With the Columbia-Snake pikeminnow season just past its halfway mark, Cathlamet is once again serving up plenty of fish for anglers participating in the sport reward program.
“Catch there is over 4,000 fish better than this time in 2018, when Cathlamet was our No. 1 producing station,” reports WDFW’s Eric Winther, who manages the fishery.
“Effort is also up (105 angler days), but fishing is clearly better in the Cathlamet area as angler catch per unit effort is 2.2 fish/angler day better than 2018, 8.6 vs 6.4,” he adds.
Through July 21, 81,345 of the native but salmonid smolt-eating fish have been turned in at stations everywhere from the Lower Columbia to the mouth of Hells Canyon.
Boyer Park on the Snake below Lower Granite Dam near Pullman has accounted for 13,434 of those, with Cathlamet at 12,882, The Dalles at 9,064, Washougal at 7,047 and Rainier at 4,712.
CPUEs are 9.4, 8.6, 4.3, 9.3 and 5.1, respectively.
“The Washougal area is also quietly having a good year in that they are more than 2,000 fish better than in 2018,” Winther notes. “Historically, the best late-season harvest rates — mid-August through September — come from pikeminnow stations located below Bonneville Dam. That means that fishing could get even better later this season at stations like Washougal and Cathlamet.”
For most years this decade The Dalles station has stood head and shoulders over all others, but last year it wilted to just half of 2017’s haul, possibly due to high waters early on discouraging anglers.
Winther speculated that Cathlamet’s surge late last season might have been due to pikeminnows dropping out of low, warm tribs into the mainstem Columbia. Top anglers discovered the abundance and drove up catch rates.
The Pikeminnow Sport Reward Program runs May 1 through Sept. 30 and pays anglers from $5 to $8 per qualifying fish, with $500 for specially tagged ones.
It’s been going on for 29 years as part of a state-federal effort aimed at reducing predation on Chinook, coho, steelhead and other smolts by pikeminnows, which have become more effective at preying on the young fish because of the reservoirs built on the Lower and Mid-Columbia and Lower Snake.
Winther just held a set of free fishing clinics in Longview and Tri-Cities and says that while none are currently scheduled in August, he may do some. Watch his events page for more.
“For people wanting to learn how to catch northern pikeminnow, late season in the lower river is often their best bet,” he adds. “Fish tend to bite better in the late season, perhaps preparing for the long cold winter to come, and many anglers may have given up trying to catch northern pikeminnow due to low success earlier in the season, and this means less competition for finding and catching them.”
So far this season, 2019’s top angler has been reeling in a bit more than $2,000 a week worth of pikeminnow’s. Last year’s high fisherman earned $71,049 for bringing in 8,686 fish.
“Definitely fish to be had,” says Winther. “Just need to get out there and find them.”