Columbia-Snake Steelhead Restrictions Tighten

Washington steelhead managers are tightening already restricted fisheries as this year’s A-run comes in below forecast.

HATCHERY STEELHEAD LIMITS ON WASHINGTON’S GRANDE RONDE AND OTHER STREAMS ARE BEING DROPPED TO ONE FOLLOWING A RUNSIZE DOWNGRADE. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Limits on hatchery fish are being reduced on a number of Blue Mountains streams, including the Walla Walla, Touchet, Tucannon, Snake and Grande Ronde, from three to one starting Sept. 1, per a bevy of WDFW emergency rule change notices out in late morning.

While the best fishing really isn’t until midfall, anglers will be required to quit steelheading once they’ve retained their daily limit.

There’s also a 28-inch maximum size on the Snake from its mouth up to the Couse Creek boat launch near the mouth of Hells Canyon in eastern Asotin County to protect a low return of larger B-runs.

It follows this week’s downgrade from 118,200 As and Bs expected back to now just 86,000.

A fact sheet out today says the decrease is mainly due to fin-clipped A-runs “tracking lower than forecast.”

ODFW and WDFW also extended the steelhead retention closure on the Columbia below The Dalles Dam through Sept. 30. It had been scheduled to reopen Sept. 1.

“Due to the recent run downgrade for upriver steelhead (primarily clipped A-Index fish), concerns exist regarding achieving hatchery broodstock needs,” the fact sheet states.

Inland Northwest steelhead returns have been struggling in recent years and managers have implemented a series of rolling closures going up the Columbia to protect the runs.

They’ve also closed fishing in the cool plume at the mouth of the Deschutes River, a thermal refuge where steelhead as well as salmon hunker to get out of the warmer Columbia.

The fact sheet says that the big river is running at 71 degrees, average over the past 10 years and down a degree since early August, and at about 116,000 cubic feet per second, or about 18,000 cfs lower than typical.

If there’s any good news, it’s that the forecast for unclipped/wild/natural-origin A- and B-run steelhead has dropped less sharply versus the preseason estimate, from 40,250 to 38,000, and that fall Chinook and coho returns so far at Bonneville Dam are “similar” and “consistent” with expectations.

The fact sheet states that king catches and release mortalities at Buoy 10 stayed within expectations during the keeper season, but staffers recommended that a planned nontreaty netting opener this week be rescinded because “it appears the majority of the URB sub-allocation planned preseason for August mainstem non-treaty commercial fisheries has been achieved” and managers did subsequently follow through on that.

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