Tag Archives: columbia river

WA Fish Commission OKs Willapa Crabbing Change, Talks Columbia Salmon Policy

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE WASHINGTON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

Sport crabbers will be able to set their pots in Willapa Bay in the fall two weeks earlier than in the past after the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the change at a meeting Monday.

(ANDY WALGAMOTT)

The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), agreed to allow recreational crabbers to set pots in Willapa Bay on Nov. 15, two weeks earlier than usual. WDFW staff proposed the change to provide more opportunity for recreational crabbers and to reduce gear conflicts with commercial crabbers. 

During the special, half-day meeting in Olympia, commissioners also reviewed the outcomes of a 5-year-old policy that significantly changed salmon fisheries on the Columbia River.

The Columbia River Basin Salmon Management Policy, approved by the commission in 2013, is designed to promote orderly fisheries, wild salmon and steelhead conservation, and economic stability in the state’s fishing industry. Strategies for achieving those goals includes allocating more salmon to sport fisheries, promoting the use of alternative fishing gear in commercial fisheries and increasing the production/releases of salmon in off-channel areas.

Commissioners took public comment on the salmon policy and heard panel discussions that included representatives from conservation organizations as well as commercial and recreational fishing groups.

The commission’s review of the Columbia River policy will continue next month during a meeting in Vancouver with Oregon commissioners. More information on that meeting will be available online in the coming weeks at https://wdfw.wa.gov/commission/meetings.html.

Hanford Reach Angler Pines For Past Years’ Larger Returns Of 5-year-old URBs

By Rick Itami

Back in the early 1990s when I first tried my luck at catching the famous upriver bright fall Chinook salmon in the Hanford Reach of the mighty Columbia River, I was amazed to see huge fish rolling all over the river.

THE NUMBER OF 5-YEAR-OLD FALL CHINOOK RETURNING TO THE COLUMBIA RIVER’S HANFORD REACH HAS DROPPED IN RECENT YEARS. PRIOR TO 2006, ONE-THIRD OF THE RUN CAME IN AS 5’S, ON AVERAGE, BUT SINCE THEN THE PERCENTAGE HAS DROPPED TO 18. DAVE SITTON CAUGHT THIS BEAST IN 2012. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

And when I say huge, I mean salmon running in the 30- to 40-pound range. The first time I hooked one of these giants, I fought it for 20 minutes before my 30-pound-test monofilament finally snapped when I tried to horse the fish into the net.

In those days, outdoor sections of newspapers often contained photos of smiling fishermen displaying monster fall Chinook caught with regularity.

Fast forward to the present and you have a totally different scenario. You simply do not see anglers landing many really large fish as before.

Toby Wyatt, owner/operator of Reel Time Fishing (208-790-2128) and who is one of the most successful guides on the Hanford Reach, says his clients land just a few fish in the 30-plus-pound range. Most of his catch ranges in the 10- to 20-pound range. He misses getting his clients into the monsters.

So what happened to the giants of the Hanford Reach?

AUTHOR RICK ITAMI HOLDS AN UPRIVER BRIGHT FROM THIS PAST SEASON, A 12-POUND HEN. A FISH’S AGE, THE LENGTH OF TIME IT SPENDS IN THE PACIFIC AND OCEAN PRODUCTIVITY DETERMINE HOW BIG A SALMON GROWS. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Paul Hoffarth, Region III fisheries biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, confirms the drop in size of fish. Surprisingly and for unknown reasons, Hoffarth says that a significant shift in the age structure of fish happened all in one year — 2006.

Prior to 2006, roughly one-third (34 percent) of the upriver brights were the big 5-year-old fish and 37 percent were 4-year-olds.

Beginning in 2006, the percentage of 5-year-olds has averaged 18 percent (with a range of 10 to 28 percent) and has never recovered.

Hoffarth does not know why the decline happened so suddenly and no studies have been done to determine a cause or causes. Therefore, no one knows if the age structure will return to pre-2006 levels.

So we anglers are left in the dark as to what the future of the upriver bright population has in store in terms of the size of fish caught. Let’s hope whatever caused the flip in the age structure of these magnificent fish will just as suddenly flip the other way.

I would love to see a river full of rolling giants again.

Hanford Reach Fall King Fishery Closing Early Next Week

Fall Chinook fishing on the Hanford Reach will stay open through Monday, giving anglers one last weekend to catch upriver brights on the free-flowing Columbia.

