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Cathlamet Again Kicking Out Lots Of Pikeminnows; Boyer Park Tops So Far

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.

AN ANGLER BELOW BONNEVILLE DAM UNHOOKS A NORTHERN PIKEMINNOW. (PIKEMINNOW.ORG)

“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.

REGISTERED PARTICIPANTS CAN EARN $5 FOR TURNING IN THEIR FIRST 25 PIKEMINNOW THAT ARE 9 INCHES OR LARGER, $6 FOR THEIR 26TH THROUGH 200TH AND $8 FOR 201 OR MORE. MANY ARE ALSO TAGGED AND WORTH $500 APIECE. (PIKEMINNOW.ORG)

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.”

Spill Test Set To Begin On Columbia, Snake; Could Validate Benefits For Outmigrating Smolts

Federal, state and tribal officials have agreed to a three-year trial to see if increasing spill down the Columbia and Snake Rivers can “significantly boost” outmigrating salmon and steelhead smolt numbers.

WATER SURGES THROUGH BONNEVILLE DAM IN THIS JUNE 2014 CORPS OF ENGINEERS PHOTO. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

It’s already believed to, but the deal will allow for more flexible spring operations at eight dams to test the idea beginning next year through 2021, according to a report in the Lewiston Tribune.

“Collaboration is key to this new approach to Columbia River system management. Working together, the region’s states, tribes, and federal agencies have developed an approach that demonstrates environmental stewardship and affordable sustainable energy are not mutually exclusive,” reads a joint statement from “key supporters” of the agreement.

The parties include the Nez Perce Tribe, Oregon, Washington, BPA, Army Corps and Bureau of Reclamation. The states of Idaho and Montana are also on board with it.

The trial will include the four Lower Snake dams in Washington and the four on the shared Columbia between Washington and Oregon.

Both states will need to “harmonize” how they measure total dissolved gas measured below the spillways, with Washington’s Department of Ecology needing to up its allowance by early April and consider boosting it to 125 percent for tests in 2020.

A 2017 report by the Fish Passage Center says that “increasing spill for fish passage within the safe limits of 125% total dissolved gas has a high probability of improving smolt to adult return rates.”

The more fish, the more for fishermen of all fleets to catch and orcas to eat as well as escaping to spawn in the wild.

“It’s incremental progress at time when Columbia River spring Chinook are projected to return at very low numbers,” said spill advocate Liz Hamilton at the Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association, who added that it was “hardly the bold action we were seeking in (Governor Jay Inslee’s) Orca task force prey work group.”

She said NSIA will be watching closely, especially as dissolved gas levels are ramped up to the 125 percent benchmark.

“It can’t happen soon enough,” she said.

But concerns have been raised that spilling water will reduce electrical generation capacity in the hydropower system, and according to outdoor reporter Eric Barker’s piece in the Tribune, this week’s agreement was panned by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who also introduced a bill in the House this year against it.

In early 2018, U.S. District Court Judge Michael Simon, who has been overseeing a long-running case over Columbia salmon and dam management, had ordered spill to occur.

 

Unexpectedly, Cathlamet The Top Station In 2018 Pikeminnow Reward Fishery

Updated 1:41 p.m., Oct. 3, 2018

Turns out, it was a good year for Cathlamet’s M.D. Johnson and his granddaughter to dabble in pikeminnow fishing.

They tried their hand catching the Columbia River species for cash, making $85 in fairly short order.

THE PIKEMINNOW SPORT REWARD PROGRAM AIMS TO REDUCE PREDATION BY THE NATIVE SPECIES ON SALMON AND STEELHEAD SMOLTS MIGRATING THROUGH THE HYDROPOWER SYSTEM. IT PAYS ANGLERS FROM $5 TO $8 PER QUALIFYING FISH, WITH SPECIAL REWARDS FOR TAGGED ONES. (PIKEMINNOW.ORG)

“A little off pace for the coveted $100 large,” the Northwest Sportsman writer emailed me in July, “but who knows. I might hit a hot streak.”

True, that’s a far cry from how good the top rods did on the Lower Columbia, but as it turns out, the waters down here were 2018’s unexpected hot spot.

“It is the first time in the Pikeminnow Program’s 28-year history that the Cathlamet station has been the number one location,” noted Eric Winther, who heads up the state-federal effort aimed at reducing predation on salmonid smolts. “Just when I thought I had it all figured out.”

The season wrapped up this past Sunday for the year with 25,135 pikeminnow turned in at the Wahkiakum County seat — a whopping 8,000 more than any previous year back through at least 2000, and nearly as many as 2017 and 2016 combined.

The Snake River’s Boyer Park station produced the second most, 22,950, a bit of a dip over the previous season, but notably, catch at the third-place station, The Dalles, was less than half of 2017’s, with just 22,461.

Cathlamet accounted for 14 percent of the overall catch of 180,309 pikeminnow this year, a bit above average over the average since the program began in 1990.

Winther says that pikeminnow anglers do best in low-water years, but this season began with high flows. The Dalles got off to a very slow start after the program opened in May due to spring runoff that tamped down catch rates at traditionally the best station and led to its regulars fishing elsewhere.

“Despite less favorable river conditions, fishing success was slightly better this year — 7.5 catch per unit effort vs. 7.4 in 2017), although overall effort was down about 2,000 angler days,” he says. “Basically, even though there were some challenging river conditions early in the season, there were also some opportunities, especially in the lower river below Ridgefield and near the Cathlamet station.  All in all, a good solid year, slightly above average.”

So what the heck did make the Lower Columbia so good for anglers?

“My theory on the increased Cathlamet pikeminnow catch is this:  We had a long, hot, dry summer, as you know,” Winther says. “Tributaries in the Lower Columbia were lower and warmer than usual and oxygen levels were also likely lower than normal. This made many of the tribs somewhat inhospitable for both northern pikeminnow and for the many critters that they eat (crayfish, etc.).  Since a lot of our catch from that location was smaller northern pikeminnow, I think that maybe there were a bunch of those tributary pikeminnow that dropped down into the mainstem.”

He notes that August and September are usually the best months on the lower river and that top anglers typically target specific hot spots during peak months.

“We also had a lot of effort at Cathlamet in 2018 and many of our regular anglers had their best ever harvest totals this year. In the end, I think that maybe 2018 river conditions just brought a lot of our top 20 anglers to the lower river at the same time of year as when a lot more of these tributary pikeminnow had dropped into the Columbia. Then high catch rates begot more effort which resulted in even higher catch rates and more effort,” Winther theorizes.

Changes at Boyer Park also pushed its regulars to fish elsewhere and that probably helped too, he thinks.

Average daily catch for registered anglers across all stations was 7.5, with Ridgefield leading with 15.9, followed by Lyons Ferry, 10.9, Rainier and Boyer Park tied at 10.1, Beacon Rock, 9.6, and Cathlamet, 9.0.

The Pikeminnow Sport Reward Program pays anglers from $5 to $8 per qualifying fish, with $500 for tagged ones.

The season’s top moneymaker earned $70,949 by turning in 8,686 pikeminnows. The second highest tally was $49,529 for a fisherman who brought in 5,898.

Program managers remind registered anglers that they should turn in their vouchers by Nov. 15 to receive payment for their catches.

Records also show that fishermen incidentally caught 15,094 smallmouth, 10,527 yellow perch, 5,510 catfish and bullheads, and 1,297 walleye. The upper Snake pools were best for bass, the Lower Columbia was tops for yellowbellies, the Richland area was best for whiskerfish and John Day area was best for ‘eyes.