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After 30 Years, Sport Fishery Opened on Stretch of Snake

by Staff
Columbia Basin Bulletin - April 26, 2002

For the first time in more than 30 years, a 23-mile section of the Snake River in the southeast corner of Washington has opened for sport fishing for hatchery spring chinook salmon. Hatchery spring chinook fishing opened the same day -- April 25 -- in another section of the river to the west near Little Goose Dam.

Fishing will be open from the Southway Bridge at Lewiston/Clarkston upstream to the Heller Bar boat ramp below the confluence of the Grande Ronde River. In addition, a five-mile section of the river from the Texas Rapids boat launch upstream to the Corps of Engineers boat launch approximately one mile upstream of Little Goose Dam will open the same day for hatchery spring chinook.

Fishing is scheduled to continue Thursdays through Sundays through May 19 from a half-hour before sunrise until one hour after sunset.

The fishery may end earlier than scheduled if the returning run size is significantly lower than expected or if projected impacts to protected wild fish are exceeded, cautioned Tim Flint, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife salmon manager. Those forecasts, produced by the Technical Advisory Committee's tribal, state and federal fishery experts -- have been ratcheted down from an preseason estimate of 333,700 adult "upriver" spring chinook returns to the mouth if the Columbia. Largely because of lower-than expected dam counts to-date the TAC reduced its estimate to 250,000 Tuesday then dropped the overall estimate to 238,000 Thursday.

The Snake River fish make up more than half of the overall upriver run bound for hatcheries and tributary spawning grounds above Bonneville.

Fishers are required to immediately release wild salmon and all steelhead unharmed. They are allowed a daily limit of one hatchery fish (identifiable by a missing adipose fin and healed scar) in the Clarkston area fishery, and two hatchery fish per day in the fishery near Little Goose Dam.

Besides uncertainty over the number of actual returns, fishers should be aware the run is later than expected, Flint added.

"The fish aren't there yet and we expect fishing will start off slow, " he said. Through Wednesday spring chinook lower Snake River counts totaled only 583 at Little Goose Dam and 285 at Lower Granite Dam. A total of 64,276 adults had been counted through Tuesday at Bonneville Dam, the first dam they encounter on the trip upriver.

The latest forecast is reduced but, if it materializes, would still be one of the stronger runs in recent history. Last year's overall upriver return of 416,500 set a record (dating back to 1938) and included 237,400 Snake River fish. A month-long fishing season occurred in May. It was the first spring chinook fishery on the Snake River in three decades.

Southeast Washington has few tributaries to the Snake that produce spring chinook salmon. Only one -- the Tucannon River-- has experienced increased fish returns over the past few years, but it is still rebuilding a wild fish population from recent record lows. That means any Snake River season on spring chinook has to be upstream of the Tucannon, and some of the best locations for a fishery are in the free-flowing portion that forms the boundary between Idaho and Washington, according to the WDFW. The Tucannon flows into the Snake several miles downstream of Little Goose Dam.

Hatchery chinook returning to the Snake are mostly produced in Idaho and Oregon, where a portion are first reserved for broodstock, with the balance available for fishing. WDFW had to negotiate with those states for a portion of that catch, according to a March 22 WDFW press release. In addition, fishing seasons in the lower Columbia River also affect Snake River seasons.

Because wild Snake River spring chinook are listed as a threatened species, the National Marine Fisheries Service requires that the fishery on hatchery stocks be monitored closely to avoid impacts to wild stocks.

by Staff
After 30 Years, Sport Fishery Opened on Stretch of Snake
Columbia Basin Bulletin, April 26, 2002

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