OLYMPIA - Fishing for hatchery steelhead in the upper Columbia, Methow and Okanogan rivers begins Oct. 1, thanks to one of the highest steelhead returns of the past 15 years, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Hatchery-origin steelhead from the region are listed as "endangered" under the federal Endangered Species Act, and this year's fisheries are approved under a permit from NOAA-Fisheries.
The primary objective of these fisheries is to reduce the proportion of adipose-clipped hatchery-origin steelhead contributing to the adult spawning escapement next spring, said Bob Gibbons, WDFW Freshwater Fish Program Manager.
"Removing hatchery-origin fish will increase the proportion of wild steelhead on the spawning grounds and improve the natural production potential in the upper Columbia River basin," Gibbons said.
Anglers can retain two adipose-clipped hatchery-origin steelhead of at least 20 inches in length per day. All steelhead with an intact adipose fin - the small fatty fin on the back near the tail - and steelhead containing a disk tag must be immediately released unharmed.
A night closure will be in effect for all waters above Rocky Reach Dam open to steelhead fishing. Selective gear rules will apply in tributaries to the Columbia River, except boats with motors can be used during these fisheries.
Gibbons said the duration of these fisheries depends on the cooperation of anglers this fall. The fisheries will close once the allowable incidental impact to wild steelhead from catch and release hooking mortality is reached. Gibbons said anglers are strongly encouraged to harvest two fin-clipped, hatchery-origin steelhead and not release them.
"The benefits to the wild spawning population by removing excess hatchery fish will occur only if anglers keep the fin-clipped hatchery fish they catch," he said.
A portion of the lower Methow River that in previous years has been open to steelhead fishing will not be opened this year in an effort to extend the length of the fishery.
Areas that will open to fishing for hatchery steelhead under WDFW emergency regulations include:
- The mainstem Columbia River: From Rocky Reach Dam upstream to Highway 17 Bridge at Bridgeport: Statewide gear rules for all fish species, night closure, and all steelhead with an intact adipose fin and steelhead containing a disk tag must be immediately released unharmed.
- Okanogan River from mouth upstream except closed waters from Lake Osoyoos Control Dam (Zosel Dam) downstream to ¼ mile below the railroad trestle. The area 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, 2005. Selective gear rules for all fish species, except motorized vessels allowed. Night closure in effect and all steelhead with an intact adipose fin and steelhead containing a disk tag must be immediately released unharmed. From the highway bridge at Malott upstream, closed to all species except adipose fin-clipped hatchery-origin steelhead.
- Methow River - From the mouth (Highway 97 Bridge) upstream to the confluence with the Chewuch River in Winthrop. EXCEPT closed from the second powerline crossing upstream of the Highway 97 Bridge upstream to the first Highway 153 Bridge north of Pateros: Selective gear rules except motorized vessels allowed, night closure, and all steelhead with an intact adipose fin and steelhead containing a disk tag must be immediately released unharmed.
The Similkameen River also opens to steelhead fishing later this year. Beginning Nov. 15, anglers can fish from the mouth to 400 feet below Enloe Dam. Selective gear rules apply, and there will be a night closure in effect. All steelhead with an intact adipose fin and steelhead containing a disk tag must be immediately released unharmed. Fishing from motorized boats is not allowed on the Similkameen.
In addition to the steelhead opportunities, the Columbia River from Rocky Reach Dam to the Highway 173 Bridge at Brewster will open for salmon fishing Oct. 1-15. A night closure will apply to all species in this area, and coho salmon must be released.
Complete details, including a full description of open and closed areas, are available on WDFW's fishing rule change web page on the Internet.