The big spring runoff that’s flooding valleys and alfalfa fields in the upper Inland Northwest has also affected the start of the pikeminnow sport reward fishery downstream on the Lower and Mid-Columbia and Snake Rivers, but catches are expected to improve in the coming weeks.
Through June 3, anglers have caught 34,725, less than half of 2016’s start and the fewest of the past five springs to this point of the season.
“High water really hurts our catch rates, although eventually our experienced pikeminnow anglers kind of figure it out and then catch rates pick up,” notes WDFW’s Eric Winther.
He heads up the program that pays participating fishermen on the Columbia between Cathlamet and Tri-Cities, as well as the Snake below Clarkston for removing the native species that preys on salmon and steelhead smolts migrating through the hydropower system.
“The high water really messes with newer anglers trying to learn how to target pikeminnow,” he notes. “It’s hard enough to learn when conditions are good, but when you have nearly twice the flows, it can be downright discouraging.”
Flows at Bonneville Dam have ranged from 350,000 to nearly 500,000 cubic feet per second since the fishery began May 1. Average over the past 10 years is 250,000 to 325,000 cfs.
At this same point in 2017, anglers had caught 47,250 pikeminnow; in 2016, 70,691; in 2015, 63,787; and 2014, 38,745.
Still, the tally is higher than 2013 (29,970) and 2012 (26,882).
Most notably down is catch turned in at The Dalles, which last year yielded 44,667 overall but so far has only given up 9,337 through its traditionally most productive weeks of season.
“The Dalles catch is definitely off from last year,” confirms Winther. “What happened was that lots of anglers went there at the start of the season, conditions were tough, so they spread out and started looking in other areas.”
Catches at Cathlamet, Willow Grove, Rainier Kalama and Ridgefield were all up this May compared to last spring.
“Just when some people are giving up on The Dalles, the water finally starts dropping and catch rates have jumped up. Should she increasing catches for the next three to four weeks as we move into their peak spawn time and river conditions improve,” he says.
The sport reward program pays anglers from $5 to $8 per pikeminnow, with tagged ones worth $500.
So far this season, the top angler has earned $9,617 from 1,057 fish turned in.
The season runs through Sept. 30.
For more details, including fishing maps and info on three free fishing clinics coming up — including one tomorrow in Longview — check out pikeminnow.org.