Cold Winter Should Soon
by Jeff Mayor
From the Columbia River to lakes on the east side of the state, fishing options abound this time of year.
It is winter in the Northwest, meaning no one should be surprised we have had rain (at least sometimes), wind, cold and even snow.
It also means we've had a fairly dismal winter of fishing.
Because of our infrequent rains, river fishing for steelhead has been difficult because of low flows and water clear enough to be mistaken as a freshly distilled vat of vodka. Consistent nighttime temperatures below freezing have made trout in local lakes sluggish in the cold water. Wind and cold -- and a lot of attention paid to the end of the NFL playoffs -- have kept many people indoors.
But anglers should not despair, too much, for more opportunities are on the way. With some cooperation from the weather, the coming weeks will provide a good chance to hook a variety of fish. Here are some of the options:
COLUMBIA RIVER SPRINGERS
Possibly the most anticipated spring salmon is the return of chinook to the Columbia River. This year's preseason forecast of 308,000 adult spring chinook includes 227,000 fish bound for rivers and streams above Bonneville Dam. That compares to a return of just 123,100 upriver fish in 2013.
With a good return expected, fishery managers from Washington and Oregon have set the initial 2014 fishing season to run through April 7 on the lower Columbia.
"The stage is set for a great fishery this year," said Ron Roler, the state's Columbia River policy manager. "Not only is the run forecast well above average, but the light snow pack makes it unlikely that anglers will have to contend with high, turbid water as they have in some years."
Starting March 1, anglers fishing downriver from Bonneville Dam may retain one marked, hatchery-reared adult spring chinook per day. The sport fishery in that area will close on two Tuesdays -- March 25 and April 1 -- to accommodate possible commercial fisheries.
Above the dam, anglers also will have a one hatchery fish daily limit during a season scheduled March 16-May 9. The fishing area above Bonneville Dam extends upriver to the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles above McNary Dam.
Barbless hooks are required in both areas, and anglers must release any salmon or steelhead not visibly marked as a hatchery fish by a clipped adipose fin.
Under this year's initial guidelines, people fishing below the dam will be allowed to catch up to 12,400 spring chinook before an updated run forecast is released in late April or early May.
To guard against overestimating this year's run, the states are using a 30 percent buffer until the forecast is updated with information about actual returns.
"We've agreed to take a conservative approach until May, when we typically know how many fish are actually returning," Roler said. "If the fish return at or above expectations, we will look toward providing additional days of fishing on the river later in the spring."
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