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Chinook Sport-fishing Season to End Soon

by Allen Thomas
The Columbian, April 7, 2008

The hottest spring chinook salmon angling in the lower Columbia River in decades comes to a close Monday to avoid exceeding the sport-fishing allocation.

"It appears there's a whole wall of salmon charging up the river," said Carmen MacDonald, an Oregon sport-fishing activist who predicted the run will be even larger than the forecast of 269,300.

Washington and Oregon officials agreed after a Wednesday hearing to give sportsmen the weekend, then end the season 10 days earlier than scheduled.

A combination of a large run headed for spawning areas upstream of Bonneville Dam, plus cold, clear and low streamflows in the Columbia, combined to result in exceptional catch rates.

Last week, the average catch was an astonishing chinook per 2.5 rods. An aerial survey on Sunday counted more than 1,500 boats between Hayden Island and Bonneville Dam.

One of the surprisingly good fishing locations is under the icon of the metro area - the Interstate 5 Bridge. Three hundred or more boats a day can be spotted around the I-5 and BNSF Railway bridges.

"I've never seen spring chinook fishing this good for this long in one location," said Karl Anderson of Vancouver, in his 58th year of spring salmon angling. "It's been incredible."

But restrictions under the federal Endangered Species Act to protect wild salmon, plus catch-sharing agreements with the commercial industry and treaty tribes, limit the sport catch to about 24,000 this spring.

Biologist Chris Kern of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the projected catch through Sunday, the last day of fishing, will be slightly more than 22,300 chinook kept and 4,000 released. If those projections materialize, there will be around 1,600 to 2,000 fish available in the allocation, not enough for another day when the catch is 1,200 to 1,400 a day on a run that's not yet at its peak.

"This was really a great fishery," said Phil Donovan of the Northwest Steelheaders. "If you had 8 ounces of lead and 7-foot leader, you could catch a salmon."

Most sportsmen testifying at Wednesday's hearing supported the closure.

"We hate to close, but we want to make sure the area above Bonneville has enough fish for their fishery to take place and get the east side of the state online with salmon recovery," said Larry Swanson of Vancouver.

Columbia River spring chinook salmon are, arguably, the finest-tasting salmon in the world. Each fish earns a commercial fisherman $100 to $150, said Gary Soderstrom, president of the Columbia River Fisheries Protective Union, a commercial group.

"These fish are gold," Soderstrom said.

The sport catch, when done Sunday, will have dipped into a buffer that comes from the commercial share.

The net fleet caught around 4,000 on Tuesday, bringing their total to 6,000 on a 6,500 allocation for April. The netters are not expected to get another fishing period until after state, federal and tribal biologists update the run in early May, based on Bonneville Dam counts.

While sport fishing has been exceptional in the lower Columbia, the count at Bonneville is just 7,800 for the spring through Tuesday. Sport-fishing above Bonneville is scheduled to be open through May 10.

Steve Williams of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said Wednesday it is unfortunate sport fishing has to close before the goal of April 30.

"But it's not as if we haven't had a good fishery to put us in the plight we're in," he said.

Allen Thomas
Chinook Sport-fishing Season to End Soon
The Columbian, April 7, 2008

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