Chinook Season Opens in Oregon, Washington
by Keith Ridler, Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho -- Northwest anglers will be casting for spring chinook this week.
Fishery managers in Oregon and Washington agreed Tuesday to reopen recreational salmon fishing below Bonneville Dam on Wednesday. About 100,000 upriver spring chinook salmon are now expected.
The return is later than last year, but current expectations are well above the preseason estimates of 65,000 to 88,400.
In a separate action, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will also open a sport fishery Wednesday on the Snake River near Little Goose Dam. Last week, the department opened spring chinook fishing in the upper Bonneville Pool upriver to McNary Dam.
"This is the latest run in recorded history, but it came on strong once it got started," said Bill Tweit, the agency's policy leader for Columbia River fisheries. "Now that we have good numbers of fish upriver, we can finally reopen some areas to fishing."
The daily limit in the Snake River fishery is one hatchery chinook salmon measuring at least 12 inches. Hatchery chinook have a clipped adipose fin, and anglers must release all unmarked chinook and all steelhead.
The mainstem Columbia River will open to recreational fishing Wednesday below Bonneville Dam downriver to the Rocky Point-Tongue Point line near the Megler-Astoria Bridge. The fishery will be open seven days per week until further notice.
Anglers fishing there can catch a total of six hatchery chinook. Only two can be adults. All wild chinook, chum and sockeye salmon, plus cutthroat trout and wild steelhead, must be released.
Fishery managers also approved a 10-hour opening for commercial fishing in the lower Columbia beginning Tuesday afternoon. Just over 1,000 spring chinook had been caught when commercial fishing was closed in mid-March due to concerns about lagging fish returns.
Meanwhile, upriver in Idaho - buoyed by the surge of fish in the last week and a half - biologists with the state Department of Fish and Game plan to propose a sport fishing season this Friday at the state Fish and Game Commission's meeting in Coeur d'Alene.
"If we have good biological information to support the proposal, we hope they will look upon it favorably," said Sharon Kiefer, anadromous fishery manager for Idaho's Department of Fish and Game.
The seven commissioners, who each represent a region of the state, will vote to accept or reject the proposal, modify it or consider it further.
Kiefer said commissioners generally accept proposals from staff biologists. She said the sport fishing proposal was still being worked on, but would likely resemble last year's.
Last year, the season opened on parts of the Snake River, Lower Salmon River, main stem of the Clearwater River, North Fork Clearwater River, South Fork Clearwater River, and the Lochsa River. Kiefer said the season could open as soon as this weekend.
"It's always possible," said Kiefer. "But I don't know that there would be too many fish there this weekend."
"This run profile was different from anything else we've ever seen," said John North, a fisheries manager with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and a member of the Columbia River Compact.
Last year's spring chinook run was late in arriving, and this year's run trailed it all spring until recently shooting past it. As of Tuesday, about 77,000 spring chinook had passed above Bonneville Dam, compared to 57,000 at this time last year. The 10-year average is 133,000.
"I had faith in our forecast and it looks like it will be better than that," said Cindy LeFleur, policy coordinator for the Columbia River Compact with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. For Idaho anglers, it's only a matter of time before more fish enter state waters.
"Some fish can make it here from Bonneville in two weeks," said Rexann Zimmerman of the Hook, Line and Sinker Tackle Shop in Riggins.
As of Tuesday, though, only about 700 spring chinook had passed Lower Granite Dam, the uppermost of the eight dams that salmon must pass to reach Idaho. But many of the chinook that have gone above Bonneville are expected to work their way upstream over the next several weeks. The 10-year average at Lower Granite Dam is about 28,000 for this time of year.
If a season is approved Friday, Idaho will have avoided its first year without a spring chinook season since 1999. A 2001 survey found that anglers spent $46 million pursuing spring chinook in Idaho. Zimmerman said how much is spent in Riggins depends on what opens.
"If they open the big river (Salmon River) that's a major boon to Riggins," she said. "It brings in the jet boats and the money. Even if they just open the Little (Salmon) River, it's amazing what it does for Riggins."
She said anglers come from Washington, Oregon, Utah and Montana.
"The motels, the restaurants, the gas stations, all of them do well when the salmon show up," she said.
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