OLYMPIA – The recreational smelt fishery on the Columbia River will open around the clock starting New Year’s Day, but expectations of a poor run will restrict fishing opportunities on the river’s tributaries.
Under the 2006 smelt season announced today by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), smelt dipping on the Cowlitz River will be limited to one day per week.
Starting Jan. 7, the popular fishery on the Cowlitz is scheduled to run from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. each Saturday through March 31, with a daily catch limit of 10 pounds per person.
All other tributaries to the Columbia River will remain closed to smelt fishing until further notice.
“Every indication points to another poor smelt return this year,” said Brad James, a WDFW fish biologist. “But we’ll be watching the run closely, and will modify the season it turns out to be stronger than expected.”
Fishery managers are not overly concerned about a seven-day-per-week season on the lower Columbia River, where a scarcity of bank access limits fishing pressure, James said. Sport fishers can dip up to 25 pounds of smelt per day during the season, scheduled Jan. 1 through March 31.
But the situation is different on the Cowlitz River and other tributaries to the Columbia, where dippers have easier access to the fish.
Last Feburary, WDFW reduced the number of days open to smelt fishing on the Cowlitz River from two days to one when the run came in much weaker than expected.
“We’re hoping we can do it the other way around during the upcoming season, but the outlook is not good,” James said.