SPOKANE’S RICK ITAMI WAS A BIT PESSIMISTIC ABOUT FISHING FOR HANFORD REACH FALL CHINOOK, GIVEN THE LOWER RUN, BUT ONCE THERE HE FOUND WILLING BITERS, INCLUDING A 12-POUND HEN THAT WILL PROVIDE EGGS FOR HIS STEELHEADING ADVENTURES THIS WINTER AND A 10-POUND BUCK. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

While this year’s run is down and the limit has been dropped to one a day, fishermen have still been finding biting salmon.

Some have been reporting success running tuna-stuffed Brad’s Super Baits behind Pro-Trolls. They’ll probably have less competition this weekend, which is also the deer and duck opener across the state.

The Reach above the wooden powerlines at the old Hanford townsite to Priest Rapids Dam was set to close after Oct. 15, but it wasn’t clear when the waters from there down to Tri-Cities would shut down as the run continued to trickle past downstream dams.

An early October update from state fisheries biologist Paul Hoffarth warned the quota might be met by Oct. 7, then another earlier this week said fishing would stay open through this Friday, Oct. 12.

“Based on the updated return estimate for natural-origin Hanford Reach fall Chinook, all adult Chinook in excess of escapement will be harvested by Oct. 15,” WDFW said in an emergency rule-change notice sent out this afternoon.

If you still want to fish the free-flowing Columbia for upriver brights — and for a good cause — sign up for late October’s 6th Annual King of the Reach derby, a three-day event that collects wild fall Chinook for the Grant County Public Utility District’s Priest Rapids Hatchery, improving the stock’s fitness and ensuring that hatchery fish remain genetically similar to the natives here.

Southwest Washington, Hanford Reach Fishing Report (10-8-18)

THE FOLLOWING ARE WDFW FISHING REPORTS FROM BRYANT SPELLMAN AND PAUL HOFFARTH

The Hanford Reach fall salmon fishery opened August 16. Angler effort and harvest continues to be strong and steady.  There were 4,874 angler trips taken for salmon in the Hanford Reach this past week. WDFW staff interviewed 2,202 anglers. Based on the data collected, 2,292 adult chinook and 364 jacks were harvested bringing the season total to 6,703 adult chinook, 762 jacks, and 10 coho. Anglers averaged 10 hours per per fish (1.5 fish per boat).

DHEYAA HAMMADI SHOWS OFF A NICE HANFORD REACH FALL CHINOOK CAUGHT OVER THE WEEKEND. HE WAS RUNNING SEAHAWKS PATTERN BRAD’S SUPER BAIT CUT PLUGS LOADED UP WITH TUNA AND WAS FISHING WITH TROY BRODERS. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The fish counts at McNary have not officially posted through October 7 but based on the available data the fishery will remain open through Friday, October 12. There will be an update as soon as the counts post.

…………………………………..

Salmon/Steelhead:

Columbia River Mainstem from the mouth upstream to McNary Dam

  • From the Buoy 10 line upstream to the Highway 395 Bridge at Pasco:
    • Closed to angling for and retention of salmon and steelhead.

Salmon/Steelhead:

Columbia River Tributaries

Elochoman River – No anglers sampled.

Cowlitz River – I-5 Br downstream: 29 bank rods kept 10 coho jacks and released 1 coho jack.  23 boats/47 rods kept 3 coho, 1 coho jack, and released 2 chinook, 1 chinook jack, 2 coho, and 4 coho jacks.

Above the I-5 Br:  34 bank rods kept 1 steelhead and released 6 chinook, 3 coho jacks. 1 boat/1 rod no catch.

Last week, Tacoma Power employees recovered 1,100 coho adults, 2,586 coho jacks, 368 fall Chinook adults, 42 fall Chinook jacks, 96 cutthroat trout, and 49 summer-run steelhead adults during six days of operations at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.

During the past week, Tacoma Power released 152 coho adults and 336 coho jacks into the Cispus River near Randle and they released 221 coho adults and 401 coho jacks at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood.

Tacoma Power released 385 coho adults, 1,336 coho jacks, seven fall Chinook jacks and seven cutthroat trout into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton, and they released 149 coho adults, 431 coho jacks and one cutthroat trout into Lake Scanewa in Randle.

River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 3,540 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Monday, Oct. 8. Water visibility is 14 feet and the water temperature is 53.6 degrees F. River flows could change at any time so boaters and anglers should remain alert for this possibility.

