The front end of the spring chinook train has entered the Lower Columbia River, and is now heading upstream with a few caught in the past week.
“There are lots of signs that spring is starting to happen, and we checked another spring chinook to add to the couple of others we saw (last week),” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.
“The fish are mainly being caught in Vancouver area, and effort is starting to build so people are getting spring fever,” Hymer said. “Some of the Willamette spring fish are moving up the main channel (of Lower Columbia) and upriver-bound fish are being caught too.”
Fishing conditions are ideal with low river levels and excellent water clarity, which are a much different scenario than last year at this time.
“We’ve got warmer water (temperatures), and no blowouts in the Willamette and Cowlitz so conditions are looking good in the near future,” Hymer said.
“Then we had a pretty big river (high flows and swift currents during all of last March),” Hymer said. “This year’s snow pack is more average, and possibly a little bit below. They are even refilling Grand Coulee right now.”
“There has been some sightings of pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) and bird activity in the river, which means a sign of smelt in the Lower Columbia, which you can’t harvest,” Hymer said. “Feed in the water can attract salmon and sturgeon.”
The peak of the Lower Columbia spring fishery usually occurs in March and April. The upriver spring chinook forecast is 141,400, and about 25 percent below the 10-year average.
Last year, 203,000 returned to areas above Bonneville Dam, and strong returns happened in 2011, 2010 and 2009. While the upriver forecast is smaller, it is still twice as large to the ones that occurred in 1990s.
Anglers this spring will be allowed to catch up to 5,000 hatchery upriver chinook below Bonneville, but could go longer if catch levels remain under the guideline.
A total of 114,675 angler trips were taken on Lower Columbia last season, with 13,332 adult spring chinook kept (11,105 from April 1-22) and 2,409 released.
Spring chinook fishing is currently open downstream of I-5 Bridge, and extends to Beacon Rock beginning Friday, March 1 through April 5. Sport fishing will be closed March 26 and April 2 for possible commercial fisheries. Beginning Friday, March 1, bank anglers may fish from Beacon Rock to boundary below Bonneville Dam.
An additional 670 adult hatchery fish will go to anglers fishing between Bonneville Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam.
Only hatchery-marked chinook with a clipped adipose fin may be kept in the fishery, and all wild chinook must be released. A new rule implemented on the Columbia River mainstem below the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam requires anglers to now use barbless hooks.
Fishing above Bonneville Dam will be open daily to boat and bank anglers March 16 through May 5 between the Tower Island power lines six miles below The Dalles Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. Bank anglers can fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the Tower Island power lines during that period.
Beginning Friday, March 1, anglers below Bonneville Dam may keep one hatchery adipose-fin clipped adult spring chinook daily. Anglers above Bonneville may keep two hatchery-marked adult spring chinook daily beginning March 16.
Fisheries officials will manage the fisheries with a 30 percent buffer until the forecast can be updated in late April or early May.
(Pictured fishing on the Columbia River near I-5 in Vancouver is Seattle Times writer Mark Yuasa netting a spring chinook salmon for state Fish and Wildlife biologist Joe Hymer. Also pictured is Bill Moore, a 57-year-old boat fisherman from Walla Walla, holding a spring chinook he caught last year from Drano Lake.)