This year's chinook run is expected to be smaller than in recent years, and early dam counts are backing that. But there could be a bright spot for Idaho anglers. Three spring chinook had crossed Lower Granite Dam as of Monday, April 8. That's the last dam the fish cross before entering Idaho. The first dam on the Columbia River is Bonneville, and 618 chinook have crossed there, which is substantially lower than the 10-year average of 4,757 by that date.
There's no need to panic. If a run is a week or two later than usual, it skews those early numbers, so it's too soon to decide what the bulk of the run looks like. The timing of the run may actually bode well for Idaho anglers. This at best an educated guess, but here goes. The later the run into the Columbia, the more likely it is to coincide with peak spring run off, which could make fishing in the Lower Columbia more difficult.
Idaho's fish must run a gauntlet of sport anglers in the Lower Columbia. It's created a dilemma for fisheries managers because they don't get an accurate gauge of the run size until fish start passing through Bonneville, but a lot of salmon get caught in the Lower Columbia before they reach the first dam. If too many get caught and the run is smaller than expected, managers can't adjust the sport harvest quotas for the lower river because those fish have already been caught.
Salmon management is a complicated process between Oregon, Washington, Idaho and the tribes, but here's the thing to watch if you're interested in catching a springer in Idaho. The best fishing on the Snake and Clearwater rivers is typically in May. The best fishing on the Main Salmon and Little Salmon rivers is usually after peak run off on the Main Salmon, which typically occurs around Memorial Day weekend. Plan for late May or the first part of June and there's a good chance you will hit the best fishing. But watch the flows on the Salmon River carefully and keep your ears open. Salmon fishing season might not last long this year. When you hear about fish being caught, be ready to go.
Maybe this is wishful thinking, but there's also a larger-than-expected run of smelt on the Lower Columbia, which is a favorite food for salmon. Maybe the chinook will gorge themselves on smelt and ignore lures and bait and cruise upstream fat and happy. Probably a stretch, but we will take any optimism we can get.