While there are probably better spring Chinook fisheries at hand around the state right now, today’s opening of the Chehalis does provide another opportunity to land one of the tasty salmon.
“It’s eggs, eggs, eggs,” says local guide Bill “Swanny” Swann (206-755-1204) about the best bait for the river which is open from now through the end of June.
It’s the first spring season on the Chehalis since 2007, when 54 were kept, according to Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife biologist Mike Scharpf in Montesano.
“When we did our forecast, there was a harvestable surplus,” he says, referring to preseason planning with state and tribal biologists. “When we brought that up with our fishery advisory committee, the sportsmen were very anxious to go after the fish.”
This year’s prediction calls for 2,301 wild spring Chinook to return. That’s just under the long-term average since the 1990s. Some years, such as 2008 and 2009, have seen far fewer, perhaps due to poor ocean conditions the previous years, but there’s since been an upsurge in the run, he notes.
Around 2,500 came back last year, and in 2010, 3,500 showed up, a “really unexpected” figure because its parent class was so small, Scharpf says.
The escapement goal is 1,400.
To be sure the Chehalis isn’t a super-secret Drano Lake or Wind River; the past high catch is 2001′s 252.
That’s about how many are available for sports this season after splitting the surplus with two local tribes.
“We figured it was a good idea to craft a fishery,” Scharpf says.
The adult salmon return to three main areas of the basin: the Skookumchuck and Newaukum Rivers and the South Fork Chehalis, he says.
Because the fish tend to move through the system pretty fast, the Chehalis was opened up to the Highway 6 bridge in Adna, Scharpf says.
The downstream boundary is the Highway 101 bridge in Aberdeen.
While the river is on the way up today because of rains in the Willapa Hills yesterday, when it drops back in the coming days, it should be at least be at fishable height — never mind clarity.
“When the river’s below 3,500 cfs at Porter, fish from Porter up. Focus on the big holes,” Swanny says.
In addition to Pautzke-cured eggs, the guide recommends sand shrimp and shrimp cocktails off a diver and bait, but adds that eggs under a bobber can be productive.
He says there are good floats for drifters from Centralia down to Porter, but below that last take-out, the river gets a little froggy.
Swanny also advises not running over the holes in such a relatively small stream.
And how does the guide rate the opportunity?
Well, even though the fishery is practically in his back yard, he’ll be back on the Columbia at The Dalles where the season was extended through May 6.
He also points out that the Cowlitz, Kalama and Sol Duc might also be more productive.
Still, for the first time in five years, the Chehalis is open for springers.
“I’ll start fishing it next week, based on water quality,” Swanny says.
The daily limit is one.