Anglers starting to fish the Yakima and Columbia rivers near the Tri-Cities are being asked to watch for bass and catfish that have been tagged by fisheries biologists.
Over 4,000 bass (primarily smallmouth) and over 2,700 channel catfish have been tagged since 1997 in an effort to determine the abundance, distribution, and movement patterns of the fish populations. Anglers who catch tagged fish are asked to write down the tag number, fish species, location, date of the catch, and the total number of fish caught that day, then call WDFW at the toll free line noted on the tag (1-888-604-8568) to report the information.
Anglers who catch and release a tagged fish should report that the fish is back in the water, too. Anglers are also asked to leave an address and phone number so WDFW can get back to them with the history of the fish caught. Smallmouth bass move this month and next from the Columbia River into the Yakima River to spawn, creating some excellent fishing opportunities. The tagging confirms that adult smallmouth bass enter the Yakima River in early spring and stay until late June or early July when they move back into the Columbia River.
Bass up and down the Columbia move into the shallows and sloughs when mainstem water temperatures reach about 49 degrees, generally in April. At this time fishing is good in the enclosed sloughs like Paterson Slough, the backwaters of Crow Butt, and Casey Pond. WDFW fish biologist Anthony Fritts reported that nine tagged smallmouth bass were caught last week in the lower several miles of river. The warm weather causing snowmelt in the mountains and high, turbid flows may frustrate anglers, but fish are caught even in muddy water.
Columbia and Yakima River smallmouth bass generally weigh 1 ½- to 2 ½- pounds, but some three-to-six-pounders are caught. Anglers look for Columbia River bass in hard bottom areas of gravel or rock, adjacent to large weedy flats and sheltered from main channel current. Large concentrations of bass are often found at the shallowest point of submerged gravel or rock piles. The daily catch limit is five, with not more than three over 15 inches. WDFW encourages catch-and-release to maintain the best quality fishing.
Yakima River channel catfish usually start biting in mid-April, and fishing remains good through July. The movement patterns of channel catfish are not as defined as those of smallmouth bass, but there does appear to be some movement of catfish into the Yakima River from the Columbia River. Fishing is best in deeper areas on the outside bends of the river in the lower 20 miles of the Yakima, and when the river is rising and getting muddy. Fishing at night also is often productive.
Most catfish average two to four pounds, with fish from six to ten pounds relatively common. There are no catch or size limits on catfish caught in the river, but anglers should remember that bottom-feeding fish can accumulate contaminates deposited in river sediments. To reduce exposure to contaminants when eating these fish, remove the fat along the belly and back before cooking, allow the fat to drip off during cooking by barbequing or broiling, and don't eat the fish skin.