Spring Chinook season on the Lower Columbia has been extended to April 10, and what happens after that depends on how managers play their hand.
While catches so far have been far below modeling, with all of 53 keepers through March 26, between the high, murky flows surging through Bonneville and downstream test catches, there is reason for hope.
“There are fish in the river; we just don’t know how to get to them,” says Joe Hymer, a supervising fisheries biologist in Vancouver.
Well, at least sport anglers. Boats using tangle nets to gauge the run size for long-term data bases found some.
Hymer reports that a fishery on the 26th near Cathlamet yielded 3.1 springers per drift, up from 1.7 on the 19th, and better than 2016’s peak of 2.7 on April 3.
The caveat to that is, it’s likely that low sport catches and pinniped predation probably helped make for an “abnormally high catch rate,” says Hymer.
“But we do know upper river fish are in the lower river,” he adds.
Today’s news comes out of a joint state hearing. The Northwest Sportfishing Industry Association applauded Oregon’s and Washington managers decision to extend the fishery well ahead of the scheduled April 6 closure, which followed the organization’s request for an early announcement.
“The lack of fishing brought on by these river conditions has been particularly tough on the industry and we are deeply appreciative of how quickly ODFW and WDFW responded,” NSIA’s Liz Hamilton said in an email.
The extension also means the mainstem Columbia will be available for the organization’s important Spring Fishing Classic fundraiser on April 8.
Looking further down the road, Hymer says Oregon and Washington managers are looking at two options as the next week to 10 days play out.
If fishing conditions continue to be poor, it’s possible they’ll meet late next week and add days past April 10.
If it picks up, they could keep the river open through the 10th, close it and reassess the situation.
Before early to mid-May’s run-size update, the states are managing toward a cap of 6,905 above-Bonneville-bound springers, a figure which reflects a 30 percent buffer on a forecasted run of 160,400 to Eastern Washington, Northeast Oregon and Central Idaho tribs.
Of the 53 spring Chinook kept so far, 24 have been from the fishery-constraining upriver stocks, according to WDFW.
Hymer feels that this year’s run is being held back by extreme flows through Bonneville, as high as 460,000 cubic feet per second last Saturday. The dam count is all of 14 through March 26, tied for worst back through 1977, a review of records today showed.
But he thinks that once the fish start moving, they will move fast.
Portland guide Jack Glass posted on Facebook this afternoon that during high water during a season half a decade ago, he found success running two Fish Flashes. He’ll be giving a seminar tonight from 6-8 at Sportsman’s Warehouse in Southeast Portland of I-205.
THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE
Fishery managers extend spring Chinook season on lower Columbia
CLACKAMAS, Ore. – The spring Chinook fishing season on the lower Columbia River has been extended through April 10 under rules adopted today by Oregon and Washington fishery managers. Managers cited poor fishing conditions and limited harvest to-date in making their decision to extend the season.
Under the rules adopted today, the Columbia River from Buoy 10 upstream to Beacon Rock (boat and bank) plus bank angling only from Beacon Rock upstream to the Bonneville Dam deadline will remain open for spring Chinook through Monday, April 10. The closure area near the mouth of the Lewis River remains in effect.
The daily bag limit is two adult salmonids per day, but only one may be a Chinook. Only adipose fin-clipped fish may be kept; all sockeye must be released per permanent regulation. All other permanent regulations apply. Anglers are reminded that under rules previously adopted, from March 16 through May 15 the mainstem Columbia River will be open for retention of adipose fin-clipped steelhead from Buoy 10 to the Highway 395 Bridge and shad from Buoy 10 to Bonneville Dam only during days and in areas open for retention of adipose fin-clipped spring Chinook.
Managers will be monitoring the fishery and plan to meet the week of April 10 to see if additional days can be added to the season.