Thoughts of Columbia 'Springers'
by Greg Johnston
Seasons set based on mixed forecast for run strengths
Spring is a month away, but spring chinook already are on a lot of anglers' minds, and not just because of the pleasant weather lately.
The states of Oregon and Washington set spring chinook seasons for the Columbia River late last week -- quite different this year due to a mixed run forecast -- and a few of those highly prized salmon are already making their way upstream and onto anglers' lines.
"We had our first springer come in on Valentine's Day. I got a picture of it," said Karen Glaser at Barrier Dam Campground near the Cowlitz River. "It was so shiny I thought I'd have to put my sunglasses on."
That fish weighed 15.25 pounds. There also have been reports of a springer or two taken in the Lewis and Kalama rivers and a few in Oregon's Willamette River. Two springers have also been counted at the Bonneville Dam fish ladder.
"There was a pretty well confirmed report of an 18-pounder caught (in the Columbia) off Vancouver this weekend," said Joe Hymer, a biologist at the Department of Fish and Wildlife office in Vancouver.
Most spring chinook fishing in the big river this year will be focused upstream of the Willamette, since the run forecast for that river is down substantially this year at just 34,000 fish, but the forecast for upper Columbia and Snake River springers is a healthy 269,300.
The states allowed only a 12-day spring chinook season downstream of Vancouver (the Hayden Island power lines are the boundary), March 24 to April 4, with a daily limit of one spring chinook. However, the season from Vancouver upstream to Bonneville Dam will run March 16 through April 30 six days per week (closed Tuesdays), also with a one-fish limit. A plum tossed to anglers is the opening of bank fishing from Bonneville Dam upstream to just above the mouth of the Klickitat River, an area that's always been closed except for in the Wind River zone, and the limit will be two springers.
With strong forecasts of 36,800 springers to Drano Lake and 10,000 to Wind River, anglers lacking boats might find that an attractive option.
"Most of the bank fishing focus in that area will probably be around the mouth of Drano -- on paper at least the Drano return will be almost double the previous all-time high of about 20,000 springers," Hymer said.
The main Columbia is open through Sunday; after that the new regulations take effect. Seasons for Drano and the Wind themselves have not been set, but traditionally they open March 15. The lower Columbia tributaries (Cowlitz, Kalama, Lewis, Willamette) are open now and will stay open.
"Considering the circumstances, I think these seasons are the best they could be," Hymer said. "You'll have a lot of options."
Find more specifics about the seasons at wdfw.wa.gov.
Meantime, the chinook chasing is pretty good up north. The winter blackmouth season is in full stride with last week's opening of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Hood Canal and the Tacoma/Vashon area. The annual Discovery Bay Derby showed that there's no lack of hatchery chinook in northern Admiralty Inlet especially. The top two fish went 19.4 and 18.6 pounds, and 84 chinook were entered on Saturday alone, prompting derby officials to begin turning away any chinook less than 7.5 pounds.
Many of the larger fish came from the Port Townsend area -- catch area 9 being inside derby boundaries -- and specifically Midchannel Bank. The Lip Lip Point/Oak Bay area, Bush Point and Lagoon Point also produced good catches. Some derby fish also were taken on Hein Bank.
Elsewhere, the Humps and Winter Hole around Port Angeles have produced fair-to-good catches. Sekiu reportedly had a fine opener. In the San Juan Islands, the Anacortes area has been kicking out quite of few hatchery chinook along Guemes Channel and at Fidalgo Head, which produced a marked 22-pounder over the weekend.
Across Rosario Strait, Lopez Flats, Thatcher Pass, Waldron Island, Point Thompson and Parker Reef all produced fair catches.
Locally, Double Bluff and Point No Point both produced fair-to-good catches. No Point produced particularly well last Thursday through Saturday on the afternoon ebb -- and the tides phase into the optimal morning ebb this weekend.
In other fishing news:
Steelhead fishing is still slow overall, but decent at times in a few rivers. The best bets are in the coastal region, including the Hoh, Sol Duc, Calawah, Queets, Wynooche and Satsop rivers, all producing some large wild steelhead, but most of them now dropping and clearing and not hot at all. Locally, the Skagit is producing a few wild steelhead -- note that selective gear rules are now in effect for that entire system (see wdfw.wa.gov). The Cowlitz and Kalama down south are producing just a few steelhead from the late hatchery stock.
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