ILWACO — The ocean recreational salmon fishing season opened Saturday with local charter fleets reporting aggressive fish and frequent limits, often well before lunchtime.

Coho salmon, also known as silvers, are accounting for a vast majority of the promising early-season catch with a few Chinook mixed in.

“It’s probably the best opener we’ve had since 2014,” said Coho Charters owner and skipper Butch Smith moments after returning to port with load of customers Monday morning, each with their two salmon daily limit.

“I think the million [returning coho] prediction was pretty close this year. I think it’s going to be an excellent year.”

The fishing has been fast and furious since the Saturday start.

“We got our last fish by 11 a.m.,” said Westwind deckhand Clark Von Essen upon returning to port Sunday. “We limited out quick.”

Von Essen estimated that 95% of the catch was coho and 5% Chinook, which typically show up in greater numbers later in the summer.

“Hopefully it stays open longer than it did last year and we have a chance to have a good season,” Von Essen said.

The bounty brought in by recreational fishermen has been a boon to local canneries.

“Everybody was limited by noon all weekend and that usually doesn’t happen on opening day,” said Sportsmen’s Cannery co-owner Kevin Ward. “It’s been very good, lots of fish. It reminds of years past, when we first started in the business and had huge salmon years.”

The early-season catch has matched what fishery managers predicted would be a strong coho return.

An estimated 905,800 coho are projected to return to the Columbia River this year, an increase of 619,600 fish from the 2018 forecast. About 147,000 coho actually returned to the Columbia River last year.

“Anglers can expect some great opportunities to fish for coho this summer,” said Wendy Beeghley, a fishery manager with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“With increased numbers of coho projected to return, we have a much higher catch quota for coho this year in comparison with the last few years,” Beeghley said.

The coho quota for 2019 is 159,600 fish, up 117,600 over last year. Meanwhile, the Chinook catch quota is 26,250 fish, which is 1,250 fewer fish than 2018’s quota.

In marine areas 1 (Ilwaco) and 2 (Westport), anglers can retain two salmon, only one of which can be a chinook.

Anglers fishing in marine areas 3 (La Push) and 4 (Neah Bay) will have a two-salmon daily limit. In all marine areas, anglers must release wild coho.

Luke Whittaker is a staff writer for Coast River Business Journal and the Chinook Observer. Contact him at 360-642-8181 or lwhittaker@crbizjournal.com.

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