Kalama River – 13 bank anglers released 2 chinook.  1 boat/3 rods, no catch.

Lewis River – 47 bank anglers kept 1 steelhead, 1 coho, 2 coho jacks and released 2 chinook, 1 coho and 1 coho jack.  5 boats/5 rods kept 1 coho jack and released 1 coho.

Wind River – No anglers sampled.

Drano Lake – 8 bank anglers kept 1 chinook, 2 coho and 1 coho jack.   42 boats/ 116 rods kept 31 chinook, 21 chinook jacks, 6 coho, 2 coho jacks and released 8 chinook, 1 chinook jack and 1 steelhead.

Klickitat River –46 bank anglers kept 16 chinook, 6 chinook jacks and released 1 steelhead.

  • Grays River:  Effective October 6, 2018 until further notice, from the mouth upstream to the mouth of the South Fork: release all Coho.
  • West Fork Grays River:  Effective October 6, 2018 until further notice, from the mouth upstream: release all Coho.
  • Deep River:  Effective September 24, 2018 Deep River reopens to salmon and steelhead angling under permanent rules.
  • Youngs Bay, Blind Slough and Knappa Slough: Effective September 24, 2018 Youngs Bay, Blind Slough and Knappa Slough reopens to salmon and steelhead angling under permanent Oregon regulations.
  • Cowlitz River:  Effective September 22, 2018 closed for Chinook retention from the mouth to the Barrier Dam including all lower Cowlitz tributaries.  Until further notice, the closed waters section below the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery Barrier Dam is 400’, at the posted markers.
  • Toutle River:  Effective October 6, 2018 until further notice, from the mouth upstream to the forks: release all Chinook.
  • North Fork Toutle River:  Effective October 6, 2018 until further notice, from the mouth upstream to the posted markers below the fish collection facility: release all Chinook.
  • Washougal River, including Camas Slough:  Effective September 22, 2018 closed for Chinook retention from the mouth to the bridge at Salmon Falls.
  • Wind River:  from the mouth to 400’ below Shepherd Falls, closed for steelhead retention and closed to night fishing for salmon and steelhead.
  • Drano Lake: Effective Sept. 29, 2018 until further notice.  The daily salmon limit remains 6 fish total, of which only one may be an adult.  Drano Lake remains closed to night fishing for salmon and steelhead and closed to retention of steelhead.
  • White Salmon River:  from the mouth to the county road bridge below the former location of the powerhouse, closed for steelhead retention and closed to night fishing for salmon and steelhead.

STURGEON

From the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to McNary Dam including adjacent tributaries – Until further notice, white sturgeon open for catch and release fishing only. Fishing for sturgeon at night is closed.

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.

SW WA, Hanford Reach Fishing Report (10-1-18)

THE FOLLOWING ARE WDFW FISHING REPORTS FROM BRYANT SPELLMAN AND PAUL HOFFARTH

Salmon/Steelhead:

Columbia River Mainstem from the mouth upstream to McNary Dam

  • From the Buoy 10 line upstream to the Highway 395 Bridge at Pasco:
    • Closed to angling for and retention of salmon and steelhead.

AUSTIN, LEXI, BRITT AND CORBIN HAN POSE WITH A FALL CHINOOK RECENTLY CAUGHT NEAR TRI-CITIES. IT BIT A SUPERBAIT WITH TUNA BEHIND A PRO TROLL FLASHER TROLLED DOWNSTREAM. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Salmon/Steelhead:

Columbia River Tributaries

Elochoman River – No anglers sampled.

Cowlitz River – I-5 Br downstream: 25 bank rods kept 9 coho jacks and released 1 coho jack.  14 boats/33 rods kept 8 coho, 25 coho jacks, 1 steelhead and released 15 chinook, 1 chinook jack, 3 coho, 6 coho jacks and 1 steelhead.

Above the I-5 Br:  41 bank rods released 12 chinook and 1 steelhead. 5 boats/13 rods kept 1 steelhead and released 3 chinook.

Last week, Tacoma Power employees recovered 986 coho adults, 2,251 coho jacks, 375 fall Chinook adults, 89 fall Chinook jacks, 86 cutthroat trout, 42 summer-run steelhead adults and seven spring Chinook adults during five days of operations at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator.

During the past week, Tacoma Power released 107 coho adults, 174 coho jacks and two spring Chinook adults into the Cispus River near Randle, and they released 120 coho adults, 68 coho jacks, and two spring Chinook adults at the Franklin Bridge release site in Packwood.

