Sport fishing on this year's crop of wild and hatchery summer-run steelhead in a number of Eastern Washington streams is winding down to witching hours on Wednesday, Mar. 31, Thursday, Apr. 15... or perhaps sooner.
One shoe already has dropped with last Sunday's (Feb. 28) scheduled closure of the Wenatchee River steelhead fishery. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife managers anticipated that the maximum allowable incidental catch [and release] of wild summer-run steelhead by sport fishers in the Wenatchee had by then been reached.
With wild steelhead stocks in greater Columbia Basin streams designated as 'threatened' under the federal endangered species act, recreational fishing anywhere on them, either targeted or indirect, is governed by special permits issued to Washington State by the NOAA Fisheries, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Department of Commerce.
Fishing opportunities such as those in the Okanogan or Grande Ronde rivers focus on hatchery-origin fish identified by a missing (clipped off) adipose fin with concurrent release of all wild (fish with their adipose fins intact) steelhead required.
Without those permits any commercial or recreation fishery that is reckoned to have a potentially detrimental impact on a listed stock may not be opened.
With the presumption that a percentage of such fish die after release, these annually issued documents include terms that establish the maximum number of individual wild fish that may be handled by anglers. By NOAA mandate under ESA, the incidental mortality is strictly limited to a small percentage of the total numbers of fish expected in each year's wild run to each river.
In the Columbia system, counts of fish passing over various dams provide accurate run-size numbers for management formulas and monitoring of recreational fisheries as they unfold give managers figures to calculate encounter rates.
Here's a summary of remaining steelhead options in Columbia River sub-basin areas under Washington State jurisdiction:
UPPER COLUMBIA RIVER (UPSTREAM OF PRIEST RAPIDS DAM)
Still open to summer steelhead retention are the mainstem Columbia reservoirs above Rock Island Dam together with portions of the Entiat, Methow, Okanogan and Similkameen rivers.
Under an emergency regulation announced Feb. 10, angling is governed by a night fishing ban and 'selective gear' restrictions on all open waters.
Every wild fish brought to hand must be kept in the water and released unharmed, but anglers also are required to keep each hatchery steelhead, up to a daily limit of four, they land.
With the exception of two Okanogan reaches, the above waters are slated to remain open until Wednesday, Mar. 31 unless the incidental wild fish catch threshold is reached in any individual waters.
Adipose fin-clipped steelhead with caudal fin hole punches may now be kept anywhere in the open streams of the upper Columbia.
Bait usage is banned in the Entiat, Okanogan, Methow and Similkameen River by the selective fishing rule, but the prohibition is waived in the legal-to-fish reaches of the Upper Columbia River (Rock Island Pool, Lake Entiat, Lake Pateros). In another departure from terms of the state's selective gear rule, anglers may fish from motorized boats in the Columbia, Okanogan, Methow and Entiat rivers.
Here are thumbnail sketches by stream:
Columbia River mainstem _ open starting at Rock Island Dam just below Wenatchee upstream to the control zone below Chief Joseph Dam. These expanses are most successfully fished by boat even at the Entiat, Methow and Okanogan river mouths and there are numerous ramps and access locations.
Upper Columbia River basin waters now closed to retention of steelhead include the mainstem Columbia from Priest Rapids Dam upstream to the control zone below Rock Island Dam, all of Crab Creek, the entire Wenatchee River system, the Methow above Chewuck River and the Entiat River above the federal hatchery and the Okanogan below the Osoyoos Lake Control structure Zosel Dam.
Entiat River _ located north of Wenatchee and accessed via U. S. Highway 97 and Entiat Road (Chelan County Road No. 19). Banks are bounded mostly by private property so getting at fishable water is difficult. The open reach is from Alternate U. S. Highway 97 bridge upstream to 800 feet below Entiat National Hatchery outfall.
Methow River _ found north of Wenatchee and accessed via U. S. Highway 97 and state route 153. Open from the Highway 97 bridge at Pateros upstream to the mouth of the Chewuck River. The lower Methow's normally closed section from Highway 97 upstream to Burma Road has been opened to sport fishing by temporary rule. There are numerous bridge crossings plus four WDFW access areas.
