More Days to Fish for
by Mark Yuasa
This year's fishing seasons are based upon a robust 2015 Columbia River spring chinook prediction of 312,600.
Washington and Oregon fishery managers agreed on Columbia River hatchery spring chinook fishing seasons, with anglers getting 38 days to fish on the lower river (compared to 26 last year) and 52 above Bonneville Dam (55).
The Lower Columbia River up to Bonneville Dam opens March 1 to April 10; and will be closed for commercial fishing on March 24, March 31 and April 7. The Lower Columbia's expected kept catch is 11,500 adult fish based on 100,000 angler trips.
The lower river below the I-5 Bridge is currently open for hatchery spring chinook.
When fishing opens on the lower river March 1, the fishery for boat and bank anglers will expand upriver to Beacon Rock, and bank fishing also allowed from Beacon Rock upriver to the fishing boundary just below Bonneville Dam.
The Columbia River from above Bonneville to the Washington-Oregon border upstream 17 miles above McNary Dam opens March 16 through May 6. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville up to the Tower Island power lines during this time frame. The expected kept catch is 1,200 adult fish.
Daily limit will be one hatchery-marked chinook in all open sections. Barbless hooks are required, and wild unmarked salmon and steelhead must be released.
The seasons are based upon a robust 2015 Columbia River spring chinook prediction of 312,600.
The largest spring chinook return on record was 440,336 (364,600 was the forecast) in 2001, and the worst was 12,792 (12,000) in 1995.
If the run comes in as predicted it would be the sixth-largest return since 1980. Overall the spring chinook forecast is well ahead of the 10-year average of 178,000.
Most of the 2015 forecast is based on an upriver-bound run of 232,500 compared to 227,000 last year and an actual return of 242,600.
The spring chinook fishery creates a frenzy beginning in February. The chinook's prized red-fleshed meat and high Omega 3 oil content rival Alaska's Copper River kings.
There are a wide range of variables that make this fishery a difficult one to pinpoint when they'll arrive. Usually the early part of the fishery is associated with lousy weather, high water levels from upstream runoff and cold water temperatures keeping most fish from moving upstream at a good clip.
Fishing in the lower river is often slow in February and March, and then ramps up nearing the closure date. The peak return occurs in April or early May.
Columbia River wild spring chinook are protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act, and fishery managers set stringent catch limits on sport, tribal and nontribal commercial catches.
In the fishery, anglers can keep only hatchery-marked spring chinook, which are identified by a clipped adipose fin located on top near the tail.
Word on Columbia River smelt
State Fish and Wildlife will allow for a very limited sport smelt sport dip-net fishery Feb. 7 and Feb. 14 from 6 a.m. until noon each day in the Cowlitz River, a lower tributary of the Columbia River.
The daily limit is 10 pounds with no more than one day's limit in possession. No fishing license is required to dip-net for smelt.
This is the second year in row that some type of smelt fishing has been allowed since 2010 when the small fish was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Fisheries managers are expecting another strong return in 2015 to the Columbia River, but not quite as large as last year's return of close to 200 million smelt.
"The smelt this past week were all the way up to Castle Rock, and there was a tribal catch in the lower (Columbia) river," said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.
Oregon fisheries also plans to open the Sandy River for smelt in early to mid-March.
Last year, sport dip-netters hauled in 198,000 pounds of smelt on the Cowlitz during a two-day fishery in early March.
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