Tacoma Power released 389 coho adults, 1,251 coho jacks, 86 fall Chinook adults, 34 fall Chinook jacks, and six cutthroat trout into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton, and they released 210 coho adults, 640 coho jacks, five cutthroat trout and three spring Chinook adults into Lake Scanewa in Randle.

River flows at Mayfield Dam are approximately 3,540 cubic feet per second (cfs) on Monday, Oct. 1. Water visibility is 14 feet and the water temperature is 54.8 degrees F. River flows could change at any time so boaters and anglers should remain alert for this possibility.

Kalama River – 10 bank anglers had no catch.  2 boats/5 rods kept 4 steelhead and released 1 steelhead.

Lewis River – 69 bank anglers kept 1 chinook jack, 2 coho, 1 coho jack and released 5 chinook, 3 coho and 1 coho jack.  15 boats/39 rods kept 4 chinook and released 19 chinook, 9 chinook jacks, 1 coho and 1 coho jack.

Wind River – No anglers sampled.

Drano Lake – 15 bank anglers released 1 steelhead.   91 boats/231 rods kept 78 chinook, 33 chinook jacks, 10 coho, 2 coho jacks and released 3 chinook, 3 coho and 5 steelhead.

Klickitat River – 97 bank anglers kept 51 chinook and 16 chinook jacks.

  • Deep River:  Effective September 24, 2018 Deep River reopens to salmon and steelhead angling under permanent rules.
  • Youngs Bay, Blind Slough and Knappa Slough: Effective September 24, 2018 Youngs Bay, Blind Slough and Knappa Slough reopens to salmon and steelhead angling under permanent Oregon regulations.
  • Cowlitz River:  Effective September 22, 2018 closed for Chinook retention from the mouth to the Barrier Dam including all lower Cowlitz tributaries, except the Toutle River.  Until further notice, the closed waters section below the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery Barrier Dam is 400’, at the posted markers.
  • Washougal River, including Camas Slough:  Effective September 22, 2018 closed for Chinook retention from the mouth to the bridge at Salmon Falls.
  • Wind River:  from the mouth to 400’ below Shepherd Falls, closed for steelhead retention and closed to night fishing for salmon and steelhead.
  • Drano Lake: Effective Sept. 29, 2018 until further notice.  The daily salmon limit remains 6 fish total, of which only one may be an adult.  Drano Lake remains closed to night fishing for salmon and steelhead and closed to retention of steelhead.
  • White Salmon River:  from the mouth to the county road bridge below the former location of the powerhouse, closed for steelhead retention and closed to night fishing for salmon and steelhead

STURGEON

From the mouth of the Columbia River upstream to McNary Dam including adjacent tributaries – Until further notice, white sturgeon open for catch and release fishing only. Fishing for sturgeon at night is closed.

……………………………

The Hanford Reach fall salmon fishery opened August 16. Angler effort continues to increase as well as harvest. There were 5,046 angler trips taken for salmon in the Hanford Reach this past week. WDFW staff interviewed 2,087 anglers this week. Based on the data collected, 2,043 adult chinook and 208 jacks were harvested bringing the season total to 4,411 adult chinook, 398 jacks, and 10 coho. Anglers averaged 13 hours per per fish (1.2 fish per boat), 50% increase compared to the week prior.

An in-season estimate was generated for the Hanford Reach wild return based on fish counts through September 30. An estimated 38,357 wild (natural) origin fall chinook are expected to return to the Hanford Reach. Base on this estimate harvest would be limited to ~6,500 adult chinook, leaving roughly 2,000 adult chinook remaining in the quota. Sunday, October 7 will likely be the final day of the fishery between the Hwy 395 bridge and Priest Rapids Dam.

From Highway 395 to Priest Rapids Dam the daily limit is 6 fall chinook, no more than 1 adult fall chinook. Anglers must stop fishing when the adult limit is retained. Anglers can use two poles if they have the two-pole license endorsement.

The Columbia River from Highway 395 to the old Hanford town site wooden powerline towers opened October 1 to the harvest of Ringold Springs origin hatchery steelhead. Steelhead released from Ringold Springs Hatchery are adipose fin clipped and right ventral fin clipped. The daily limit is one adipose + right ventral fin clipped steelhead. This unique mark (clips) allows these steelhead to be differentiated from upper Columbia River and Snake River steelhead and allows these steelhead to be selectively harvested.

