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WDFW Closed Monday, July 12

(WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE)

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) offices, like those of most other state agencies, will be closed July 12 for the first of 10 unpaid, temporary employee layoff days.

Fishing and hunting license sales conducted over the Internet at https://fishhunt.dfw.wa.gov/ and at retail vendors will not be affected by the closure. WDFW wildlife areas and water-access sites will remain open for public use during the layoff days, but WDFW hatcheries will not be open to the public during the layoff.

The statewide, temporary employee layoffs are mandated by ESSB 6503 (http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=6503 ), adopted by the 2010 Legislature to help balance the state budget in the face of a revenue shortfall.

WDFW enforcement officers are exempt from the layoffs, under the law adopted by the Legislature. WDFW also has exempted fish counters who distinguish various species of salmon as they move past Columbia River hydropower dams. The federally required and federally funded fish counting must be conducted consistently while salmon are returning upriver.

Some WDFW employees who feed animals or perform other tasks that are critical to resource management will take alternate temporary layoff days.

In addition to July 12, scheduled state employee layoff dates in 2010 are Friday, Aug. 6; Tuesday, Sept. 7; Monday, Oct. 11; and Monday, Dec. 27. In 2011, scheduled temporary layoff dates are Friday, Jan. 28; Tuesday, Feb. 22; Friday, March 11; Friday, April 22; and Friday June 10.

More information on statewide office closures associated with the temporary layoff is available at http://www.ofm.wa.gov/layoff/default.asp .

Side-drifting A Bust, Cow Crew Find Success Back-trolling

After watching fireworks displays until almost midnight then tossing and turning as neighbors continued to set off loud “‘home-made” fireworks till the wee hours I was actually waiting for my alarm to go off. I was meeting with some good friends and chasing some Summer Steelhead in Washington.

As I rendezvoused with Pat, Kent and Tom in the pre-dawn darkness, it was evident that they were looking forward to fishing as well and we didn’t waste any time getting gear transferred to the boat and we were on the road again.  We arrived to an almost deserted boat ramp at Blue Creek on the Cowlitz, which was surprising since no matter what day you plan on fishing the Cow during the month of July, it’s always bustling with boats side-drifting or back-trolling and bank anglers drift fishing or doing that spey fishing thing.

We launched then rigged up side-drifting rods, cut eggs into nickel-sized pieces, picked out four-shot slinkies (after studying the flow of the river) and set aside leader rolls to be at the ready when we break off.  Fast forward two hours: no bites after side-drifting prime water.

What next?  We break out the Hot-N-Tots and coon stripe shrimp!  Nothing fancy, just a bait diver, 6 feet of leader to a 2/0 hook and a small dyed shrimp, then deploy 75 feet behind the boat.

(ANDY SCHNEIDER)

It didn’t take more than a minute before we discovered we had made the correct choice as Pat’s rod flattened and a chrome summer steelhead crashed the surface below the boat.  The next five hours brought five fish to the boat, with two lost and countless other “mystery bites” taken out of the shrimp.

While the Cowlitz may be known for side-drifting, we were definitely not alone back-trolling bait.  While I’m not prepared to give in completely to the back-troll, rest assured, I’ll always have some coon shrimp soaking in some Pautzke Nectar the night before!

FIVE FOR FIGHTING. (ANDY SCHNEIDER)

Thanks again for the great trip Pat, Tom and Kent!

SW WA Fishing Report

Salmon/Steelhead

Cowlitz River – 21 boat anglers sampled at Blue Creek kept 8 steelhead while 2 bank anglers had no catch.

Last week, Tacoma Power recovered 726 summer-run steelhead, 360 spring Chinook adults, 51 jacks, 107 mini-jacks and one sockeye salmon during five days of operation at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator. The sockeye salmon was the same fish that returned to the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator three times last week. The fish was recycled downstream to the Massey Bar boat launch on the Cowlitz River.

Tacoma Power employees released 155 spring Chinook adults and 46 jacks into the upper Cowlitz River at the Day Use Park in Lake Scanewa above Cowlitz Falls Dam during the week.

River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 4,740 cubic feet per second on Tuesday, July 6. Water visibility is 16 feet.

Lewis River – At the mouth, 2 boat anglers sampled had kept 1 steelhead.

Drano Lake and the White Salmon River – New for 2010 – Both remain open for hatchery Chinook in July.

