Columbia River salmon: The spring chinook salmon season got underway March 1 on the lower Columbia River under the cloud of a preseason forecast that anticipates a significant reduction in the number of fish available for harvest this year.
According to preseason projections, about 99,300 upriver spring chinook will reach the Columbia this year, down 14 percent from last year and 50 percent below the 10-year average. Those fish return to hatcheries and spawning areas upriver from Bonneville Dam.
State fishery managers are also expecting much lower returns to several major lower Columbia River tributaries, particularly the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers. On the Cowlitz, this year’s spring chinook run is projected to reach just 11 percent of the 10-year average and fall short of meeting hatchery production goals.
Ryan Lothrop, Columbia River policy coordinator for WDFW, said those projections are largely the result of poor ocean conditions, which have complicated fisheries management in recent years.
“Anglers will still find some good fishing opportunities in the Columbia River Basin this spring, but conservation has to be our first concern,” Lothrop said.
Here’s how the fishing seasons in the Columbia River stack up below and above Bonneville Dam:
Below Bonneville Dam: Salmon fishing will open March 1 through April 10 on the Columbia River upstream from Warrior Rock boundary line to Bonneville Dam. Anglers may retain two salmon, two steelhead, or one of each per day, but only one salmon may be a chinook. The lower river downstream from Warrior Rock will be closed to fishing from March 1 through April 10 to conserve spring chinook returning to the Cowlitz and Lewis rivers.
Above Bonneville Dam: Waters above Bonneville Dam to the Oregon/Washington state line above McNary Dam will open to salmon fishing April 1 through May 5. Anglers may retain two salmon, two steelhead, or one of each per day, but only one salmon may be a chinook.
In all open waters, only hatchery salmon and steelhead identified by a clipped adipose fin and healed scar may be retained.
Along with new area restrictions in the lower Columbia, fishery managers also reduced initial harvest limits for upriver spring chinook returning to the upper Columbia and Snake rivers. If those fish return as projected, anglers in the Columbia and Snake rivers will be limited to a total of 4,548 fish, compared to 9,052 last year, prior to a run size updated in May.
Lothrop noted that this year's projected return of 99,300 upriver spring chinook is the lowest since 2007, but still well above the record-low return of just 12,800 fish in 1995.
“Experience has shown that warm-water ocean conditions present a challenge to salmon survival,” he said. “As in the 1990s, we have observed that cyclical warming effect during the past few years with similar results. During these times, we have to be especially cautious in how we manage the fishery.”
Fishing the tributaries: The Cowlitz and Lewis rivers will close to salmon fishing March 1 to conserve spring chinook for hatchery escapement needs, but will remain open for hatchery steelhead retention. The Kalama River will remain open to fishing for salmon and steelhead, but the daily limit of adult salmon will be reduced to one fish on March 1.
Meanwhile, anglers have through March 15 to fish for steelhead on the Coweeman, Elochoman, Grays, East Fork Lewis, South Fork Toutle, and Washougal rivers. That is also the case for Abernathy, Germany, Skamokawa, Mill (Cowlitz Co.), Cedar (Clark Co.), Rock (Skamania Co.), and Salmon (Clark Co.) creeks.
Farther upriver, the Wind River and Drano Lake will open for salmon fishing March 16. Anglers planning to fish any of these waters are advised to check for emergency fishing rules to make sure they are aware of any updates to state regulations before they head out.
Sturgeon: Retention fishing for white sturgeon is open seven days a week in two pools of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam and adjacent tributaries. The daily limit is one white sturgeon per day until further notice and an annual limit of two legal-size fish.
Bonneville Pool: Anglers may retain white sturgeon measuring 38-54 inches (fork length) between Bonneville Dam and The Dalles Dam until further notice. This guideline was updated from 325 to 500 fish during the Sturgeon Management Task Force policy meeting in January 2019.
The Dalles Pool: Closed to retention fishing Jan. 7, but remains open to catch-and-release fishing.
John Day Pool: Anglers may retain white sturgeon measuring 43-54 inches (fork length) between John Day Dam and McNary Dam until the catch reaches the 105-fish guideline.
Sturgeon retention remains closed below Bonneville Dam, but catch-and-release fishing is open there and in areas above the dam that allow retention fishing. Anglers should check for any emergency rules affecting these fisheries before heading out.
Trout: Winter trout plants will provide plenty of action at several lakes, including Rowland Lake, which received 375 large rainbow trout; Battle Ground Lake, which received 2,500 catchable rainbow trout; and Lake Sacajawea, which received 4,469 catchable rainbow trout. Other lakes that were stocked in January are still producing great catches. See the Catchable Trout Plant page on the WDFW website for updates.
Kokanee fishing has been good in Merwin Reservoir, and fair in Yale.
Due to changes in statewide regulations, anglers are reminded that some waters that normally close at the end of February have been extended to the end of March. Be sure to check your pamphlet.
Warmwater fish: With the dip in temperatures in February, fishing for panfish in various lakes slowed somewhat, but should start picking back up as the temperatures rise.
If you are interested in receiving a fishing packet for southwest Washington lakes, please email Stacie Kelsey at firstname.lastname@example.org and indicate if you would like an adult or youth packet mailed to you.
Apply for a multiple-season tag: Deer and elk hunters have until March 31 to enter their names into the drawing for a 2018 multiple-season tag, which can greatly increase the opportunity for success in the field.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) will hold the drawing in mid-April, randomly selecting names for 8,500 multiple-season deer tags and 1,000 multiple-season elk tags.
Winners of the drawing can purchase a special tag allowing them to participate in archery, muzzleloader, and modern firearm general hunting seasons for deer or elk in 2019. Winners who purchase the multiple season elk tag can participate in general elk hunting seasons in both eastern and western Washington.
The deadline to purchase the multiple-season tag is July 31.
Winners may also choose any weapon type when applying for a special hunt permit for deer or elk.
"With the multiple season tag, hunters have the opportunity to extend their seasons this fall," said Anis Aoude, WDFW game division manager. "Winners do not need to choose one hunting method over another, so they have more options and flexibility."
Aoude noted that the tags can be used only during general seasons and in game management units open during a modern firearm, muzzleloader, or archery general season. For example, winners may not hunt during the muzzleloader general season in an area not open for the muzzleloader general season.
Hunters can apply only once for each species and their bag limit remains one deer or elk.
A multiple season application can be purchased from authorized license dealers, online at http://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/, or by calling 866-246-9453. The application costs $7.10 for residents and $110.50 for nonresidents.
A 2019 hunting license is not required to submit an application, but winners of the drawing must purchase one before they can purchase a multiple season tag.
For more information, visit WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/, or call the Licensing Division at 360-902-2464.
Sandhill cranes: With spring fast approaching, sandhill cranes are now arriving in the Vancouver Lowlands to begin their annual mating dance. Thousands of the large birds – with wingspans of up to seven feet – will visit prime feeding areas such as the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge before leaving for the long trip north.
The cranes have plenty of company while they’re in the area. Great egrets, tundra swans, belted kingfishers and a wide variety of other birds are also arriving for spring.
Bears emerge: Bears are becoming active, drawn out of the dens by the spring-like weather. As always, their first thought will be to find food. Females with new cubs will be particularly hungry and may be attracted to human-provided sources of food such as compost, bird feeders, garbage cans, and fruit trees.
To avoid attracting bears, secure garbage cans in a shed or fenced area, and keep meat scraps in the freezer until shortly before garbage cans are picked up or hauled away. For other tips on avoiding conflicts with bears, see the Living with Wildlife series on WDFW’s website.