A pair of fishery managers, one from Washington, one from Oregon, signed off on spring Chinook regulations Feb. 18 that will give this season on the Lower Columbia a different feel from usual.
While much of the river will see the usual hoglines and fleets of trollers, the water from the I-205 bridge to Bonneville Dam will be completely bereft of boats.
Only bank anglers will be allowed to work the big river in that stretch for this year’s projected record return of upriver spring Chinook — some 470,000 fish.
And the best bank fishing will likely be just below Bonneville Dam — at least before hordes of sea lions show up, as they have in recent years.
According to one longtime fishery observor, it will be the first time since at least 2000 that that sort of regulation has been put on the lower river — and may be the first time ever. But with the Columbia running lower than in previous seasons, it’s a way to keep from chewing up impacts on ESA-listed wild fish too quickly.
And then there’s this year’s catch-sharing agreements. As Allen Thomas of The Columbian writes, “Pete Hassemer of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said Thursday the big fleet in the lower Columbia is catching a disproportionate number of spring chinook from four Idaho hatcheries, shorting inland anglers.”
The seasons are emblematic of managers’ caution with this year’s return. The past two seasons have seen forecasts fall flat on their faces — returns of just 54 percent and 66 percent of the preseason prediction in 2009 and 2008.
There’s also that massive jack return last season, some 82,000, and whether all those 3-year-old fish will translate into adults this year.
But if the run comes in, it would be the largest return since at least 1938.
We preview the best spots to fish, top rigs, run science and more in our March issue, out to subscribers and on newsstands starting next week!
Here are reactions to the seasons from overnight:
“It’s going to be very difficult for us to explain to the angling public why there’s a half million fish in the river and their fishing options are so constrained.”
Liz Hamilton, Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, as reported by Joel Shangle of Northwest Wild Country Radio
“Ok ive read it several times. So my understanding is that you will not be allowed to fish for springers Above 205 on the columbia holy man that sucks!! I love that water I think im gonna cry now all those boats that fish that area will be with all the boats that fish 205 I-5 water oh my!!”
Metal Head on Ifish
“Guess I will have to throw away all the eggs and learn to troll herring.”
Kevin Lund on piscatorialpursuits
“WTF April 3rd Look at the old counts things don’t even get going til around the second week. Un believable!! Maybe they want to buy my damn boat!! “Fishing From the Bank ” It is the damn Coumbia river one of the largest in the world. Come ON!!”
“It doesn’t seem right to discriminate on the basis of geography.’’
Bob Morgan of Washougal, quoted by Allen Thomas of The Columbian
“I’m extremely frustrated again that anglers in the Gorge are going to bite the bullet for spring salmon.”
Sheilla Cannon of Dodson, Ore., also quoted by Thomas
“Above I-205 sounds like “Boating to a Bank” may be a good option to try.”
Wheatie, also on Ifish
“It looks about normal to me … restricted fishing to protect the ESA listed stocks and areas determined to help extend the season as long as possible … We’re going to have to work hard to catch 17000 fish … tune up your reels, re-tie your knots, sharpen your hooks, grease your axels, test your motors … this warm weather is going to light up the fishing!”
Pete, an administrator on Ifish
“Calm is a good thing … I’m pleased with what we’ve done here today.”
Steve Williams, ODFW, on the “remarkably smooth” season-setting process this year as compared to previous go-arounds, as reported by Henry Miller of the Salem Statesman Journal
“The message sent to the sport anglers of Washington and Oregon today by the Columbia River Compact: Learn how to fish upriver.”
Joel Shangle, Northwest Wild Country Radio
“Compared to the past two years, anglers will have much more generous spring chinook seasons in the lower Columbia River this year.”
Tom Paulu, Longview Daily News
Shangle and Paulu are both correct.
Managers say they’re “encouraged” by the forecast — 559,000 fish overall when you add in a good Willamette run plus the Cowlitz and other tribs — and say they’ve approved rules that will “provide Columbia River anglers with a full range of fishing opportunities above and below Bonneville Dam in March and April.”
They slapped a 40 percent buffer on the run to ensure that upstream tribal and recreational anglers can fish, as well protect wild stocks.
“This approach gives us the flexibility to match fishing opportunities to the actual size of the run,” said Guy Norman, WDFW regional director, in a press release. “As we’ve seen in the past two years, it can create real problems when runs fall short of expectations.”
A run update will be done in early May.
“Thanks to the large run forecast this year we are able to craft a spring chinook season that includes plenty of fishing opportunity throughout the river,” said Steve Williams deputy administrator of ODFW’s fish division, also in a press release. “If the forecast comes in as expected we may be able to provide even more opportunity.”
Norman and Williams were the two gents signing off on the fishery.
While the bank-only fishery from I-205 to Bonneville rankles some anglers, as Shangle points to, there’s a whole lot of opportunity above the dam.
Indeed, Stuart Ellis, one of the guys who we both talked to about how he and a technical committee came up with the springer forecast, warned me months ago, “The opportunities may not be in your favorite area, or your preferred area to fish. You may have to go to choice number two or three.”
Managers approved 7-day-a-week fishing from Bonneville to McNary from March 16 through May 31. While it’s also bank only from Bonneville upstream to the Tower Island power lines, which is six miles downstream from The Dalles Dam, there’s a lot of water up here for boat fishing. Plus you’ll be able to keep two hatchery Chinook a day in that stretch.
We’re also learning that springer fisheries below Lower Granite, Little Goose and Ice Harbor dams are probably.
Bill Monroe, a columnist for The Oregonian, blogged about yesterday’s season-setting meeting as it happened.
As it stands, spring Chinook seasons for March and April are:
* Buoy 10 upstream to the I-5 Bridge: Seven days per week from March 1 through April 18, except closed on the following Tuesdays: March 9, 16, 23 and 30.
* I-5 Bridge upstream to I-205 Bridge: Seven days per week from March 1-14, except closed on Tuesday March 9. Beginning March 18 through April 3, fishing will be limited to three days per week, Thursday through Saturday.
* I-205 Bridge upstream to Bonneville Dam: Bank angling only, seven days per week from March 1-14, except closed on Tuesday March 9. Beginning March 18 through April 3, fishing will be limited to three days per week, Thursday through Saturday.
Anglers fishing below Bonneville Dam will be allowed to retain one adult adipose-fin-clipped spring chinook salmon per day.
ODFW also announced that the Willamette River will stay open seven days a week, with a daily bag limit of two adipose fin-clipped Chinook or steelhead in any combination. The agency is forecasting a return of 62,700 Chinook in the Willamette, which is one of the strongest returns in several years.
As outlined in WDFW’s rule pamphlet, Columbia River anglers may retain shad and hatchery steelhead when fishing is open for spring Chinook.