Managers Look For Ways To Reopen Lower Columbia For Coho

Don’t put those lures away just yet, Columbia salmon anglers.

Washington managers say they’re looking to see if they can reopen a large section of the lower river for coho, but it depends on Snake-bound Chinook getting out of the way first and federal buy-in.

COHO RETENTION HAD BEEN SCHEDULED TO CONTINUE DEEP INTO FALL ON THE COLUMBIA BUT WILL CLOSE EARLY DUE TO CONCERNS ABOUT LOW RETURNS OF CHINOOK. (CHRIS SPENCER)

The good news comes after a sharply downgraded fall king forecast earlier this month put nontreaty fisheries on that ESA-listed stock over allowable impacts by half a percentage point, leading to the big river being shut down to salmon fishing all the way from Buoy 10 to the Tri-Cities.

Yet as Idaho Chinook begin to clear the Lower Columbia, angling has already been greenlighted in side channels at the mouth starting this coming Monday, and more water below Bonneville could be reopened as well.

“We know there are healthy numbers of harvestable coho returning to the Columbia over the next month that could be harvested, so we are making every effort to explore the options,” said WDFW Fish Program head Ron Warren in an unusual statement posted to the agency’s website yesterday.

He added that while managers will be going over all of the fisheries, he didn’t anticipate that the river above the dam will be reopened.

October does produce coho below Bonneville, but not like above there as late stocks return to east Gorge tribs like the Klickitat River next month and in November.

This month’s “rare” closure of the Columbia displeased anglers who have otherwise enjoyed stellar salmon seasons this decade.

And they want to raise our fees for next year?” Timothy Hermsen posted on our Facebook page in response to the news.

But they [just] opened the mouth of the Deshutes … makes sense … SMFH,” added Troy Broders.

And Jamie N Travis Larson theorized, Hanford Reach is going to get a whole lot busier.”

Yes, but even there the limit has been reduced to one adult king a day.

The upriver bright run, which returns to the Reach and Idaho, was originally forecast to come in at 205,060, but last week was downgraded to 122,600 fish, “60% of the preseason forecast,” and it potentially could end up as “the lowest return since 2007,” according to a fact sheet.

Accrued impacts by recreational and nontreaty commercial fishermen on Snake wilds hit 8.73 percent; the allowable rate at this runsize was 8.25 percent.

Warren said that keeping the river open, even under rules requiring kings to be released, would have been a violation of the Endangered Species Act because of potential additional mortalities.

“It is a rare event to exceed an ESA impact limit, and we take this apparent overage very seriously,” he said in what also reads in part as a mea culpa, the second offered by top salmon managers for the fall season on the Columbia. “Fishery managers take great care to plan fisheries that remain within the federally allowed ESA limit, and we will be considering changes to our management to avoid repeating this situation. After all, we expect project proponents and others whose actions affect salmon to adhere to ESA requirements, and we have the same expectations for our own areas of responsibility.”

This year’s preseason prediction was a far cry from recent ones, when as many as 954,100 fall Chinook were counted at Bonneville and over 1.3 million entered the Columbia.

Warren blamed the low numbers on 2015’s drought and the Blob, the effects of which lingered as this year’s fish were in the North Pacific, and he said that 2019 could see poor returns too due to the age structure of the run, comprised largely of 4-year-old fish.

But in the meanwhile, there’s a chance anglers will be able to get back on the lower river this fall as late coho roll upstream.

“For that to happen, fishery managers must be able to demonstrate that ESA-listed Snake River wild fish are no longer likely to be caught or handled in the fishery,” Warren explained.

Coded-wire tag data shows that angling near the mouth of the Columbia has “virtually no impact” on listed upriver kings after September’s third week, allowing for SAFE zones to reopen to recs and comms.

He said that WDFW and ODFW will coordinate with federal overseers to open “individual fisheries” where appropriate as number crunching shows it’s possible.

It Wasn’t That Long Ago …

Man, what a difference three years makes.

On this day in 2015 I posted* that Columbia River salmon managers had upped their fall Chinook forecast to a staggering 1,095,900.

ANGLERS ENJOYED SUPERB FALL CHINOOK FISHING ON THE COLUMBIA SYSTEM IN 2015 AS A RECORD 1.3 MILLION RETURNED, BUT THIS YEAR WE ARE SEEING THE OPPOSITE END OF THE UPS AND DOWNS OF THE SALMON CYCLE SWING. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

They were off by a mile — 210,000 miles.

