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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

March 8, 2011 at 7:51 PM

Lower Deschutes River in Oregon to open for spring chinook fishing

Here is a story by Mark Morical in The Daily Bulletin on spring chinook fishing opening in mid-April on the Lower Deschutes River:

It was a close call, but anglers this year can once again enjoy a season of spring chinook salmon fishing on the Lower Deschutes.

The projected run of spring chinook is “just barely large enough” to allow for a fishing season, according to Rod French, a fish biologist based in The Dalles for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The season is scheduled to run from April 15 to July 31, and it will include a one-fish daily bag limit instead of the typical two-fish limit.

“It’s not a huge run by any means,” French said. “That’s why we have a one-fish bag limit.”

French and other fish biologists are predicting a run of about 1,000 wild spring chinook to return to the Warm Springs River, along with between 4,000 and 5,000 hatchery fish. Last year, 1,600 spring chinook returned to the Warm Springs River, as well as about 8,000 hatchery chinook.

“The wild run is well down,” French said. “We have to be very cautious.”

Because the ODFW seeks to protect the wild salmon, the predicted size of the run of wild fish is the main factor in determining if a fishing season will be set.

French added that biologists are concerned about wild fish dying after they are caught and released by anglers. Only hatchery fish (adipose fin clipped) may be harvested.

The ODFW’s management goal is for 1,000 wild spring chinook to return to the Warm Springs River. In years when the run is projected to be fewer than 1,000, the Lower Deschutes typically will not open for spring chinook fishing.

“We’re right at the edge,” French said.

Still, the biologist noted that he does not anticipate an early closure of the season, which could result from a smaller-than-expected run. French said the Deschutes will also open to fall chinook fishing, with a two-fish bag limit, beginning Aug. 1.

“The fall chinook run is much stronger,” French said.

The Lower Deschutes is technically closed to chinook salmon fishing but can be opened by temporary rule.

“It’s confusing for anglers at times, but it’s a lot easier to open (the fishing seasons) than close them, so people don’t get their hopes up,” French explained.

He added that most anglers are not concerned about the reduction in the daily bag limit from two fish to one fish.

“For the most part, anglers don’t seem to be too disappointed, as long as they get the opportunity to fish,” French explained. “It’s such a prize, they’re fairly happy with just one.”

The river did not open to spring chinook angling in 2009, due in large part to a meager wild chinook run of just 430 fish. For the 2008 season, the ODFW set a one-fish bag limit.

Most of the spring chinook that enter the Deschutes from the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia River return to the Warm Springs River to spawn.

Before they turn south into the Deschutes, they must pass over Bonneville and The Dalles dams.

About 200,000 spring chinook are projected to return to the Columbia River this year, according to the ODFW.

“That’s a good run, but down from some of the huge ones in the last couple years,” French said.

The spring chinook usually begin entering the Columbia in serious numbers in March, according to French, and they start entering the Deschutes in April.

The biologist advised anglers to monitor fish counts at The Dalles Dam to predict when the salmon will enter the Deschutes in significant numbers.

“When we see a big daily number at The Dalles, it’s about a week or two before they’re in the Deschutes,” French said.

Deschutes River spring chinook are smaller than spring chinook in other Oregon rivers, averaging 8 to 12 pounds. In the Columbia and Willamette rivers, they can grow to 20 pounds or more.

The highly coveted fish are considered the best-tasting salmon, extremely fat and rich in salmon oil, whose health benefits to humans have been well documented. The spring chinook is one of the most prized fish in the entire Northwest.

And that is one of the reasons why the riverbanks near Sherars Falls in the springtime are packed with fishermen. The Lower Deschutes is open to spring chinook fishing from the falls, just north of Maupin, downstream (north) to the mouth of the river at the Columbia.

Sherars Falls is by far the most popular area for anglers because the salmon tend to gather below the falls, and it is the only stretch of the river where bait is allowed for chinook.

“They’re stacked up, trying to figure out how to get over the fish ladder,” French said of the spring chinook at Sherars Falls.

Anglers at Sherars try a variety of baits to land a chinook, including eggs, tuna balls, shrimp even anchovies.

“I’ve seen it all at Sherars,” French said. “Things that you wouldn’t see at other river fisheries go on at Sherars — and they work. Some guys are there year after year, fishing from the same rock.”

More solitude can be found farther downstream, where anglers often employ plugs and spinners to land the salmon.

“You can have the whole river to yourself,” French said, “and they’re swimming right by.”

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