The first chinook salmon of the fall run have begun making their way up the Russian River to spawn, with biologists hoping to see a continued year-to-year increase that started three years ago.

"The Sacramento and Klamath rivers are seeing fantastic returns of fish. We are hearing it up and down the California coast," said Dave Manning, a Sonoma County Water Agency principal environmental specialist. "We should see at least an average number of fish, around 3,000 fish, and hopefully more."

The first chinook was photographed Sept. 5 swimming through the Water Agency's fish ladder at Forestville, where the agency has a rubber dam to form a pool for its water-pumping operations.

Forty-seven more have been photographed since then.

The peak of the run is between mid-October and mid-November, when the bulk of the fish will enter the river, Manning said.

"It is an indication that fall is here and a reminder we are managing this river system and habitat to meet the needs of fish," Manning said. "It is a good feeling to see them return every year."

The Water Agency has been tracking chinook salmon, which are a threatened species, with underwater cameras at the fish ladder since 2000.

The highest number counted was 2003, when 6,103 were photographed.

The low point was 2008, when 1,125 were counted, but the number has increased every year since then, with 3,119 counted last year.

Chinook usually enter the Russian River after a two-year stay in the ocean, where they feed primarily on krill.

Low returns are usually the result of poor ocean conditions.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or