VANCOUVER, Wash. – The popular spring chinook salmon fishery opens Sunday, March 16, on portions of the Columbia River with high expectations and several significant changes from previous years.
While only a few “springers,” as the fish are known, have been counted in the river to date, many more are expected to follow.
According to pre-season forecasts, 269,300 upriver chinook will return to the Columbia River over the next few months, which would make this year’s run the third-largest since 1977. That compares to a return of just 86,230 upriver chinook last year.
“If the forecasts are on target, this should be a terrific year for spring chinook fishing,” said Pat Frazier, southwest region fish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “It’s important, though, that anglers be aware of some changes in this year’s fishery.”
One major change is that most of this year’s fishing opportunities will be directed upriver from Portland to protect a weak run to the Willamette River. The area of the Columbia River opening to spring chinook fishing March 16 stretches from the west power lines on Hayden Island 200 miles upriver to McNary Dam.
Fishing is scheduled to run through April 30 from the power lines upstream to Bonneville Dam, with Tuesday closures beginning March 25. Upstream of Bonneville Dam, the fishery is expected to continue through May 10.
Anglers also will be able to fish below Hayden Island this year, but that season will be limited to 12 days, from March 24 through April 4.
“This year’s fishing seasons were designed to give anglers an opportunity to take advantage of strong returns of chinook bound for upriver hatcheries, while protecting weak Willamette River stocks,” said Cindy LeFleur, WDFW Columbia River policy coordinator. “That required a different approach this year.”
In addition, catch limits below Bonneville Dam were reduced to one adult chinook salmon a day to extend the length of the sport-fishing season and meet conservation requirements on the lower Columbia River. Anglers will still be allowed to keep two adult salmon per day between Bonneville Dam and McNary Dam.
As in previous seasons, anglers fishing anywhere in the Columbia River must release wild chinook salmon, which can be identified by an intact adipose fin.
Frazier said anglers planning to fish the mainstem Columbia above – or immediately below – Bonneville Dam should be aware of several other issues:
- Expanded bank fishing: This year’s fishing rules will open up an additional 40 miles of bank fishing on the Columbia River from Bonneville Dam upriver to the Tower Island power lines. For the first time since the early 1980s, bank anglers will be able to fish the stretch of water from the dam to six miles below The Dalles Dam. Anglers may retain six salmon, including two adult fish, and must release all wild chinook, chum and sockeye salmon. Wild coho must be released from the Hood River Bridge downstream.
- Tribal subsistence fisheries: WDFW recently approved an agreement with the Yakama Nation sanctioning tribal subsistence fishing from Bonneville Dam to Beacon Rock, 4.5 miles downriver. As a result, anglers fishing those waters may see tribal members fishing with more than one pole. “The agreement was reached cooperatively with the Yakama Nation, and clarifies fishing areas and enforcement responsibilities immediately below the dam,” said Frazier, who cautions anglers against interfering with tribal fisheries.
- Sea lions: For the third straight year, WDFW will be working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers to prevent California sea lions immediately below Bonneville Dam from preying on salmon and steelhead listed for protection under the federal Endangered Species Act. Hazing crews, operating downriver to Beacon Rock, will avoid working near fishing boats. For more information on the hazing effort, see WDFW’s website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/sealions/index.htm.
Joe Hymer, another WDFW fish biologist, said the new bank-fishing area should open up some productive fishing opportunities this year.
“I think the best new location will be at the mouth of Drano Lake,” Hymer said. “Fish stage there before entering the lake, a plug or lure cast from shore has a good chance of attracting a chinook salmon.”
To help make the fishery a success, Hymer asks that anglers follow three rules: Don’t cross the highway, don’t trespass over the railroad tracks and don’t interfere with tribal fisheries.
Parking is available on the west side of Drano Lake along the road to Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery, with access to fishing areas beneath the Highway 14 and Burlington Northern Railroad bridges.
On the east side of the lake, anglers can park at designated areas along the highway and access the mainstem Columbia from a trail between the highway and railroad bridges.
For information about spring chinook seasons on tributaries spilling into the Bonneville Pool, CLICK HERE.