UPDATED 5 P.M. 6-27, AT BOTTOM WITH WDFW E-REG ANNOUNCING HANFORD REACH SOCKEYE OPENER
With four times as many sockeye as originally forecast now expected to return to the Columbia, Washington fishery managers are planning a series of openers on the upper river.
But they caution that water conditions will be closely monitored to avoid a repeat of last year’s massive disaster and that the goal is to get as many salmon on the spawning grounds as possible.
WDFW regional fisheries manager Jeff Korth expects that the big river from Highway 395 up to Priest Rapids Dam will open first, possibly as early as midweek, and then the upper pools by mid-July.
“I’m 99 percent sure we’ll have a season. It’s just, will it open next week or the week after?” he says.
The limit probably will be three sockeye a day, with a modeled sport catch of 20,000, Korth says.
This year’s forecast was originally for just 101,600 sockeye and fishing was only slated to be open as far upstream as Tri-Cities, per the pamphlet.
But the run topped that prediction by June 19, had more than doubled it by last Friday, the 24th, and through Sunday, it sat at over 242,000 at Bonneville Dam.
What’s more, Korth says that this morning the forecast was upgraded to 400,000.
But also rising: summer temperatures, with mid-90s predicted through much of this week.
Korth warns that if the sockeye are trapped in the Brewster Pool behind Wells Dam by the Okanogan River’s thermal block and the run is taking a beating from water temperatures downstream, the fishery could be closed.
Last year, only 12,000 out of 400,000 British Columbia-bound sockeye made it to their Canadian spawning grounds because of hot water in the Columbia, he says.
“The good news is that it doesn’t look like we’ll have problems in the mainstem Columbia,” says Korth. “My main plan is to get them through first. The way it went last year, I don’t want to take any chances.”
Managers will be monitoring counts at Zosel Dam on the Okanogan at Oroville.
Also of note: Of the 125,000 sockeye over McNary Dam so far, the assumption is that 25,000 to 30,000 of those are bound for Lake Wenatchee, generally enough to open the Chelan County lake. The forecast is for 55,000 to 60,000.
Hanford Reach to open for sockeye fishing
Actions: Opens sockeye salmon to retention
Area 1: Columbia River from Hwy. 395 Bridge at Pasco to the Interstate 182 Bridge at Richland near Columbia Point (CRC 534).
Daily Limit: Daily limit of three (3) salmon, of which one (1) may be an adult hatchery chinook and two (2) may be sockeye. Release wild adult chinook.
Area 2: Columbia River from the Interstate 182 Bridge to Priest Rapids Dam (CRC 535, 536)
Daily Limit: Daily limit of six (6) salmon, of which two (2) may be adult hatchery chinook and three (3) may be sockeye. Release wild adult chinook.
Other information: Anglers must use barbless hooks when fishing for salmon and must have a current Washington fishing license as well as a Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement (CRSSE). Anglers with the Two-Pole Endorsement may fish with two poles, except for sturgeon.
Reason for action: The sockeye run has exceeded the pre-season forecast of 102,000 fish returning to the river mouth. Approximately 240,000 sockeye passed Bonneville Dam through June 26, with the total return now projected to reach 400,000. Barring extreme high water temperatures like those that caused unprecedented pre-spawning mortality in 2015, the spawning needs in the both the Wenatchee and Okanogan rivers should be realized. More than 110,000 sockeye have crossed McNary Dam, allowing a fishery upstream of the Hwy. 395 Bridge at Pasco to Priest Rapids Dam
After the loss of nearly all spawning sockeye in the Okanogan River in 2015, fishery managers are proceeding conservatively until spawning escapements into the Wenatchee and Okanogan Rivers are assured. Provided that water temperatures remain below lethal levels, sockeye seasons above Priest Rapids Dam are likely as the run progresses upriver. Anglers should watch WDFW’s for further actions.