Anticipating a return of 299,200 adult spring chinook salmon, fishery managers from Washington and Oregon today set this year’s initial fishing season to run through April 9 on the lower Columbia River.
In addition, representatives from the two states agreed to close the winter sturgeon retention fishery in the Bonneville Pool effective Feb. 8 and approved a six-hour recreational smelt season Feb. 6 on the Cowlitz River.
Here are the major provisions of those agreements:
- Spring chinook: From March 1 through April 9, anglers fishing downriver from Bonneville Dam may retain one marked, hatchery-reared adult spring chinook as part of their daily catch limit. The fishery will be open to both boat and bank anglers upriver to Beacon Rock, and – for bank anglers only – from there upriver to the fishing boundary just below the dam.
The sport fishery will close in all areas of the lower Columbia River on two Tuesdays – March 29 and April 5 – to accommodate potential commercial fisheries.
Upstream of Bonneville Dam, anglers may retain one hatchery-reared adult spring chinook per day from March 16 through May 6 between the Tower Island powerlines and the Washington/Oregon state line. Bank anglers using hand-casted gear (no boats) can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the Tower Island powerlines during that time.
Barbless hooks are required to fish for spring chinook in the Columbia River and anglers must release any salmon or steelhead not visibly marked as a hatchery fish by a clipped adipose fin.
- Sturgeon: The recreational sturgeon retention fishery between Bonneville Dam and The Dalles Dam will close Feb. 8. By that time, fishery managers expect that anglers will have reeled in 140 sturgeon from those waters, leaving 185 available for a one-or-two day fishery in summer. Catch-and-release fishing remains an option until then.
- Smelt: As in the past two years, fishery managers approved a limited fishery for smelt on the Cowlitz River to help gather data on the species’ abundance. Recreational smelt dipping will be restricted to the hours of 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 6. The limit per person is 10 pounds – about one-quarter of a five-gallon bucket. Smelt dipping is not allowed from boats.
To support the data-collection effort, the two states also approved a limited gillnet fishery for smelt in February on the lower Columbia River. The area’s smelt population was listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act in 2010, but runs have shown some signs of improvement since then.
Fishing rules reflecting these actions are available on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW) website at https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/
Fishing for spring chinook is currently open on a daily basis from Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to the Interstate 5 Bridge, although the bulk of the run doesn’t arrive until mid-March when the new fishing rules will be in effect.
Catch guidelines approved for the popular fishery will allow anglers fishing below Bonneville Dam to catch approximately 9,100 hatchery-raised “springers” before an updated run forecast is completed in late April or early May.
Another 1,000 adult upriver chinook are reserved for anglers fishing upriver from Bonneville Dam to the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles above McNary Dam. Additional fish have also been reserved for the Snake River sport fishery.
After banner spring chinook returns in each of the past two years, the projected run of 299,200 adult fish for 2016 is still slightly above the recent 10-year average, said Ron Roler, WDFW Columbia River policy manager. However, while this year’s projected run of upriver fish is down by about 100,000 fish from last year, he said returns to some tributaries – notably the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers – show an increase this year.
“Salmon returns rise and fall from year to year, especially during the kind of cyclical ocean changes we’re seeing right now,” Roler said. “Even so, if this run comes in as projected, it will still be the ninth-largest return in more than 25 years. We’re expecting plenty of fish to support a great fishing season.”
As in previous years, Washington and Oregon will manage the fishery with a 30 percent buffer on the upriver chinook forecast until the results of the in-season run update are known.
“We’ll continue to take a conservative approach in managing the fishery,” Roler said. “If the fish return at or above expectations, we will look toward providing additional days of fishing on the river later in the spring.”