Bag Limits Go Up Again as Sockeye Boom
With record number of sockeye salmon coursing up the Columbia River headed for, in large part, the Okanogan River basin, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has once again stretched the daily salmon daily bag limits to allow anglers on the mainstem to take advantage of the bounty.
And central Washington's Wenatchee Lake will open to angling for sockeye beginning Saturday.
WDFW announced earlier this week that anglers would beginning Tuesday be able to retain eight salmon and up to six adult sockeye salmon in the mainstem Columbia River from the Highway 395 Bridge at Pasco in the southeast corner of the state up to Priest Rapids Dam, July15-31. The previous limit was two.
A week earlier the state had announced the same bag limit expansion for mainstem Columbia above Priest Rapids:
Sockeye continuing up to central Washington's Wenatchee River basin or the Okanogan are not listed under the ESA. Typically 80 percent or more of the upper Columbia sockeye are bound for the Okanogan.
The preseason forecast for the sockeye return to the mouth of the Columbia was 347,000, with only 1,200 of them expected to be of Snake River origin.
That overall Columbia River mouth forecast has in recent weeks been bumped upward because of continuing strong counts at Bonneville. On Monday the Technical Advisory Committee -- made up for federal, state and tribal fishery officials -- increased the prediction to 600,000.
TAC Chairman Stuart Ellis noted that as of Tuesday, the daily counts at Bonneville had set records for each date for 17 days in a row.
The count of sockeye at the lower Snake River's Lower Granite Dam far upstream has already exceeded that preseason forecast with 1,470 fish already tallied through Thursday. To get there, the Snake River run had to pass over seven downstream dams and through both tribal and non-Indian Fisheries.
The record Lower Granite count for an entire season -- 2,201 in 2010 -- could be in reach. The Tuesday daily total of 115 was the highest so far this year. The next day's count dropped to 80, but Thursday's tally was 150. The dam, completed in 1975, is the eighth hydro project the spawning fish face on their way up the Columbia-Snake system.
And the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has said it estimates approximately 2,669 Snake River sockeye had passed Bonneville Dam through July 16.
Sockeye salmon counts at Bonneville early last week set a record that keeps getting bettered every day. The record count at Bonneville had been 515,673 (2012). The sockeye count through Tuesday at that lowermost dam on the Columbia had reached 586,535. Counts there are declining, but still totaled about 6,000 both Monday and Tuesday.
At the fifth dam upstream, Priest Rapids, the 2014 sockeye count had reached 447,163 through July 13. The previous high there for an entire season was 408,258 in 2012. The record dates back to 1962. The mid-Columbia Dam is the fifth the sockeye climb on their spawning run toward the Okanogan s system.
The return past Priest Rapids Dam is far in excess of needs for wild fish escapement to the spawning grounds, according to WDFW.
Washington fishing rules say retained fish must be at least 12 inches long. Anglers must release unharmed coho and wild adult chinook, as well as all sockeye with colored anchor (floy) tag attached.
Wenatchee Lake will be opened Saturday with a six-sockeye daily limit. The fish harvested there must also be 12 inches in length or greater.
Based on current sockeye passage at both Tumwater Dam and mainstem Columbia River Dams, at least 65,000 total sockeye are projected to be destined for Lake Wenatchee, according to WDFW. That provides an estimated 42,000 sockeye to be available for harvest above the natural spawning escapement goal of 23,000 fish.
However, anglers are advised that all roads are now closed to Lake Wenatchee because of several wildfires burning in the area. State officials have closed U.S. Highway 2 east of Stevens Pass as well as Old State Route 209 ("Chumstick Road") between Leavenworth and the lake.
Washington State Parks has also closed entry to Lake Wenatchee State Park, the site of the primary boat launch on the lake.
"The sockeye fishery will open as scheduled, but anglers may have to wait for a few days to get to it," said Jeff Korth, WDFW regional fish manager. "We strongly advise they check reports on fire and road conditions before they head out."
Sources of that information include:
Bull trout, steelhead, and chinook salmon must be released unharmed without removing the fish from the water.
The Lake Wenatchee sockeye fishery may be closed on short notice depending on participation and catch rates. Anglers are advised to check daily the fishing hotline at 360-902-2500 or WDFW's website at fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/rules_all_freshwater.j
All anglers must possess a valid fishing license and a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement to participate in this fishery. Revenue from the endorsement supports salmon or steelhead seasons on many rivers in the Columbia River system, including enforcing fishery regulations and monitoring the upper Columbia River steelhead fisheries. The endorsement has generated more than $1 million annually for WDFW to maintain and increase fishing opportunities throughout the Columbia River Basin.
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