Lower Columbia below Bonneville Dam – During the first four days of July we sampled 989 bank anglers with 33 adult and 8 jack summer Chinook, 124 steelhead, and 8 sockeye.  In addition we sampled 310 boat anglers (136 boats) with 21 adult and 1 jack summer Chinook, 30 steelhead, and no sockeye.  Overall, 65% of the adult Chinook and 69% of the steelhead were kept.

Salmonid effort on Saturday July 3rd was heavy with nearly 400 boats and over 1,100 bank anglers counted during the flight.  Over 700 of the bank anglers were counted on the Washington shore.

Flows at Bonneville Dam are currently around 200,000 cfs or about half of the peak found in mid June.

The Dalles Pool – Bank anglers averaged an adult Chinook per every 12.4 rods when including fish released.  Light effort/catch from boats.  78% of the adult Chinook caught were kept.

Upriver Spring Chinook

  • The pre-season forecast was 470,000 adult upriver fish.  The preliminary final run size estimate is 315,100 adults (67% of forecast)

WILLAMETTE SPRING CHINOOK

  • The pre-season forecast for Willamette spring Chinook was 62,700 fish (adults and jacks).  To date, 85,800 Willamette spring Chinook can be accounted for from fisheries and passage.  The spring Chinook counting period at Willamette Falls continues through August 15.

Sockeye

  • Every day adds to the new record return of sockeye to the Columbia River.  Through July 5, just over 346,000 sockeye have been counted at Bonneville Dam (and that count does not include any sport catch below the dam).  The old record return, as measured when Bonneville Dam was completed in 1938,  was 335,300 fish in 1947.

Catch rates for legal size fish improved for charter boat anglers but declined for private boaters at the ports of Chinook and Ilwaco last week.   Forty-one percent of the charter boat anglers took home a legal size fish while private boaters averaged one per every 12 rods.  If an angler is lucky enough to catch a fish, there was a 29% chance it would be legal size.

STURGEON

Below the Wauna powerlines – Since July 1, catch rates for legal size fish improved for charter boat anglers but declined for private boaters last week.   Forty-one percent of the charter boat anglers took home a legal size fish while private boaters averaged one per every 11.2 rods.  If an angler is lucky enough to catch a fish, there was a 27% chance it would be legal size.

Considering it was a holiday weekend, sturgeon effort in the estuary was relatively light with nearly 200 private boats and 7 charters counted during last Saturday’s flight.

Scheduled to remain open for white sturgeon retention through July 11.  The cumulative catch through July 11 may reach 3,700 fish.  The catch guideline for the season is 9,600.  Fishery managers will review the catch data after July 11 to determine if additional fishing opportunity is available under the catch guideline.

Wauna powerlines to Marker 82 – Some legals were caught by boat anglers in the Longview-Kalama area.  During last Saturday’s flight, just under a hundred boats were counted.

WALLEYE AND BASS

The Dalles Pool – Boat anglers averaged a walleye per rod when including fish released.  They also caught some bass.

TROUT

Mayfield Lake – Expected to be planted with 10,000 catchable size rainbows in July.

Tilton River and Skate Creek – Both are expected to be planted with nearly 9.400 catchable size rainbows in July.

Goose Lake north of Carson – Has been planted with 5,500 catchable size brown trout and 6,000 catchable size cutthroats since mid June.

SHAD

Lower Columbia below Bonneville Dam – Effort and catch is waning.  Bank anglers just below Bonneville Dam averaged 1.5 fish per rod.  Just 4 boats and 19 bank anglers were counted from the dam downstream during last Saturday’s flight.   

Courtesy Joe Hymer, PFMC

Imnaha, Wallowa Springer Fishery Extended

(OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE PRESS RELEASE)

The Imnaha and Wallowa rivers in Northeast Oregon will remain open to hatchery spring chinook fishing until further notice, fishery managers announced today.

“So far this year, unseasonably high water has really limited fishing opportunities,” said Jeff Yanke, ODFW district fish biologist in Enterprise.  “This means we’re able to extend the season so anglers and local communities can benefit from this strong salmon run.”

With local runs complete at Bonneville Dam, ODFW biologists now estimate 8,000 adult spring chinook will return to both the Imnaha and Wallowa Rivers.  Approximately 75 percent of the total return to each river will be marked hatchery fish available for harvest.

Current fishery regulations will apply through the extension period.  Anglers are reminded to ask permission before entering private property to fish, and to pick up trash when leaving. In addition, anglers are asked to respect tribal members that may also be fishing for spring chinook using traditional methods.

“The duration of the fishery will depend on environmental conditions and angler success, both of which we will be monitoring carefully”, said Yanke.  “Our goal is to optimize the fishing opportunity while meeting our conservation responsibility”.

