With 154,000 adult pink salmon expected to return this summer to the Nooksack River, Whatcom County anglers can start getting ready for backyard humpy fishing rather than a road trip.
State and tribal managers want at least 50,000 of these fish to get back to the spawning grounds, primarily in the North and Middle forks, and with the Nooksack likely to muddy up with glacial flour escapement, that won't be a problem.
Preparations for catching and storing these every-other-year returning pinks may involve buying more No. 2 FST lures or perhaps rigging up a smoker. Regardless, local anglers won't have to travel to the Skagit unless they want to.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has announced an array of forecasts for 2013 salmon returns to Washington waters. An increase in returning Puget Sound coho is expected, as well as a fair run of up-river bright chinook.
On the down side, only 61 of the South Fork Nooksack's native spring chinook are expected to return this fall. Lake Washington's sockeye run also is expected to come in far below the number necessary to allow that popular fishery.
The March 1 announcement of the outlook for Washington salmon runs kicked off a monthlong public phase of annual salmon season-setting known as the North of Falcon process (the reference is to Cape Falcon on the Oregon Coast), which shapes the span of state and tribal fisheries in Washington's inland and coastal waters.
Puget Sound's surge of odd-year humpies is predicted to be 6.2 million fish, with the Skagit, Green and Puyallup river basins expected to see more than a million humpies each.
With the Fraser River's potential pink return loosely pegged at 10 million to 20 million, saltwater anglers are still likely to get a daily humpy bag limit bonus.
? Nooksack River: A forecast return of 68,078 fish is sufficiently above the river's prescribed 50,000-pink escapement goal to allow managers to seek a season for sport fishers. The Nooksack's race of pink salmon are the ultimate in several categories. First, by stature, individually, they are the smallest of all of Puget Sound's humpy stocks. Second, they are the earliest of Puget Sound's pinks to get on their spawning grounds, in late August. The season opening date likely will be July 15.
? Skagit River: With a predicted pink return more than 3.5 times the number needed to meet the 330,000-fish escapement goal, elbow-to-elbow recreational fishing for humpies on the lower Skagit is also a foregone conclusion. The main concern managers will have is that the fall chinook return to the Skagit, which are in the river at the same time, will need protection.
? Other Puget Sound waters: Only 988,000 pinks are expected to storm the Snohomish River system this fall, but King County's Green River should see 1.3 million humpies. Watch for the Marine Area 6 and 8.1 opening dates for salmon for a North Whidbey Island beach fishing opportunity for pinks. The opening needs to be in June and July, when Skagit humpies are coming through Deception Pass.
Anglers will have about 150,000 more silvers back to Puget Sound this fall on which to fish if the run bears out its forecast. The combined return to inland waters is expected to be 882,134 coho, which will include about 100,000 more wild or natural-origin fish than the 2012 return of 365,122 non-clipped fish.
? Nooksack River: A 39 percent increase in returning hatchery-origin coho to Lummi Nation's sea pond program is counterbalanced by an expected substantial dip of 21,225 adults in coho returns to Lummi Nation's Skookum Hatchery on the South Fork Nooksack. Overall, the Nooksack is expected to see only 53,804 coho this fall, down 17,505 fish from 2012. However, Nooksack's wild coho will hold their own, with a showing of 24,000 non-clipped silvers. In previous years, natural origin fish returns have been in the range of 6,000-8,000 fish range. Anglers probably will be allowed to keep wild fish this year.
? Skagit River: Wild coho, at close to three times 2012 numbers, will constitute almost 90 percent of the 2013 overall silver return to the Skagit, with the hatchery component of the run, coming back mainly to the state's Marblemount facility, expected to reach 16,300 fish.
? Other Puget Sound: The Snohomish system coho returns are expected to top 275,279 fish, with more than twice as many hatchery fish as 2012. From Seattle south, Lake Washington and lower sound fisheries are expected to be working on an anticipated run of 415,000 coho, down from 2012 numbers.
North Sound river fall stock chum runs at 116,794 fish will lag behind the 673,220-fish dog salmon returns bound for Hood Canal and central/south sound streams or hatcheries.
? Nooksack/Samish river: The 2013 forecast is for 52,585 wild or natural-origin fish bound mainly for the North Fork Nooksack, while 1,452 hatchery-origin adults are expected. The Nooksack wild fish escapement goal, which feeds bald eagles, is 18,000 fish.
? Skagit River: Under an odd-year escapement target dictate of 40,000 fish, the 2013 run is expected to drop yet again down to a return of just 15,325 fall chums. Anglers will certainly see a ban on the retention of Skagit dogs.
While most Puget Sound chinook runs once they reach freshwater are deemed off-limits to sport fishers, one recently added spring chinook fishery and an opportunity for fall stock kings are still likely in 2013.
An expected return of 3,828 hatchery-origin spring chinook to Marblemount Hatchery this summer will probably enable the upriver June hook-and-line option to take place.
The wild component of the Skagit-bound early kings, heading to spawning grounds above Marblemount, as well as the Cascade, Sauk and Suiattle rivers, is pegged to be just 1,080 total fish, down some from recent past years.
The healthiest of the Skagit's five stocks, its lower river fall stock Chinook, are expected to return at 13,254 fish, well below numbers of 20 years ago.
Fall stock chinook salmon returning to the Nooksack/Samish complex are expected to number 46,578 fish at the west Strait of Juan de Fuca doorstep. That will likely allow for a recreational fishery in Samish and Nooksack bays, as well as a hook-and-line fishery in the lower Samish River, although that fishery continues to be under scrutiny because of trespassing and other unruly behavior.
A forecast return of 21,557 reds to the Baker system will allow managers to split the harvestable surplus between tribal netters and sport anglers, with the summer hook-and-line option likely to occur in Baker Lake.
The 2013 sockeye forecast of 96,866 fish for Cedar River (and other streams) is only about 27 percent of the escapement goal. Therefore managers are not now planning for a summer Lake Washington sport fishery.
In the Columbia River above Priest Rapids Dam, with 180,350 sockeye expected to return to Lake Wenatchee and the Okanogan River, there is a possibility of a recreational fishery this summer. The Wenatchee River stock must have an escapement of 27,000 reds to allow a fishery. The forecast is for 44,600 fish.
Sport anglers and other interested citizens may participate in the meetings and some of the March deliberation, known as the North of Falcon process, that will lead to the setting of sport, non-treaty commercial and treaty fishing opportunities.
For more information and details such as the public meeting schedule, visit the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's North of Falcon portal at wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/northfalcon/.
Salmon quotas for waters off Washington's coast under federal jurisdiction will be set by the Pacific Fisheries Management Council in early April.
On May 1, Washington's 2011 fishing regulations, including the summer and fall's fresh- and salt-water opportunities, will take effect.
Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald's outdoors correspondent, since 1983 has written a weekly fishing and hunting column that now appears Sundays. Read his blog and contact him at http://pblogs.bellinghamherald.com/outdoors.