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Anglers fishing for fall chinook on the Columbia River will see some beautiful sunrises. This year's chinook numbers are running well ahead of 2019 so far. (Photo courtesy Rob Phillips)

This is a favorite time of year for many anglers in our region as the run of fall chinook salmon start making their way up to their spawning grounds in the last free-flowing stretch of the Columbia River. For decades, anglers have converged on the Hanford Reach on the Columbia to fish for the big salmon, known as upriver brights.

Every year is different with the fall salmon runs. A few years ago some 600,000 fall salmon returned to the upper Columbia. Last year the run was around 246,000. This year’s forecast for fall upriver brights is 237,400 but according to the counts at Bonneville Dam so far, the run numbers are running well ahead of last year.

As of Sunday, some 184,921 adult chinook salmon had passed over Bonneville. Last year on the same date, only 92,741 had migrated up through the ladders over the dam. That bodes well for a larger than predicted run, but according to biologists it is still too early to make that call. The fish just might be arriving earlier this year.

Fishing for the salmon has been pretty good at popular fishing holes such as Drano Lake, and at the mouth of the Klickitat and Deschutes Rivers in the mid-Columbia. Many anglers were catching their limit, which is one adult salmon.

As of Wednesday, though, the Columbia River from Bonneville up to the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco is closed to salmon fishing through Sept. 22. The closure was made this year to allow Snake River bound chinook to have a better chance of making it upstream.

Fishing above the 395 bridge on up the Columbia is still open and with a good number of salmon heading this way, fishing should be good around White Bluffs, and above the Vernita Bridge in the days ahead.

According to a report put out by WDFW biologists, fish checkers working throughout the Hanford Reach have been checking some nice salmon. Their report out on Tuesday said that boats last week averaged a little less than a 1/2 salmon, with anglers spending 31 hours per fish. From August 31 through September 6, WDFW staff interviewed anglers from 321 boats (767 anglers) with 113 adult chinook and 9 jacks. Based on the sampling, an estimated 349 adult chinook and 29 chinook jacks were harvested from 2,354 angler trips.

For the season, there have been 4,472 angler trips harvesting 536 adult chinook and 77 chinook jacks. In addition, 184 sockeye and 31 wild steelhead were caught and released.

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Again, with the numbers of fall chinook over the dams almost double what we saw last year at this time, the fishing upriver should be improving steadily.

DOVES ABOUND: Hunters who made it out for the dove opener last week found pretty good numbers of birds, especially compared to last year. I hunted with some friends down on the Yakama Reservation and we had some hot and heavy shooting in a cut wheat field. With warmer temperatures predicted through the next week or so, there still should be some doves around for those who like the challenge the fast-flying birds present. And, even though they’re small, they are very good eating too.

A STRANGE COINCIDENCE: Last week I wrote about hunting grouse on Cleman Mountain. I wrote and submitted my column on Monday morning. A few hours later the Evans Canyon fire started not far from where, as I mentioned last week, I shot my very first gamebird back in 1968. A strange coincidence for sure.

RIP BOB ROBERTSON: I read with sadness of the passing of Bob Robertson, the long-time play-by-play man for the Washington State University Cougars. Again, coincidentally, many of my early days hunting with my dad, and then with my friends, were spent riding around in the hills west of Yakima, looking for grouse and listening to Bob Robertson call the Cougar football games in September..

Then, as I attended WSU in the mid-1970’s, my longtime friend and roommate Rob Robillard and I would spend many a Saturday afternoon hunting pheasants and Hungarian partridge around the Palouse listening to Robertson call the Cougar games. We would attend most home games, but when the Cougars were on the road, we’d be out looking for pheasants and listening to Robertson bring the games to life in the little Toyota Corolla Rob drove.

Both Rob and I had played high school ball (me basketball and Rob football) against Wapato’s Dan Doornink, but now he was playing for our team and we loved listening to Bob make the calls of Jack Thompson handing off or throwing a swing pass to Doornink. Robertson would get so excited, especially if he thought there was a big hole opening for Dan, and we could just envision the play happening as he made the call.

Those, frankly, are some of my very best memories of my four years at WSU. The beautiful fall days in the Palouse, chasing birds, and listening to the Cougs with Bob Robertson making the call. He will be missed for sure.

Rob Phillips is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer who has written the Northwest Sportsman column for over 25 years. He can be reached at rob1@spdandg.com