Chattaroy Man Wins WA Moose Raffle

Harry Williamson of Chattaroy won Washington’s moose tag raffle in Spokane last night, the first ever awarded that way.

His was one of around 1,300 $10 tickets sold for a drawing put on by the Inland Northwest Wildlife Council.

He will be able to take a bull or a cow with any legal weapon in any open unit in Region 1, according to INWC executive director Wanda Clifford.

“This was our first time at raffling a moose tag with the game department and quite an experience for us,” she says. “A large part of the profits go back to the WDFW. The rest of the funds go into our projects of big game, upland bird, hunter education and others.”

The group, founded in 1951, commits 20,000 hours of volunteer time annually towards wildlife- and hunting-related projects. Its Big Game Recovery Committee collects freshly road-killed deer, elk and moose to help feed hungry citizens in the region, a program former club president James A. Nelson detailed earlier this year in Northwest Sportsman.

The INWC was one of two groups allowed to raffle off hunts this year. The other, the Washington Chapter of the Foundation for Wild Sheep, had sold 2,524 tickets through the end of June for a chance to hunt a Rocky Mountains ram in the Blues, according to its Web site; typically, an average of 4,300 are sold. Deadline to buy is July 5.

WDFW also raffles off a number of special deer, elk, bighorn, mountain goat, bear, cougar and turkey. Deadline to purchase tickets this year is July 23. In 2009, the department’s drawings raised $224,544.

Moose populations in their Northeast Washington stronghold may not be growing like they once were, but the species has spread into the Blue Mountains, areas of the Palouse, the treed plains west of Spokane, the Okanogan and even a few have been spotted in the Wenatchee-Chelan County area. More than 120 special hunting permits have been available to hunters in recent years.

Clifford hopes INWC can hold a moose-tag raffle next year.

Sky To Close For Chinook Retention

(WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH & WILDLIFE EMERGENCY RULE CHANGE NOTICE)

Chinook salmon retention ends July 6 on the Skykomish River

Action: Close chinook salmon retention on the Skykomish River.

Effective date: July 6 through July 31, 2010.

Species affected: Chinook salmon.

Location: Skykomish River from the mouth upstream to the Wallace River.

Reason for action: Chinook broodstock collection at the Wallace River Hatchery is well behind the goal of 3,200. As of June 29, only 547 chinook broodstock have been trapped at the hatchery. The closure of the sport fishery for hatchery chinook on the Skykomish River is necessary in order to fulfill broodstock collection requirements. If the broodstock collection goal is met prior to July 31, the Skykomish River sport fishery for hatchery chinook may resume.

Other information: The Skykomish River from the mouth upstream to the Wallace River will remain open for hatchery summer steelhead and all other game fish.

Information contact: Jennifer Whitney, Region 4 Fish Manager (425) 775-1311

Record Sockeye Run Now Forecasted

Columbia River salmon managers are now forecasting 2010’s sockeye run at three times the preseason prediction, which if it comes in, would be an all-time record back to 1938.

“The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) updated the sockeye run to 375,000 fish at the Columbia River mouth,” reads an email this afternoon from Joe Hymer, a fisheries biologist in Vancouver. “This will be a record run size.”

As of yesterday, a total of 286,706 sockeye had crossed Bonneville Dam, the most ever counted at that point 144 miles above the mouth, according to data from the Fish Passage Center.

However, the record overall return to the Columbia is 1947’s 335,300, which was given a severe whack by downstream fisheries before it reached the dam.

As dam counts mounted a week ago, Washington and Oregon upped the preseason forecast to 250,000 and began announcing fishery opening on the Lower, Mid and Upper Columbia.

While catch expectations are low, Julian Zirkle at Fisherman’s Marine had some advice for how to slay sox on the lower river: “I’d say stay in close, use bright colors and smaller Spin-N-Glos.”

As for a Lake Wenatchee fishery, earlier this week, a WDFW manager said he was not in a gambling mood.

Hymer notes that the summer Chinook run has been slightly downgraded to 82,000, from 88,000, to the mouth of the Columbia.

Meanwhile, large numbers of summer steelhead are crossing Bonneville, 31,352 through yesterday, over 13,300 above the 10-year average and nearly 20,000 above last year’s whopper run.

Lack Of Upwelling Bad, Maybe Good News For Oregon Anglers

As giddy as we were about last weekend’s tuna catch 90 miles out of Newport, a bit of sobering news today about early-season ocean conditions off Oregon’s Central Coast.

