Fishing: Anglers continue to reel in hefty summer chinook salmon on the lower Columbia River, although the fishery is being reshaped by an influx of upriver steelhead, changing river conditions and new fishing opportunities on the coast. Other considerations include a record sockeye run and the fact that sturgeon retention is allowed in the estuary at least through July 11.
During the first four days of July, WDFW interviewed 310 boat anglers on the lower Columbia River with 21 adult summer chinook, 30 steelhead and no sockeye. Also contacted were 989 bank anglers with 33 adult summer chinook, 124 steelhead and eight sockeye.
“The fishery has begun to change with the arrival of increasing numbers of upriver steelhead,” said Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist. “Those fish are starting to draw anglers away from the deep water toward the bank, where they’re targeting hatchery steelhead and sockeye.”
Under this year’s expanded season, the daily limit for adult salmonids is two marked hatchery chinook or marked hatchery steelhead (or one of each) on the mainstem Columbia River from the Megler-Astoria Bridge upstream to the Highway 395 Bridge at Pasco.
The current mix of summer chinook and steelhead contains a significant portion of wild fish, so anglers should be sure to check for a clipped adipose fin and healed scar on both species, Hymer said.
Anglers can also count any sockeye measuring at least 12 inches toward their two-adult daily limit from the Megler-Astoria Bridge to Priest Rapids Dam. Through July 6, just over 353,000 sockeye had been counted at Bonneville Dam, surpassing the previous record of 335,300 fish in 1947.
But counting sockeye is not the same as catching them, Hymer said. “These silver torpedoes are fairly single-minded when it comes to moving upriver so anglers should really consider them ‘bonus fish’ if they catch one,” he said. One sockeye was recently recycled downstream to the Massey Bar on the Cowlitz River three times during the same week and returned to the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery each time.
Most hatchery steelhead caught in recent days were taken along the banks of the Columbia River from Longview downstream. Averaging four to six pounds apiece, these upriver fish are expected to light up a number of fisheries as they move toward hatcheries on the upper Columbia and the lower Snake River. Look for them later this month at the mouth of the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers plus Drano Lake and the White Salmon River, where they typically dip into the cooler water of the tributaries to beat the heat.
Fishing is also expected to be good this month on the Cowlitz, Kalama, Lewis, Washougal and Klickitat rivers as separate runs of hatchery steelhead move into those tributaries to the Columbia River.
But, while summer steelhead have begun to upstage summer chinook, Hymer expects to see anglers catch a lot more salmon – including the occasional 40 pounder – before the fishery closes at the end of the day July 31. According to an updated forecast, 75,000 summer chinook will return to the Columbia this year – the fourth largest run since 1980.
Hymer notes, however, that fishing tactics for chinook salmon have changed since the fishery got under way last month. Since then, average water temperatures have risen to 63 degrees and flows have dropped by half.
“Fishing tactics have changed to reflect the conditions,” Hymer said. “Most anglers fishing for summer chinook are going deep – 20 to 30 feet down – and using large plugs wrapped with sardine fillets in addition to wobblers and other fall gear.”
One question is whether salmon fishing might be better in the ocean. All areas off the Washington coast are now open for the retention of both chinook and coho salmon. For more information, see the South Sound/Olympic Peninsula of this report. Anglers have also been catching good-size landlocked coho at Riffe Lake in recent days.
Another option is to fish for white sturgeon on the Columbia River below the Wauna powerlines, although that could present a challenge given the low catch rates in those waters. The current opening runs through July 11, after which fishery managers from Washington and Oregon will meet to discuss whether to again extend the fishery.
During the week ending July 5, private boat anglers interviewed at the Deep River and Knappton ramps averaged a legal-size sturgeon for every 9.5 rods. At the ports of Chinook and Ilwaco, 41 percent of charter boat customers caught legal-size fish, but private boaters averaged just one fish for every 12 rods.
Meawhile, the shad fishery has about run its course, but walleye fishing is picking up in The Dalles Pool. Bass fishing is also improving as water temperatures rise.
Trout anglers should know that Goose Lake near Carson has been planted with 5,500 catchable-size brown trout and 6,000 cutthroat since mid-June.
Wildlife viewing: Birders looking for a “personal first” along the lower Columbia River might want to keep their eyes peeled for eastern kingbirds. Bob Flores, a veteran birder from Ridgefield, recently reported seeing two of them on Bachelor Island, an area not generally open to the public. “I feel this is part of a larger kingbird movement seen up and down the state,” he wrote in a posting on the Tweeters birding website (http://www.scn.org/earth/tweeters/ ). “If there are kingbirds on the island, there could be kingbirds along Lower River Road or further north along the [Columbia] river.”
Eastern kingbirds are considered common in eastern Washington and much of the rest of the United States, but are rarely seen west of the Cascades. Black and gray with a white chest, these birds have progressively moved west in recent decades. The bird’s most distinctive field marking is a white band at the tip of its black tail. They stay in Washington until September, then return to their wintering grounds in South America.
A more common sight in southwest Washington – especially at this time of year – is black bears. With temperatures rising and more people heading outdoors, WDFW is reminding citizens of steps they can take to avoid problems with these potentially dangerous animals.
“The best advice we can offer people is don’t feed the bears,” said Capt. Murray Schlenker, who heads WDFW’s regional enforcement program in southwest Washington. “The majority of bear problems begin when people either intentionally or unintentionally feed the animals.”
Unsecured garbage containers, garbage sacks left outside in the hot sun, pet food left outdoors, and birdfeeders can attract hungry bears looking for a meal, Schlenker said. Bar-b-que grills and briquettes also contain scents that attract bears as well.
While bears naturally avoid people, the animals can lose their instinctive fear of humans and become increasingly aggressive when they are allowed access to those items, Schlenker said. That’s when the situation can become dangerous for both humans and the animal.
“Because our first priority is public safety, bears that have lost their fear of humans are often euthanized,” he said. “That’s unfortunate, because the animal often winds up paying the price for human carelessness and indifference.” For more information about avoiding trouble with bears, see the WDFW website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/living/bears.htm.