VANCOUVER, Wash. - Anticipating a strong return of spring chinook salmon, fishery managers from Washington and Oregon today set the initial 2014 fishing season to run through April 7 on the lower Columbia River.
Starting March 1, anglers fishing downriver from Bonneville Dam may retain one marked, hatchery-reared adult spring chinook per day. The sport fishery will close in that area on two Tuesdays - March 25 and April 1 - to accommodate potential commercial fisheries.
Anglers fishing above the dam will also have a one-fish daily catch limit for hatchery adult spring chinook during a season scheduled March 16 through May 9. The fishing area above Bonneville Dam extends upriver to the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles above McNary Dam.
Barbless hooks are required in both areas, and anglers must release any salmon or steelhead not visibly marked as a hatchery fish by a clipped adipose fin.
Ron Roler, Columbia River policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said this year's spring chinook fishery looks promising, noting that the initial seasons could be extended if enough fish are available for harvest.
"The stage is set for a great fishery this year," Roler said. "Not only is the run forecast well above average, but the light snow pack makes it unlikely that anglers will have to contend with high, turbid water as they have in some years."
Based on pre-season projections, 308,000 adult spring chinook will return to the Columbia River Basin this year, including 227,000 upriver fish bound for rivers and streams above Bonneville Dam. That compares to a return of just 123,100 upriver fish in 2013, Roler said.
Under this year's initial catch guidelines, anglers fishing below the dam will be allowed to catch up to 12,400 spring chinook before an updated run forecast is released in late April or early May. Another 1,325 adult upriver chinook will be reserved for anglers fishing between Bonneville Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line.
To guard against overestimating this year's run, the states will again manage the fisheries with a 30 percent buffer until the forecast is updated with information about actual returns.
"We've agreed to take a conservative approach until May, when we typically know how many fish are actually returning," Roler said. "If the fish return at or above expectations, we will look toward providing additional days of fishing on the river later in the spring."
Spring chinook fishing is currently open on a daily basis from Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to the Interstate 5 Bridge.
Under the new rules, the fishery for boat and bank anglers will expand upriver to Beacon Rock on March 1, with bank fishing also allowed from Beacon Rock upriver to the fishing boundary just below Bonneville Dam.
Above the dam, the fishery will be open to boat and bank anglers on a daily basis from March 16 through May 9 between the Tower Island powerlines (six miles below The Dalles Dam) and the Washington/Oregon state line. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the Tower Island powerlines during that time.
In other business, fishery managers approved a sturgeon fishery in the Bonneville Pool set to begin Saturday, Feb. 1. Only white sturgeon measuring 38-54 inches (fork length) may be retained.
Roler said that fishery is designed to give anglers a chance to catch sturgeon still available for harvest in that area during the winter season. The fishery will run through Feb. 17 or until 300 to 350 additional sturgeon are caught, whichever comes first.
Waters below Bonneville Dam remain closed to sturgeon retention until further notice under rules previously adopted by both states.
The new fishing regulations for spring chinook and white sturgeon will be posted on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/rulechanges/ by the end of the day Jan. 30.