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Spring Chinook Start Upriver Journey

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, March 11, 2004

First few fish trickle over Bonneville Dam

Spring chinook are showing up at the mouth and lower reaches of the Columbia River and could be less than a month away from reaching the Snake River in Washington and Idaho.

Downriver fishing already is under way. Washington opened a hatchery spring chinook season Tuesday in the Wind River, Drano Lake and the Klickitat River.

Both Washington and Oregon held a pair of 16-hour commercial gill net fisheries in the lower Columbia River last week.

As of Tuesday, 28 adult spring chinook had been counted at the Bonneville Dam fish passage ladders, and the first fish carrying a computer chip pit tag from Dworshak National Fish Hatchery was recorded passing the dam last week.

The run is behind last year's early return of chinook when almost 1,600 had been counted at the dam by this time.

Salmon managers expect a run of 500,000 spring chinook to the Columbia River this year. That would be the second-largest run recorded since 1938.

Most of the salmon, 70 to 80 percent, are expected to be hatchery fish. Biologists are predicting a range of 114,000 to 167,000 spring and summer chinook to return above Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is expected to open fishing for hatchery chinook on the Clearwater River and its tributaries, the Salmon River and the Little Salmon River. Washington will propose a season on the Snake River at Little Goose Dam and one in Lower Granite Reservoir.

Washington and Idaho are discussing a joint season on the Snake River that could stretch from Lewiston and Clarkston to Heller Bar at the mouth of the Grand Ronde River.

The exact season frameworks are still being developed, according to Ed Schriever, regional fisheries manger for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston.

The department has held a series of public meetings to gauge whether people would like to see conservative bag limits that would ensure a longer fishing season or higher bag limits.

Those attending the meetings, Schriever says, seem to favor lower bag limits and guaranteed fishing.

Last year the salmon season on the Clearwater River ended early when anglers reached a predetermined quota of salmon. The daily bag limit was four hatchery chinook per day.

"Most folks said, 'Two fish a day is plenty why don't you start conservative and if you want, bump up the limits accordingly,' " Schriever says.

Idaho is even seeing if it can jump through federal regulatory hoops and open a chinook season on the upper Salmon River. The agency is expecting a surplus return of salmon to some of its hatcheries on the Pahsimeroi River and the Salmon River in the Sawtooth Basin near Stanley. But many of those hatchery runs, or portions of them, are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

In fact the majority of the salmon, hatchery and wild, that return to the upper Salmon are listed under the act. Even so, biologists are expecting more of the hatchery fish to return than are needed for spawning and would like anglers to have a shot at catching them.

But holding the fishery on the upper Salmon River, even for hatchery fish, will be difficult because of the presence of listed wild fish in the river. Any season the state holds will have to be approved by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The department is also considering holding a season on the main Salmon River upstream of Riggins. In the past few years the river has been open between Hammer Creek and the mouth of the Little Salmon River at Riggins. But the Salmon River upstream of Riggins has been closed.

Washington is planning a salmon season for the Snake River near Little Goose Dam and also proposing a season in Lower Granite Reservoir from the dam to Clarkston.

The agency is leading the charge on a proposed boundary-waters fishery held in conjunction with Idaho that would run from Clarkston to Heller Bar.

The agency has held fisheries in Lower Granite Pool before and Glen Mendel, southeast Washington fisheries manager for Washington Fish and Wildlife at Dayton, wants to give anglers another crack at figuring out the tricky fishery. Because it is held in the reservoir where there is little current, it spreads out the returning salmon and makes it difficult for anglers to find them.

"If you look at the volume of water they have to deal with, the width of the river they have to deal with because of the impoundment, it's kind of hard to figure out where they will be."

However, Mendel says there are areas where the fish will tend to gather and rest and areas where they will tend to travel.

"We need to give anglers and an opportunity to figure that out and what works."

Mendel also would like Washington anglers to have the chance to fish the Snake River where it flows more freely. A boundary waters fishery would do that.

"It's the only potential for a decent boat and bank fishery," he said. "There are, from our standpoint, definite advantages to having that area open.

A boundary water fishery was held in 2002 but only 105 chinook were caught from that stretch of river and few anglers spent much time there. Mendel thinks that can be traced to the regulations. The fishery was only open on Thursdays through Sundays and anglers were only allowed to keep one fish.

"We would definitely like to try it again with a better and more extended season and more ample opportunity to harvest fish."

Salmon fishing could start in early to mid-April on the Snake and Clearwater rivers and last into July and August on some tributaries. Both agencies are expected to set seasons later this month.

Eric Barker
Spring Chinook Start Upriver Journey
Lewiston Tribune, March 11, 2004

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