Follow us:

Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

February 8, 2011 at 4:39 PM

Spring chinook and sturgeon fisheries set in the Columbia River

Thumbnail image for a10columbiajump10.jpg

The Columbia River spring chinook fisheries were set today (Feb. 8) and while the return is expected to be fairly good, there will be plenty of bigger fish in the mix to catch.

While this season’s spring chinook return of 198,400 upriver spring chinook falls way under the 470,000 (315,000 was the actual return) forecast last year, it is still considered an above-average run and the sixth largest since 1979. The largest return was 437,900 in 2001, and the 10-year average is 219,000.

Add another 104,000 back to the Willamette River, plus spring chinook returns headed to the Cowlitz, Kalama, Lewis and tributaries above Bonneville Dam, and you’ve got what should be an exciting fishery now through March and possibly into April.

Large, five-year-old fish are expected to make up an unusually high portion of this year’s catch, Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist said in a news release.

More than 100,000 five-year-old spring chinook – each weighing 18 to 30 pounds – are predicted to pass through fisheries en route to the Willamette River or the upper Columbia River this year.

Thumbnail image for broughton_12.JPG

By comparison, only about 26,000 five-year-old fish returned to those areas last year, despite a strong run of 423,000 spring chinook to those waters.

“We’re not expecting as many total fish back this year, but we are expecting a lot of big ones,” Hymer said.

Some of those early spring chinook have started to filter into the mighty Big-C and have already shown up in catches in recent days.

“There are some fish already being caught in the commercial and sport fisheries,” Hymer said. “Water conditions are still pretty poor below the Cowlitz, but good in the Willamette and we’ve heard of catches on the mainstem.”

This year’s fisheries are expected to draw hundreds of thousands of anglers to the mighty river.

Last year’s sport fishery on the Lower Columbia River below I-5 (open daily from Jan. 1 to April 18) generated 156,600 angler trips with a catch of 26,400 chinook brought home and 4,000-plus released.

Thumbnail image for fishin11.jpg

To guard against overestimating the run, the states will manage the fishery with a 30 percent buffer until the forecast is updated in late April or early May.

“If the fish return at or above expectations, we will look toward providing additional days of fishing on the river later in spring,” said Cindy LeFleur, a state Fish and Wildlife policy coordinator.

Initial seasons announced provide 7,750 upriver spring chinook to the sport fishery below Bonneville Dam; 1,650 to anglers fishing above Bonneville; and 2,100 to the commercial fishery.

Those guidelines do not include the catch of spring chinook returning to Columbia River tributaries such as the Willamette, Cowlitz, Lewis and Wind rivers.

Anglers may keep hatchery-marked spring chinook only (those with a missing-clipped adipose fin located on top of the fish near the rear tail). All unmarked wild spring chinook must be released.

Spring chinook fishing is currently open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to the Interstate 5 bridge. Under the new rules approved, the fishery will be expanded 22 miles upriver to Rooster Rock from March 1 through April 4.

Bank anglers will also be allowed to fish from Rooster Rock up to the fishing boundary below Bonneville Dam during that time.

Above Bonneville Dam, the fishery will be open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from March 16 through April 24 between the Tower Island powerlines six miles below The Dalles Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the powerlines during that time.

Anglers fishing downriver from Bonneville Dam may retain one hatchery-reared adult chinook per day as part of their catch limit. Above the dam, anglers can keep two marked hatchery chinook per day.

Last year, the sport fishery from I-5 to I-205 (open was open 22 days from March 1-April 3) generated 15,200 angler trips with 2,900 chinook kept and 400-plus released.

The sport and commercial sturgeon fisheries were also decided at the meeting, and sport anglers will find less time on the water this season as the guideline is 17,000 down from 24,000 last year.

“The abundance of legal-size sturgeon below Bonneville Dam has declined, so harvest guidelines for that fishery will be tighter this year,” LeFleur said.

Here are the sturgeon seasons:

Buoy 10 to the Wauna powerlines: Retention of white sturgeon is allowed daily from Jan. 1 to April 30; May 14 through June 26; and July 1-4. From Jan. 1 to April 30, sturgeon must measure between 38 inches and 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. From May 14 through the end of the season they must measure 41 inches to 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited.

Wauna powerlines to Bonneville Dam: Retention of white sturgeon is allowed three days per week (Thursday through Saturday) from Jan. 1 through July 31 and from Oct. 8 until Dec. 31. Sturgeon must measure between 38 inches and 54 inches (fork length) to be retained. Catch-and-release fishing is allowed on days when retention is prohibited. All fishing for sturgeon will be closed from May 1 through Aug. 31 in the sturgeon sanctuary downriver from Bonneville Dam described in the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet.

The Sand Island Slough near Rooster Rock is closed to fishing at least through April 30.

While legal-size sturgeon are waning in the Lower Columbia, populations are growing above Bonneville Dam, thus the states and tribes agreed to increase catch guidelines in two areas above the dam.

The catch guideline was increased from 1,400 to 2,000 fish in Bonneville Pool and from 165 to 500 in John Day Pool. The 300-fish guideline in The Dalles Pool remains the same.

Even with the higher guideline in Bonneville Pool, the states agreed to close those waters to sturgeon retention at the end of the day Feb. 18, when the catch is expected to reach the new 2,000-fish guideline.

Most of the new rules will take effect March 1, when fishing for spring chinook and sturgeon starts to improve in the Columbia River.

Sport fishing is currently open for both species on various sections of the river under rules adopted last year.

(Photos taken by Mark Yuasa and Mark Harrison, The Seattle Times staff)



No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate this thread by reporting any abuse. See our Commenting FAQ.

The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.

The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►