The final estimate is that 1,305,600 upriver brights and tules made it to Buoy 10 that year.

Of those, 954,140 were counted at Bonneville, the most on record.

And more than all but two other entire annual returns of Chinook — i.e., springers, summers and fall fish — at the dam since counts began in 1938.

The fishing was preposterous — 36,535 kings kept at Buoy 10, 41,525 on the Lower Columbia, 13,260 from Bonneville to Highway 395. Treaty and NT comms got their shares.

We were all smiles — our smiles couldn’t have been any wider or we would have broken our faces.

“These are the good ol’ days for Chinook, ladies and gentlemen,” I wrote later that month.

CRITFC FISHERIES TECHNICIAN AGNES STRONG HOLDS A COLUMBIA RIVER FALL CHINOOK TRAPPED PRIEST RAPIDS HATCHERY DURING THE 2015 RUN. (PHOTO COURTESY OF AGNES STRONG)

Looking back, it was the culmination of three outstanding years of salmon fishing, but there were troubling signs, other blogs I wrote that month show.

Sept. 23: Columbia Early Coho Forecast Reduced Sharply; Snake King Return On Record Pace: “Even as what could be a record return of Snake River fall Chinook heads for Idaho, Columbia salmon managers took the fishbonker to this year’s prediction for early-run coho, smacking it hard from an expected 140,000 to just 27,000 past Bonneville.”

Sept. 15: Clearwater Coho A No-go, IDFG Announces: This year’s run of coho up the Columbia is not living up to expectations, at least not yet.”

Sept. 11: No Plans To Halt State Humpy Fishery On Skagit: “Initial netting by the Upper Skagits turned up just 10 percent of the expected catch during what is typically the peak of the run of the odd-year fish.”

Earlier that summer hundreds of thousands of sockeye died as they migrated up the too-warm Columbia, as did dozens of oversize sturgeon.

Summer streams were bone dry due to the previous winter’s snowpack failure. Many waters were closed or under restricted fishing hours. Forest fires roared in the mountains and hills.

The Blob was hungry in 2015, though the high numbers of Columbia kings and relative snappiness of starving coho and pinks initially hid it from us, and we foolishly didn’t consider how long the North Pacific’s hangover would last.

Now in 2018 we’re at the other end of the salmon cycle.

ODFW’s Tucker Jones said that if the fall king run continues tracking as it has, it will be the lowest return since 2007, when 220,200 limped into the mouth of the Columbia.

I wonder if it won’t ultimately come in at lows not seen for two and a half decades — the 214,900 in ’93.

Funny how that number and the offage between the mid-September 2015 runsize update and what it ultimately came in at are so close.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER SHOWS THE 2018 FALL CHINOOK RUN AT BONNEVILLE (RED LINE) VERSUS LAST YEAR AND THE 10-YEAR AVERAGE. (FPC)

There is some hope, though. Last year’s run spiked unexpectedly after the usual high-count days, so we’ll see.

But in the meanwhile Chinook as well as coho and steelhead fishing have been closed from Buoy 10 all the way to Tri-Cities, and the steelie bag reduced to one hatchery a day in the Snake River basin.

CRITFC postponed a gillnet opener decision, though platform fisheries remain open, and nontreaty commercial fishing in the SAFE zones were shut down.

In the usually productive free-flowing Hanford Reach, the adult URB limit has been cut to one a day.

Just three falls ago, we harvested a record 33,885 in the Reach, and that November I wrote, “What a year!!!!!!!! Remember this one — it truly is The Good Ol’ Days.”

There were warning signs, but to hit the bad old days after such highs so fast is a reminder that the runs do ebb and flow.

Hopefully the closures and restrictions WDFW and ODFW have announced help rebuild the stocks and get us out of this hole and back on the water sooner.

*Editor’s note: Hat tip to Mike Fisenko who brought back this memory on Facebook.

Lower, Middle Columbia Closing To Salmon Fishing

THE FOLLOWING ARE PRESS RELEASES FROM THE WASHINGTON AND OREGON DEPARTMENTS OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

WDFW: Starting Thursday (Sept. 13), fishing for salmon will be closed on the mainstem Columbia River from Buoy 10 upstream to Hwy 395 in Pasco under new rules approved today by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon.

