Fishing: Summer chinook salmon are entering the lower Columbia River in large numbers, although catching them is proving to be a challenge. High, turbid water and floating debris have been giving anglers – especially boat anglers – a workout during the opening days of the season, said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist.
“Conditions are definitely tough for boat anglers,” Hymer said. “People have been catching some nice fish, but they have to deal with some extra challenges due to the high water and debris.”
Under these conditions, fishing from the bank has some advantages, Hymer said. During creel checks conducted during the first week of fishing, 1,463 bank anglers caught 62 adult chinook and released 25. The 572 boat anglers checked that week reported catching 33 adult summer chinook salmon and releasing 15 others.
Under new rules effective this year, anglers may retain only hatchery-reared chinook with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar. All wild, unmarked fish must be released. That is also the case with steelhead, which are showing up in the catch from the mouth of the Columbia River to Bonneville Dam.
“The trade-off is that this year’s summer chinook fishery is scheduled to run straight through July, rather than just a couple of weeks like last year,” Hymer said. “That wouldn’t have been possible without moving to a selective fishery.”
During the first week’s creel check, bank anglers reported catching 61 steelhead and releasing 13 others. Boat anglers surveyed that week caught eight steelhead and released five more. Anglers fishing the Cowlitz River have also been catching some hatchery steelhead.
According to the pre-season forecast, 88,800 summer chinook will return to the Columbia this year - the largest number since 2002. About a third of those salmon are estimated to be five-year-olds, some weighing up to 40 pounds.
Under this year’s rules, anglers may retain up to two adult hatchery chinook or hatchery steelhead (or one of each) on the mainstem Columbia River from the Megler Astoria Bridge upstream to the Highway 395 Bridge at Pasco All other salmon – including sockeye – must be released.
That may change, however, given the unexpectedly large number of sockeye counted at Bonneville Dam in recent days, said Cindy Le Fleur, WDFW Columbia River policy coordinator. As of June 22, just over 134,000 sockeye had been tallied at the dam – already more than predicted – and the 26,873 counted the previous day was the second-highest on record for a single day since 1938.
“The rule requiring anglers to release sockeye was adopted because Lake Wenatchee was not expected to reach its escapement goal this year,” Le Fleur said. Given the strong return, fishery managers from Washington and Oregon may reconsider that decision during a teleconference scheduled Thursday (June 24) at 3 p.m.
The scheduled closure of the sturgeon fishery downstream from the Wauna powerlines will also be up for reconsideration during that meeting, Le Fleur said. Sturgeon fishing has been slow in that area – and throughout the lower Columbia River – for a number of weeks, which may allow fishery managers to extend the season, she said.
Any changes in the sockeye retention rule or the sturgeon season below the Wauna powerlines will be announced on WDFW’s website (http://wdfw.wa.gov/), the statewide Fishing Hotline (360-902-2500), regional hotline (360-696-6211 ext. 1010) and in a statewide news release.
For anglers hungering for shad, the Dalles Pool is clearly the place to be. During the week ending June 20, bank anglers averaged nine shad per rod although fishing was slow for boat anglers. Below Bonneville Dam, anglers have been averaging between zero and two shad per rod.
Rather catch warmwater fish? Boat anglers fishing The Dalles Pool have been averaging two walleye and a bass per rod. In the John Day Pool, 10 boats reported catching 15 bass and seven walleye.
At Riffe Lake, bank anglers fishing at the dam and Taidnapum have been averaging two landlocked coho per rod, kept or released. Anglers should also be aware that Goose Lake north of Carson was stocked with 2,500 catchable-size brown trout and 3,000 catchable-size cutthroat June 15.
Hunting: Hunters who applied for special big-game hunt permits for the upcoming season can find out if they were chosen by going to the hunt page on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website at www.wdfw.wa.gov/hunting/. Holders of the special permits can hunt at times and locations beyond those authorized by a general hunting license. Nearly 65,000 hunters submitted 229,761 applications for special hunts for deer, elk, mountain goat, moose, bighorn sheep and wild turkey. The permits will be mailed to successful applicants in mid-July.
Wildlife viewing: During a Sunday drive up the Columbia Gorge, area birder Wilson Cady reports spotting a greater yellowlegs in breeding plumage on a floating log in front of the boat launch at the mouth of the Wind River. “This is only the fifth individual I have seen in Skamania County in the last 30 years,” he wrote in a posting on the Tweeters birding website (http://www.scn.org/earth/tweeters/).
Farther downriver, at the mouth of Eagle Creek overlooking Bonneville Dam, another area birder sighted eight western grebes along with two horned grebes in breeding plumage. Other birds sighted that day include a female common merganser with two young in tow, a male scaup, cormorants and osprey.
Looking for a place to spot birds or just get out of the house? This month marks the first anniversary of the Gibbons Creek trail, a 2.25-mile footpath at the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge, east of Washougal. Starting at a parking lot off Highway 14, the trail skirts wetlands, crosses Gibbons Creek and Redtail Lake, and passes through a cottonwood forest en route to the Columbia River. Hikers have plenty of opportunities to see wildlife - particularly neotropical birds and waterfowl - along the way.
According to area birder Wilson Cady, more than 200 of the 300-plus species of birds found in Clark County have been sighted in the 1,049-acre refuge. Great blue heron, bald eagles, greater white-fronted geese, goldfinches, Eurasian wigeon and goldeneye (both common and Barrow’s) are just a few of many species of birds known to visit the refuge during the year. For more information on the refuge, see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website at http://www.fws.gov/refuges/profiles/index.cfm?id=13556 .