OLYMPIA – So many steelhead have returned to the upper Columbia River that selective sport fishing for marked hatchery fish will be opened tomorrow (Nov. 6) in parts of the Hanford Reach and the Okanogan River.
On Nov. 15, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will also extend the selective fishery to include the Similkameen River.
Anglers in all three areas will be allowed to keep two marked hatchery steelhead a day. Hatchery steelhead can be identified by a healed scar where either their adipose or ventral fin has been removed.
Any steelhead lacking this marking must be released.
The recreational hatchery steelhead fishery, approved today by the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), was sought by WDFW in response to unanticipated high numbers of returning fish.
"We are pleased we could work with the new regional NMFS administration to craft a sound fishery that allows anglers to benefit from an unexpectedly large returning run without impacting wild steelhead recovery," said WDFW Director Jeff Koenings. "We are optimistic that we will be able to continue to offer hatchery steelhead fishing opportunities in future years if run strength continues in the upper Columbia."
Areas that will open to fisheries selecting for hatchery steelhead fishing include:
- The Hanford Reach area of the Columbia River, which will be open Nov. 6 through March 31 from the Highway 395 Bridge at Pasco to the old Hanford town site power poles just upsteam of the Ringold Hatchery. General freshwater rules will be in effect, with the additional requirement that all wild steelhead be released.
- The Okanogan River, most of which will be open from Nov. 6 through March 31. One section of the river, from Zosel Dam downstream to a quarter-mile below the railway trestle, will remain closed to steelhead fishing and another section, from the Highway 97 bridge at Omak to a line across the river 500 feet above the mouth of Omak Creek, will close Feb. 16. Selective gear rules for steelhead will be in effect and anglers will be required to release any wild, unmarked steelhead they catch.
- The Similkameen River, which will be open Nov. 15 through March 31 from the river mouth to a line 400 feet below Enloe Dam. Selective gear rules for steelhead will be in effect and anglers will be required to release any wild, unmarked steelhead they catch.
In addition to wild steelhead release, any fish containing a radio-tag wire protruding from the mouth, or containing a disk tag attached near the dorsal must be released immediately unharmed.
Besides providing these river-fishing seasons, WDFW is tentatively planning to collect up to 500 hatchery steelhead from the Ringold Hatchery and transport them to several landlocked ponds and lakes in central Washington for additional angling opportunities. WDFW will announce dates and locations of these stocking efforts as they become available.
Koenings noted that the overall return to the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam was far larger than anticipated. More than 630,000 steelhead were counted passing the Dam as of Nov. 1.
At Priest Rapids Dam, sampling indicates that the returning upriver run is among the highest ever recorded. Some 5,700 wild steelhead, 8,100 supplementation fish (fish with one wild parent) and 16,100 marked hatchery fish are expected to return to the area above Priest Rapids Dam.
Fish managers estimate that up to 11,000 marked, hatchery steelhead will return to WDFW's Ringhold Hatchery in the area of the Hanford Reach that will be open to fishing. Up to 5,000 marked steelhead are expected to return to the Okanogan and Similkameen rivers.