By Michael Garrity, American Rivers
May 16th was the opening of salmon fishing on the lower Yakima River.
Thanks to some recent years with good snowpacks, decent river flows and excellent ocean conditions, this year’s salmon fishing season is projected to be a relatively good one, with over 5,000 hatchery spring chinook and over 6,000 wild spring chinook (wild spring chinook must be released if caught – they’re wild if they still have adipose fins) expected to make it back to the Cle Elum hatchery or spawning grounds in the basin’s rivers and streams.
Yet this year’s salmon run will provide only the slightest hint of the kind of salmon runs a restored Yakima River can support. The fish passage, floodplain restoration, and flow improvements provided by the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan will allow for an estimated average of over 20,000 spring chinook to return to the Yakima. During good ocean and runoff cycles like this year, spring chinook runs in excess of 70,000 are predicted. The Yakima Plan will also restore fishable numbers of steelhead, coho, fall and summer chinook, and what may prove to be the largest sockeye run in the lower 48 with an estimated average of nearly 200,000 sockeye making it back to spawning grounds. At the same time, the plan will improve flow and habitat conditions for the Yakima’s renowned Blue Ribbon rainbow trout fishery.