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Spring Chinook Run Fizzles on Columbia River

by Greg Johnston
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - April 7, 2005

Hope is plummeting like a 10-ounce drop-sinker for this year's run of prized Columbia River spring chinook.

With the traditional peak about two weeks away, fishing reports from anglers and counts at Bonneville Dam indicate the run likely will not reach the preseason forecast by Washington and Oregon biologists of a bountiful 254,000 fish. It fact, it might not come anywhere near that.

"Fishing is not real good," said Tom Lines of Des Moines, who operates Tight Lines Guide Service and has been fishing out of Cathlamet recently. "We've got one in the boat today and so far I've seen about five others caught, which is better than it was. There's been a little bite every day, but there's not many fish coming through."

Counts at the dam certainly verify that. Through Tuesday, 56 springers had passed through the Bonneville fish ladder, a fraction of the 10-year average of 9,943 for that date and the lowest count for that date since 1949.

"There's not much pointing in a positive direction at the moment," said Joe Hymer, biologist at the Department of Fish and Wildlife's Vancouver office. "Fishing is not terrible, but just when you think it's going to catch fire, the next day it's slow again. It's just not consistent."

Turbid water pouring out of the Cowlitz River on the Washington side and the Willamette River in Oregon after heavy rain last week put the big river in poor fishing shape downstream of the Longview area, and catches reflected that. The best action through the weekend was in the area from Camas upstream to Bonneville, with checks by the state indicating an average of about one springer kept for every 10 anglers, the highest catch rate of the season.

Water has now cleared in the lower river and catches have improved at Cathlamet and in the Vancouver area. But fishing is still poorer than last year at this time throughout the river. There are some springers reaching the tributaries, with the Cowlitz probably producing the best fishing. Some also are being taken in the Lewis and Kalama. The season's first spring chinook, caught at the mouth of the Wind River, was checked Tuesday by state samplers.

Hymer said state biologists will update their run size forecast about mid-month, and there are triggering mechanisms in place to restrict fishing in the Columbia if the numbers are low.

"Right now, to reach the run forecast of 254,000, we'd need to average about 3,500 per day (at Bonneville) for the rest of the season," Hymer said.

If the numbers don't jump dramatically soon, it's safe to say closures on the Columbia of some variety -- by day of the week or by area -- are a foregone conclusion.

Greg Johnston
Spring Chinook Run Fizzles on Columbia River
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 7, 2005

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