The good news for Ilwaco’s fishing fleet is that the summer salmon runs for the Pacific Ocean and Columbia River should be immense.

The bad news: This is the first year when it’s been illegal to keep a sturgeon in the lower Columbia River.

In past years, May and June have been the biggest months for sturgeon fishing in the lower river. With only a few catch-and-release sturgeon trips this year, this weekend’s opening of the ocean salmon season is even more important for charter boat operators.

A chinook-only ocean season starts Saturday and runs through June 13. Starting June 14, anglers can keep chinook and coho. The salmon season on the lower Columbia River starts Aug 1.

Washington and Oregon fishery managers have been touting the big runs arriving this summer and fall.

The Columbia River fall chinook forecast is more than 1.6 million, the largest since 1938, the year after Bonneville Dam was finished (runs were higher before then). The 2013 fall chinook return of 1.2 million was nearly double the forecast of 686,900.

In addition to all those chinook, a monster run of coho totaling almost 1 million fish is forecast to return to the Columbia River this fall. In 2013, there were 316,900 Columbia River coho.

“I think fishing should be off the chain,” said Butch Smith, a charter boat owner and president of the Ilwaco Charter Association. He said commercial trawlers have been landing chinook weighing 30 pounds and up.

“I think the predictions are true,” Smith said. “We should have a pretty good king-only season and an excellent summer season that starts the 14th.”

“It should be absolutely fantastic,” said Milt Gudgell, owner of Pacific Salmon Charters in Ilwaco. “The commercial guys have been just pounding them.”

“This certainly could be a banner year for summer salmon fisheries, particularly off the Washington coast in the Columbia River,” Ron Warren, policy lead for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a news release.

Of the 1.2 million coho forecast, slightly more than half are Columbia early-stock coho, the main source of the ocean and Buoy-10 fishery. Buoy 10 is the name given to the 16 miles between Buoy No. 10 at the Columbia River mouth and the line between Tongue Point in Oregon and Rocky Point in Washington. At the fishery’s peak, the area often is mobbed with boats.

The late coho stock usually enters in October and November, when sport-fishing interest starts to wane.

Ilwaco is the largest port for charter boat sport fishing at the mouth of the Columbia, with about 25 boats.

Smith said early in the season, most people who book trips live within a one-day drive. Later in July, charter boat operators see more family groups on extended vacations, he said.

Dampening all the enthusiasm for the upcoming salmon runs is the lack of a sturgeon season.

The estimated number of legal sturgeon in the Columbia River went from 100,200 in 2010 to 72,700 in 2012, according to estimates by Washington and Oregon biologists.

In 1987, the lower Columbia River sturgeon harvest was 62,400. Last year, sturgeon fishing on the lower Columbia closed in June and the harvest was only 6,500.

Earlier this year, Smith made a pitch to the Fish and Wildlife Commission for a limited sturgeon fishery in May and June because it would have provided a needed economic boost to the Ilwaco area. He argued that the sturgeon population is rebounding along with the smelt they eat.

The commission didn’t discuss revisiting the issue (which would also require action by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission) but Smith said the issue will be discussed again next year.

Until two or three years ago, when sturgeon seasons were longer, they provided more than half of his income, Smith said. Last year, sturgeon trips still brought in about $80,000, he said — he’s only one of four charter boat companies in Ilwaco.

“This is worse than it was in ‘94 when they closed the (salmon) season,” he said.

Though salmon get most of the glory, Ilwaco charter boat operators also do trips for bottom fish, halibut and tuna.