The record-sized summer steelhead return migrating back to the Columbia River has allowed sport anglers to begin keeping hatchery-marked steelhead starting today [Sept. 22] in the Hanford Reach area.
This summer, steelhead have been returning at more than double the 10-year average, and through Sept. 21, 570,181 steelhead have been counted at Bonneville Dam.
Anglers will be allowed to keep up to three hatchery-reared summer steelhead daily between the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco and Priest Rapids Dam.
That area includes the upper portion of the Reach, stretching from the wooden powerline towers at the old Hanford townsite to Priest Rapids Dam, which has not been open to steelhead fishing since 1996.
Also, the steelhead fishery which was scheduled to open Oct. 1 in the lower portion of the Reach (from the wooden powerline towers downriver to the Highway 395 Bridge in Pasco) will begin a week early to allow anglers to catch more hatchery fish.
Only hatchery fish measuring at least 20 inches with a clipped adipose fin and a healed scar may be kept. All wild steelhead must be released, and may not be removed from the water.
In a news release, John Easterbrooks, regional WDFW fish manager for south central Washington, said the high number of returning summer steelhead has made it possible to expand fishing opportunities throughout the Hanford Reach.
“This is a great opportunity for anglers to catch some terrific fish under ideal early fall weather conditions, while also helping to prevent hatchery steelhead from crowding out wild fish on the spawning grounds,” Easterbrooks said. “We want to give wild steelhead every opportunity to bolster future runs of naturally spawning fish in the upper Columbia tributaries.”
The hatchery steelhead fishery in the upper Hanford Reach will be open through Oct. 22, which is concurrent with salmon fishing for fall chinook and coho.
In the lower section of the Reach, the steelhead fishery will continue through Oct. 31 from the Highway 395 Bridge to the wooden powerline towers at the old Hanford townsite.
Because both wild and hatchery-reared summer steelhead in the Hanford Reach are listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA), WDFW was required to obtain a permit from the National Marine Fishery Service before opening the fishery.
“Under the ESA, using a selective fishery to remove excess hatchery fish is a recognized strategy in conserving wild stocks,” Easterbrooks said. “That strategy is tailor-made for a year like this, with so many steelhead returning to the upper Columbia River.”
More than 30,720 summer steelhead had been counted at Priest Rapids Dam through Sept.16, compared to the 10-year average of 12,500.
Fisheries managers say at the current rate, the total returns to the Columbia River could break the 630,200-fish record set in 2001.