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Analysis of Chinook returns for BC rivers 2023/2024

    While Alaskan rivers continue to show decline in numbers there is some good news for BC rivers including the Harirson, Shushap and on Vancouver Island the Cowichan and Stamp/Somass.

    Over the past 15 years there has been a large decline in Chinook to the most notable rivers in Alaska the Kenai and Yukon as well as some rivers in BC including the Skeena, Fraser and other rivers along the north coast.

    You would think rationally that rivers that don’t have large amounts of pollution, logging and other disruptions with human population shouldn’t have large declines in fish returns.

    It turns out that the human disruption might be different than we think.

    The Stamp/Somass river system runs right next to a pulp mill, has boats constantly netting fish or sport fishing the upper and lower sections of the river, yet it had a historic return of Chinook salmon in 2023. The returns have been at 20 year highs the past 4 years but 2023 was the year that blew the past 4 right out of the water.

    A normal good year in Barkley Sound is in the range of 80-90K Chinook passing through the waters.

    In comparison about 15 years ago the Kenai was getting 50K+ Chinook back. Now its less than 15K.

    The Cowichan River which is in southern Vancouver Island had an expected return of 6500 and ended up with more than 21K in 2023.

    The Harison River is a large system that had expected 75K Chinook to return and ended up with a whopping 150K+ in 2023.

    The Shuswap had an incredible unexpected return of over 6 times the expected amount!

    Drum roll please.

    It gets better.

    Barkley Sound had an surprising 200K+ Chinook come through in 2023. It is why we at Salmon Eye Fishing Charters and so many other fisherman had so many double hookups during mid to late August. As much as we all like to pride ourselves as being exceptional fisherman, there were many others having incredible success too.

    If you do the math, for 2 weeks in August there were anywhere from 5-10K Chinook salmon hanging around the Ucluelet shoreline on a daily basis. That’s insane fishing!

    So why are southern rivers seeing a huge increase?

    I don’t have knowledge on the Harrison and Shushwap, but do know that the Stamp/Somass started doing net pen releases a few yeas back and that could be paying huge dividends.

    Seal predation of fry and smolts in the rivers has been a large problem, especially as seal populations exploded during the 1980’s. Net pen releases were a way of getting the small newly released salmon out into deeper water making it much harder for seals to gorge themselves on salmon smolts entering their new ocean life.

    Where is the best place in the world to catch Chinook (King) salmon?

    I wrote a post about the best place to catch salmon in BC and I really believe it is the best place in the world.

    There are some promising signs coming from Chile and Argentina that have some large Chinook returning there too now. I fly-fished for Chinook in Chile back in 2013 and there were good numbers of fish coming through then. I believe the numbers just keep getting better.

    What is expected for 2024?

    La Nina has taken over southern waters and is projected to bring cold water up along the coast of BC. This may change some of the patterns and keep more fish offshore. We have quite gotten used to catching salmon right outside the harbour so we may have to travel more.

    During 2023 one reason given for good fishing right next to shore is that the water was warmer offshore and colder in close to shore. Since salmon are a cold water species, they naturally go where the cold water is.

    Salmon returns are expected to be good in BC waters, Pueguot Sound and the Columbia River. Whether we get runs of historic proportion will remain to be seen, but we hope this is a trend.

    Its hard for me to leave you without some photos of salmon so here are some below. All of these trips were very short because the double hookups were happening just outside the harbour.