“We have had the lowest amount of upwellings so far this year that anyone’s seen in 25 years. We have a very unproductive ocean out there right now,” says Brandon Ford, a marine resource specialist at ODFW’s office right across the street from the boat launch.

He says a remotely operated vehicle recently found 100 feet of visibility at Stonewall Banks, some 20 nautical miles out of Yaquina Bay.

Great for divers, but also indicative of “nothing in the water for anyone to eat.”

Visibility at the banks is usually just 10 feet, he says.

“It was spooky it was so clear,” Ford says.

The Pacific off Oregon is not completely devoid of food — gray whales, orcas and, of course, lots of halibut have been spotted out of Newport over the last month — but this spring and summer’s odd, cool weather due to El Nino has broken down the “northwest wind machine” that usually produces rich upwellings off the shore, bringing a smorgasbord of feed for all sorts of marine critters.

“What it does is it pushes the surface water inshore and draws up the cold, deep water that’s very nutrient-rich,” says Ford. “It hits the photo layer, causes an algae explosion and that triggers everything.”

Too much of an explosion, when bacteria can’t deal with the ocean’s extreme productivity, has caused anoxic dead zones in the past.

At the moment, he’s more worried about feeding conditions greeting outmigrating Chinook and coho smolts.

“Unless we get some winds …,” he says, but adds, “It’s almost too late for this year.”

Bill Peterson, a NOAA oceanographer also in Newport, also worries about what this year’s inconsistent winds may mean for young salmon and steelhead as well as sea birds which time their runs to the ocean and nesting to meet food availability — but he also points out that the lack of winds may benefit albie anglers.

“When the winds stop blowing in July and August, tuna can come in super-close to shore — 5 or 10 miles,” he says.

The upwelling basically forms a thermal barrier that blocks warmer tuna waters otherwise pushing toward the beach.

“People don’t realize offshore off Oregon stays warm all year round,” Peterson says.

Boats are out catching tuna in April, 300 miles offshore, he says.

But wait, I asked Peterson, if there’s 100 feet of viz and no food at Stonewall, why the hell would tuna come cruising in so close?

He doesn’t know exactly what they feed on, but points out that tuna, a blue-water species, have evolved to deal with the problem of finding forage in low-food environments.

“It’s the dilemma of a warmwater fish that’s warmer than the ocean. They’re stuck living in tropical water, but they can swim fast and chase anything down,” Peterson says.

More northerly fish can’t fin as fast, but live in far richer environments, he points out.

For this year, there’s time for the upwellings to kick in. Peterson says 2005 started out this same way — a neighbor of Ford’s caught tuna 5 miles out of Depoe Bay that summer — but by mid-July, the winds kicked in and it “ended up being a good year.”

But at this point the tuna fishing has a looooooong way to go. Ford points out that by this time during 2007’s huge tuna season, 1,800 had been brought back to the dock coastwide. So far, only 19 have been counted, though that tally is only for Newport.

The Central Coast’s first sport Chinook fishery in two years has also started out “poor … on the order of one in 10 anglers have been catching a salmon.”

Meanwhile, as if all that wasn’t enough bad news, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch yesterday tossed a “stink bomb” on the state’s commercial fleet when it recommended consumers “avoid” wild-caught salmon off Oregon south of Cape Falcon because they claim the fisheries are unsustainable.

That’s due to the “perilous” state of the Sacramento River fall king run, Seafood Watch explained to The Oregonian.

Defends Ford, “We took a very conservative position on the number of fish we can catch.”

Wenatchee Sockeye Manager Not In Gambling Mood

Sure, the numbers look outlandishly good at downstream dams and the preseason forecast has been doubled — just don’t expect that to translate into an automatic Lake Wenatchee sockeye fishery this summer.

“I’d say at this point it’s unlikely,” says Jeff Korth, WDFW’s regional fishery manager in Ephrata, this afternoon. “I gambled last year and I lost, and I’m not likely to do that again.”

Mathematical formulas based on downstream dam counts pointed to a run of 30,000 and led him to sign off on a fishery at the Chelan County lake last summer. However, only 15,000 actually came back, he says.

The run was also hit with substantial and unexpected” mortality due to very warm river conditions below the lake, forcing managers to close the season after only seven days of fishing.

Korth says that when he and other biologists talked about opening other waters in his region to sockeye fishing late last week, they went “around and around” about Lake Wenatchee, but couldn’t come up with a “for sure” way to predict that system’s run.

He claims there’s a strange inverse relationship with the size of the Okanogan River’s run.

“It’s likely we’ll see over 300,000, but like I say, the larger the run, the smaller the run” back to Lake Wenatchee, Korth says.

