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Reel Time Fishing Northwest

Mark Yuasa covers fishing and outdoors in the Pacific Northwest.

July 28, 2011 at 8:51 AM

Wild steelhead outnumber the hatchery fish in the Lower Columbia River

Columbia River steelhead returns continue to be strong this summer, although the wild stocks appear to be dominating over the hatchery returns at this point.

“Still really good for steelhead and things have changed just a little bit where water flows have dropped from 500,000 cfs to 275,000,” Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist in Vancouver said.

“Some of the sand bars that weren’t producing are now doing good, and the dam counts got up to 6,112 (on July 26),” Hymer said. “It looks like it will ramp up pretty quick and there are lots of wild fish in the catch.”

Hymer says about 45 percent of the catch has been wild fish, and at Bonneville Dam it is hovering right around 50 percent.

“Based on creel checks we could be in a record number of steelhead handled for the month of July,” said Hymer who pointed out the current record is 16,000 kept or released back in July of 2009.

Many are wondering why there are so many wild fish in the mix?

“What may be happening is some of the other hatchery returns to Cowlitz,, Kalama and Lewis which are predominantly hatchery steelhead are down a bit,” Hymer said. “One explanation of the higher wild ratio than in the past is the A-run, which are coming back right now do have a higher percentage of wild fish.”

“The A-run steelhead forecast was 30 percent wild fish in the run, and we may just be seeing a little high percent and they are not getting diluted as much,” Hymer said. “There has been some improvement on the lower tributaries for steelhead, and everything is tracking behind last year. The biggest one that contributes to the Longview area is the Cowlitz run.”

So far, the Cowlitz River has 2,400 steelhead compared to 3,000 last year. The Kalama river has just over 300 compared to 1,500 last year. The Lewis River has about 1,200 compared to 4,600 last year, and the Washougal has about 1,500.

“We also saw the first number of coho counted at Bonneville, and we are starting to see the leading edge of the run,” Hymer said.

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