Okanogan River _ the last major tributary below Grand Coulee Dam, it's located north of Wenatchee and accessed via U.S. Highway 97 (eastside) and Old Highway 97 (westside). Steelheading is legal from its mouth in Lake Pateros (reservoir) near Brewster upstream to the Highway 97 bridge immediately south of Oroville. Two reaches of the Okanogan will close Sunday, Mar. 15 to protect staging wild steelhead below the mouths of several creeks. The reaches are from the first powerline crossing downstream of the Highway 155 Bridge in Omak (Coulee Dam Credit Union Building) to the mouth of Omak Creek and from the Tonasket Bridge (4th Street) downstream to the Tonasket Lagoons Park boat launch.
Similkameen River _ located west of Oroville and accessed via U.S. Highway 97 and Loomis-Oroville Road. It's open from the lower mouth upstream to within 400 feet below Enloe Dam.
LOWER SNAKE RIVER AND TRIBUTARIES
In southeast Washington, still open this spring for steelhead are the Snake and portions of the Touchet, Palouse and Grande Ronde rivers.
Snake River mainstem _ is open until Wednesday, Mar. 31 from its mouth up to the Oregon state line including the Idaho state boundary reach now with a five-hatchery-fish-per-day bag limit of which no more than three may be 32 inches or longer (announced Oct. 6, 2009). Barbless hooks are required.
Closed to steelhead fishing now in the lower Snake River basin are the Tucannon and Walla Walla rivers as well as all other tributaries.
Touchet River _ is open until Wednesday, Mar. 31 from its mouth to the forks in the vicinity of Dayton with a three-fish-a-day aggregate limit of brown trout and hatchery steelhead. Barbless hooks required.
Lower Palouse River _ (first four miles to below high falls) is open until Wednesday, Mar. 31 with a three-hatchery-steelhead-a-day limit. Barbless hooks required. Access is difficult to the bowels of this spectacular canyon and rattlesnakes can be out by mid-spring, maybe earlier with the warm weather.
Grande Ronde River _ is closed to retention of any steelhead for the first 1.5 miles above the Snake to the first county road bridge. But until Thursday, Apr. 15 summer-runs may be kept upstream from the county road bridge to the Oregon state line. By emergency rule announced Oct. 6, 2009 there now is a five-hatchery-steelhead-per-day bag limit and no size restriction. Barbless hooks are required and tributaries are closed. The hatchery stock here is non-native.
YAKIMA RIVER AND TRIBUTARIES
All streams in the Yakima basin are closed to steelhead fishing at this time, but some reaches are open to angling for other gamefish (any steelhead must be released).
BONNEVILLE POOL TRIBUTARIES
Four larger streams on the Washington side of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam are currently closed to the taking of steelhead but will soon open with the hatchery spring chinook season. They are:
Wind River _ opens Tuesday, Mar. 16 only upstream to Shipherd Falls under an aggregate hatchery salmon and steelhead daily bag limit. The reach above Shipherd Falls isn't slated open until May 1. You'll find Wind River listed in the westside rivers section of the pamphlet. A special regulation has rescinded the anti-snag rule below the railroad bridge.
Always check both the special regulations section of the 2009/2010 Fishing in Washington sport fishing rules pamphlet edition for permanent regulations as well as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's on-line center for the posting of emergency or temporary fishing rule changes at: https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/.
Little White Salmon River _ popularly and legally known as Drano Lake also becomes legal to fish for steelhead Tuesday, Mar. 16 again under the new aggregate hatchery steelhead and salmon daily bag limit. Only bank angling will be allowed at the artificial lake's outlet. Be aware of the closed waters section at the federal hatchery. Drano Lake's special rules are found in the westside lakes section of the state's regulations pamphlet and check online at https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/erule.jsp?id=863
White Salmon River _ opens Thursday, Apr. 1 from its marked legal mouth upstream to Northwestern (or Condit) Dam again under the recently devised aggregate hatchery steelhead and salmon daily bag limit. It is listed in the eastside rivers section of the regulations.
Klickitat River _ will also open to hatchery steelhead retention Thursday, Apr. 1 upstream from its mouth to the control zone below the hatchery and its daily bag limit has been doubled from one to two hatchery salmon or steelhead per day. Angling also is allowed only four days per week (Mondays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays).
Doug Huddle, the Herald's outdoors correspondent, has, since 1983, written a weekly hunting and fishing column that appears Fridays.
Eastside Steelheading Enters Last Month
The News Tribune, March 6, 2010
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