Anglers Cast their Hopes as
Sturgeon fishing to close Tuesday, but could reopen
As Independence Day approaches, river and ocean fisheries kick into high gear with seasons opening throughout the region.
The ocean salmon fishery gets under way shortly. Coastal fisheries off Ilwaco (Marine Area 1) and Westport, Wash., (Marine Area 2) will open next week on a Sunday-through-Thursday schedule.
But a strong return of summer chinook salmon to the Columbia River has been producing unusually high catch rates below Bonneville Dam and raising questions about how much longer the fishery can remain open in the lower river. Catch-and-keep sturgeon fishing in the Columbia River estuary ends Tuesday night.
Just two weeks after the summer chinook fishery opened June 16, fishery managers increased this year's run size projection from 49,000 to a minimum of 70,000 fish based on counts to date at Bonneville. Boat anglers averaged one summer chinook for every six rods and bank anglers scored one fish for every 10 rods during the first full week of fishing.
Most of those fish Ð some weighing up to 50 pounds Ð were taken by anglers fishing below Bonneville Dam, said Cindy LeFleur, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Columbia River harvest manager.
"These are the highest catch rates we've seen for summer chinook since re-opening the fishery in 2002," LeFleur said. "Cold, high water in the river made for near-perfect conditions and the fish showed up in much higher numbers than expected."
Along with summer chinook, anglers are also catching increasing numbers of summer-run hatchery steelhead and white sturgeon in the lower Columbia River. Steelhead fishing on the mainstem has been best from Longview, Wash., downriver, and has also been picking up in the Lewis River and Cowlitz River.
Meanwhile, charter boat anglers fishing from Chinook and Ilwaco, Wash., have been averaging nearly 0.75 legal-sized sturgeon per rod, while private boaters have been taking home one legal-sized fish for every three rods. Sturgeon fishing below the Wauna powerline is scheduled to close for a catch assessment at the end of the day Tuesday, but could reopen if more fish can be taken within the quota, said Brad James, a WDFW fish biologist.
A much-anticipated summer fishery will begin when waters off La Push and Neah Bay (marine areas 3 and 4) open for coastal salmon fishing. In both areas, the fishery is open Tuesday through Saturday with a two fish daily limit, only one of which may be a chinook. Minimum size for chinook is 24 inches and for coho, 16 inches. Wild coho must be released.
Recreational ocean fishing quotas of 31,000 chinook and 73,200 coho salmon were approved in April by the federal agency that sets harvest limits in waters up to 200 miles offshore, according to Wendy Beeghley, WDFW fish biologist. Although those quotas are lower than last year's because of lower predicted salmon returns and increased conservation restrictions, Beeghley pointed to some positive signs for the upcoming season.
"The ocean water temperatures have stayed lower this year than last, so that is encouraging," she said. "Also, I've heard some bottomfishing charter boats have caught and released both coho and chinook, so that is also a good sign."
The last ocean areas, Ilwaco and Westport (marine areas 1 and 2), open for salmon fishing Monday. In both areas, the fishery will be open Sunday through Thursday with a two fish daily limit, only one of which may be a chinook. Minimum size for chinook is 24 inches and for coho, 16 inches. Wild coho must be released.
Meanwhile, the lingcod fishery has slowed down on the coast, according to Beeghley. "The charter boats out of Westport were doing pretty well with some boats limiting, but the average was just under one fish per person, " she said. "It's typical for lingcod to drop off this time of year. It's better in March and April."
However, the rockfish action has been consistently good in both Neah Bay and Westport, Beeghley said. Anglers have also been reeling in the rockfish off Port Angeles where catch reports showed one fish per two rods on June 24 and just over one fish per rod on June 25.
It's been tough fishing on rivers feeding into Grays Harbor, said Rick Ereth, WDFW fish biologist. "We need this weather to break." Steelhead fishing on the Wynoochee River has been slow, although anglers have been catching a few chinook on the mid-to-lower Chehalis River, between Oakville and Elma, especially in drift boats, Ereth said . He also noted some 31,000 summer steelhead have been planted in the upper Chehalis below Pe Ell and above Adna, so there's good numbers of fish in the river.
"The waters are cooler there and the flows are skinny, since the channel's confined," he said. "Might be a good place to put in a pontoon."
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