all on the migration patterns of salmon exiting the Columbia as smolts. It is a very good read for all those interested in more than catching fish. It also helps with the catching besides the educating.I have added in the coded wire tag graphics as referenced in the email to jacksalmon. I used 2014 simply because it was a good robust year of samples in all areas for both coho and Chinook. If there are any questions, please contact me at the above email or phone number.
I had the same thought... I think (and my team agrees) the Nooks will come whatever the water brings but I doubt they will stay long. I doubt it'll be a shoot out but there should be some good fish coming in. I hear reports about some fat ones getting caught off the north side. As for Coho... I'd give it another month before they show up in numbers. Shucks, I still haven't found anyone who find them in a school waiting to come in. Shindler thinks they will come from the south (not stopping at the mouth) so I guess we'll see when/if they do.I know its still 2 weeks away but what does everyone think fishing will be like the 1st week in the river?? I'm really going to try and target the coho this year but wondering if there will be enough in the river that first week?? Anyone have any thoughts on that?
Addendum: I was chatting with my fish team today about "CR fishing". One said; when does the river open above the bridge? Well shucks, it already IS open or at least WAS open. I couldn't recall if it was until July 15 or August 1st but it was essentially a mute point as that " early summer Chinook" fishery was certainly met with less than excitement for obvious reasons. Which leads me to my forecasted lower estuary report. There's VERY little pressure right now and I do expect greater pressure come August 1 but now I might have a different opinion on how fishing/catching will be.I had the same thought... I think (and my team agrees) the Nooks will come whatever the water brings but I doubt they will stay long. I doubt it'll be a shoot out but there should be some good fish coming in. I hear reports about some fat ones getting caught off the north side. As for Coho... I'd give it another month before they show up in numbers. Shucks, I still haven't found anyone who find them in a school waiting to come in. Shindler thinks they will come from the south (not stopping at the mouth) so I guess we'll see when/if they do.