COHO RETENTION HAD BEEN SCHEDULED TO CONTINUE DEEP INTO FALL ON THE COLUMBIA BUT WILL CLOSE EARLY DUE TO CONCERNS ABOUT LOW RETURNS OF CHINOOK. (CHRIS SPENCER)

Deep River in Washington and other tributaries in Oregon (Youngs Bay, Tongue Point/South Channel, Blind Slough and Knappa Slough) are also closed to salmon and steelhead angling.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) already prohibited steelhead retention in much of the same area of the Columbia River several weeks ago, and the new emergency rule closes angling for both salmon and steelhead in those waters as well.

Bill Tweit, Columbia River fishery coordinator for WDFW, said the counts of fall chinook at Bonneville Dam are 29 percent below preseason forecasts, and on-going fisheries are approaching the allowable catch limits under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

“We recognize that this closure is difficult for anglers, but we have an obligation to meet our ESA goals so that fisheries can continue in the future,” he said.

Tweit said the upriver fall chinook run provides the bulk of the harvest opportunity for fall fisheries, but that returns in recent years has been declining due to unfavorable ocean conditions. The preseason forecast for this year is 47 percent of the 10-year average return of upriver bright fall chinook.

The new emergency fishing rule is posted on WDFW’s website at https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/.

…..

ODFW: With fall Chinook salmon returns to the Columbia River tracking well below preseason predictions, fishery managers announced today the Columbia River from the mouth at Buoy 10 to the Hwy 395 Bridge near Pasco, Washington will close for angling and retention of all salmon and steelhead at 12:01 am Thursday, Sept. 13.

As of Sept. 10, a total of 105,795 adult fall Chinook had passed Bonneville Dam, 75 percent of expectations based on preseason forecasts. The upriver bright Chinook return, which includes ESA-listed Snake River fish, are currently projected to return at 69 percent of expectations which means if left open fisheries could exceed the allowable harvest rate.  In response, Oregon and Washington managers decided today to close all salmon fisheries until further notice.

According to Tucker Jones, ODFW Columbia River Program manager, if the return continues on this track, this could be the lowest fall Chinook return to the mouth of the Columbia since 2007. “2018 is a pretty bad year for Columbia River salmon returns,” said Jones, “Except for upper Columbia sockeye most runs will come in at 30 percent or less of pre-season forecast.”

Steelhead fishing closed on the Columbia River Aug. 27, also due to poor returns, and will also remain closed until further notice

Deschutes Plume Salmon Fishing Closure Lifted Starting Thursday

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RLEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

The combination of cooling water temperatures in the Columbia River and additional protections in the form of a river-wide steelhead retention closure have allowed managers to re-open the closed area adjacent to the mouth of the Deschutes River effective Thursday Sept. 6.

THE COOL PLUME OF THE DESCHUTES RIVER WHERE IT ENTERS THE COLUMBIA IS A PRODUCTIVE PLACE TO FISH FOR FALL CHINOOK. GENARO RAMOS HOOKED THIS UPRIVER BRIGHT THERE IN 2016’S FISHERY. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The Columbia River section outside the Deschutes mouth had been closed to angling since Aug. 9 based on direction from the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to protect wild summer steelhead that may be using the cooler water provided by this tributary.

“Although steelhead returns are still below pre-season expectations, the additional protections provided by the river-wide retention closure coupled with decreasing temperatures allows us to open this popular Chinook salmon fishing area. That being said, if an angler does happen to catch a steelhead while fishing for something else, it is critical that they do their utmost to ensure its survival by using best fishing practices,” said Tucker Jones, manager of ODFW’s Ocean Salmon and Columbia River Program.

Anglers are reminded that due to poor returns of upriver summer steelhead, a retention closure remains in effect for steelhead in the mainstem Columbia River from the mouth at Buoy 10 upstream to the Highway 395 Bridge near Pasco, WA. The closure also includes the lower John Day River downstream from Tumwater Falls. In addition, the current fishing closure in the Deschutes River extending downstream from the lower end of Moody Rapids to the Deschutes River mouth at the Highway 84 Bridge will remain in place. The steelhead closures are expected to continue through the end of the year.

For more information and regulation updates, please see ODFW’s Columbia River Zone online.

ODFW MARKINGS ON A NOAA CHART SHOW THE CLOSURE AREA AROUND THE MOUTH OF THE DESCHUTES RIVER THAT IS NOW BEING LIFTED. (ODFW/NOAA)