He anticipates only 7 or 8 percent of those fish to turn left at the Wenatchee and make for the faux-Bavarian town of Leavenworth, upstream of which is the lake.

“I need 25,000 to open it up any reasonable amount of time,” says Korth.

That number of fish would provide a surplus of 2,000 catchable salmon — a season for which might last a week, he says — and still leave enough in the lake to meet the escapement goal of 23,000.

About the only thing from a management perspective that makes sense any sense to Korth is that the lake opens every four years. Besides last year, it did so in 2008, 2004, 2001 and 1993.

Still, he will be monitoring the count at Tumwater Dam, 24 miles below the lake, and the last gatepost the salmon cross on their journey home.

“If we reach escapement, we’ll still have time to fish on them,” Korth says.

Stay tuned, and in the meantime, hit the upper Columbia’s pools if you want sox, man. Korth reminds us that the daily limit is a whopping six adult salmon.

Only three of those may be Chinook, and only one of those wild.

SW WA Fishing Report

Sammy the Sockeye is a persistent little guy.

He’s checked into the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery at least three times over the last seven days.

The fish first showed up early last week, was marked and then “recycled” back downriver to the Massey Bar boat launch on June 21.

Two days later he had swum back to the hatchery, was trucked back to Massey, and then showed up again on Friday.

“He’s determined,” said a staffer at the hatchery this afternoon.

With the hatchery trap not operating on weekends we’ll know later today if the spunky salmon has shown up again, she says.

Because he’s a wild sockeye — probably part of this year’s whopper return up the Columbia — anglers can’t keep him if they land him. Every year a handful turn left at the Cowlitz.

But it’s also not unheard of for salmonids to repeatedly return. She says a biologist once put a tracking device into a steelhead.

“He tracked him come back eight times,” she says.

There you go.

Here’s the rest of the Southwest Washington fishing report, courtesy of that oft-emailing bio, Joe Hymer:

SALMON/STEELHEAD

Cowlitz River – Last week, Tacoma Power recovered 490 summer-run steelhead, 66 spring Chinook adults, 16 jacks, 39 mini-jacks and three sockeye salmon during five days of operation at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.

Tacoma Power employees released four spring Chinook adults and 13 jacks into the upper Cowlitz River at the Day Use Park in Lake Scanewa above Cowlitz Falls Dam during the week.

River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 7,800 cubic feet per second on Monday, June 28. Water visibility is 14 feet.

Lower Columbia below Bonneville Dam – Last week we sampled 1,926 salmonid bank anglers below Bonneville Dam with 133 adult and 10 jack summer Chinook, 136 steelhead, and 38 sockeye. In addition, we sampled 706 salmonid boat anglers (330 boats) with 29 adult and 3 jack summer Chinook, 40 steelhead, and 1 sockeye.   Overall, 59% of the adult Chinook and 72% of the steelhead caught were kept.  Just 2 of the sockeye were kept.

WDFW staff sampled the John Day Pool this past week for summer chinook harvest. Staff interviewed 60 boats (150 anglers) and 36 bank anglers.  An estimated 53 hatchery summer chinook were harvested.  An additional 14 wild adult chinook were released.  All chinook were caught and harvested by the bank anglers.

In addition to salmon, WDFW staff record the information from all other anglers. For the week

Walleye: 15 boats with 43 walleye;

Shad: 26 boats with 203 shad;

Sturgeon: 8 boats with 25 sturgeon (Catch & Release)

STURGEON

Lower Columbia from the Wauna powerlines downstream – At the Deep River and Knappton ramps, boat anglers averaged a legal kept per every 5.8 rods.  Bank anglers also caught a few legals.

Lower Columbia from the Wauna powerlines to Marker 82 – Boat anglers in the Camas/Washougal area caught some legals.  Slow elsewhere.

WALLEYE AND BASS

The Dalles Pool – Boat anglers averaged nearly 3 smallmouth bass per rod when including fish released.  Some walleye are also being caught.

TROUT

Riffe Lake – Landlocked coho fishery is still hot.

Swofford Pond – Bank anglers are catching some rainbows and bluegills.

Goose Lake (north of Carson) – No report on angling success.  Planted with 3,000 catchable size brown trout and 3,000 catchable size cutthroats June 22.

SHAD

Lower Columbia below Bonneville Dam – Except for a couple boat anglers that had good luck in the Longview area, anglers averaged 0-1.4 shad per rod when including fish released.

The Dalles Pool – Bank and boat anglers are still catching some fish.