Encouraged by a projected near-record run of almost 560,000 returning springers (the run last year was 222,000 fish), the states approved regulations that provide anglers a full-range season, both above and below Bonneville Dam, in March and April. But after watching salmon counts fall short of predictions the past two years — and one or more user group cry foul when too much early success downriver resulted in upriver closures — managers set aside 40 percent of the projected run as a buffer.
That buffer will stay in place until the run forecast can be verified, probably in early May when about half the fish will have passed Bonneville. If the preseason predictions prove accurate, the buffer fish will be added to both commercial and recreational seasons on the lower river, in the form of more fishing time.
As of now, the recreational spring chinook seasons on the Columbia are as follows:
n Buoy 10 upstream to the I-5 bridge, seven days per week through April 18, except closed on March 9, 16, 23 and 30.
n I-5 bridge upstream to I-205 bridge, seven days, March 1-14, except closed March 9. March 18 through April 3, fishing limited to Thursdays through Saturdays only.
n I-205 bridge upstream to Bonneville Dam, bank fishing only, seven days, March 1-14, except closed March 9. March 18 through April 3, fishing limited to Thursdays through Saturdays only.
n Bonneville to McNary Dam, seven days, March 16 through May 31. Bank fishing only from Bonneville Dam upstream to the Tower Island power lines, six miles below The Dalles Dam.
Fisheries at Drano Lake and the mouth of the Wind River, above Bonneville, have their own regulations already in the pamphlet and both allow a degree of boat fishing.
The chinook limit below Bonneville is one hatchery fish daily, and above the dam, two per day.
Although springers do not usually come on in force until mid-March, catches already have been reported. Spring-like weather brought out considerable fishing pressure over the weekend, according to state biologist Joe Hymer in Vancouver. An Oregon creel census between Longview and Portland tallied nine kings for 102 boats. The Willamette also put out some fish.
Additionally, Hymer said, the first spring chinook of the year showed up at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery on Monday, and rumors are circulating about fish being boated on the lower Cowlitz.
And while on the subject of Columbia River salmon, the state has come out with predictions for the fall chinook run that are almost as rosy as those for springers. The total forecast of 652,700 fall chinook is above the 10-year average, and well above the 2009 actual return of 418,300 fish. That total includes an “upriver bright” component, the fish anglers chase in October on the Hanford Reach, forecast at 310,800 fish, which compares to the actual return last year of 212,000.
Thanks to an unusually mild winter, the March 1 early trout opener in the Columbia Basin looks like a winner this year. Ice almost will certainly be gone from all or nearly all of the early openers, and water temperatures are expected to be optimal. District fish biologist Chad Jackson in Ephrata said he expects the best early fishing of the past four or five years.
Martha Lake, along I-90 just east of George in Grant County, should be hot for planted rainbows going a half-pound each or better, Jackson said. Dusty Lake, in the Quincy Wildlife Area, is a favorite with fly fishermen (it’s under selective-gear rules), and will be good for a mix of tiger trout, browns and large holdover rainbows. One of Jackson’s favorite fisheries is a string of small walk-in lakes on the Quincy Wildlife Area, including Cliff, Upper and Lower Spring, Crystal and Cup lakes. It’s maybe a two-mile walk to cover them all and you can expect rainbows to 20 or 22 inches, Jackson said. Park in the parking area on the southwest corner of Evergreen Reservoir.
The selective-gear waters Lenice and Nunnally should fish well, Jackson said, for browns and tigers going 12 to 20 inches or better, and triploid rainbows in the 19- to 20-inch range.
Good “spring” fishing should be available on the Methow and Okanogan as water temps warm, said state biologist Bob Jateff in Omak. Recent creel checks have shown an average of one fish for each five or six hours on the water.
Excellent fishing on the Grande Ronde now, particularly on the lower end, around Boggan’s Oasis, and on state land in the Shumaker area.
Should be a top weekend for wild-stock fish in the Sol Duc and Hoh, if rain this week didn’t dump too much color.
Local waters have been relatively quiet, with the San Juans a step above that and the Strait of Juan de Fuca the best bet by far. Checks at Olson’s Resort in Sekiu on Sunday showed 10 fish for 20 anglers, and at the Port Angeles public ramp on Ediz Hook, 78 with seven fish.
At the Port of Everett ramp on Sunday, state personnel checked 86 anglers with three blackmouth, and 30 fishermen had five blackmouth on Sunday at the Washington Park ramp west of Anacortes.
For an expanded version of Outdoor Outlook, visit www.heraldnet.com.
ROCKFISH RULES CHANGE
Responding to considerable negative public comment on certain changes to Strait of Juan de Fuca bottomfish regulations, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission punted. The nine-member citizen panel that oversees policy for the state decided to revise the boundaries of a controversial new rockfish management plan for the Neah Bay area so that the new regs apply only to the eastern portion of Marine Area 4.
Bottomfish anglers out of Neah Bay, fishing east of the Bonilla-Tatoosh line, must release all rockfish except black or blue rockfish, and will have the daily limit cut to six fish. The rule takes effect May 1.
Fishing in the western portion of Marine Area 4, west of Tatoosh, stays the same as last year, release canary and yelloweye rockfish, with a limit of 10 fish.
The new rules originally included all of Marine Area 4.
The state plans to begin a comprehensive review this year of groundfish management in the western Strait of Juan de Fuca and coastal waters, where some rockfish populations have been declining.
The Bonneville Pool has been the hot spot for sturgeon fishermen this winter, with a check for the second week in February showing 60 boat anglers with 41 legals, and bank anglers with five legal fish. Unfortunately, the pool closed to sturgeon retention Feb. 20.
Below Bonneville Dam, fishing remains open seven days a week from buoy 10 upstream to the Wauna powerlines, and on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from the power lines upstream to the dam. Action, however, has been slow.
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