Editor’s note: Updated at 5:30 p.m. November 8th 2019 with smolt release stats for the Hoko and Sekiu Rivers.
Heads up for Olympic Peninsula, Tri-Cities and Columbia Gorge steelheaders on several recent rule changes as one run begins and another never really got started.
We’ll take them one at a time, starting on the Eastside.
The Hanford Reach will close to steelheading as of Nov. 10 due to a very low return of summer-runs.
According to state managers, only 96 have entered the Ringold Springs Hatchery so far, “the lowest return on record in the past 18 years,” putting the goal of collecting 300,000 eggs to produce 180,000 smolts in 2020 in peril.
By this time in 2017, 254 fish had checked in at the facility. In 2016, 224 had.
This year has seen an overall poor return of steelhead to the Inland Northwest, and earlier in the season retention was closed on the Columbia downstream of Highway 395 in Tri-Cities, and limits were dropped in the Snake system.
By 2016-17 catch stats, the latest available, the best fishing in the Reach was in October, with 108 retained, but the waters between Highway 295 and the old powerlines at the Hanford town site did put out dozens of fish each month through March.
Two mountain ranges away to the northwest, along with your floats and jigs you’ll want to bring a tape measure if you fish two Clallam County streams this winter.
When hatchery steelhead were released into the Hoko and Sekiu Rivers in spring 2016 and 2017, they weren’t fin clipped as usual “because of warm river temperatures and consequent fish health concerns,” according to a WDFW emergency rule-change notice
So then how do you know if you’ve caught a keeper or a wild steelhead that must be released?
Take that big fin on its back and put your measuring device against it.
“Dorsal fin heights of hatchery steelhead are shorter than comparably sized wild steelhead. The standard of 2 1/8 inches has been used elsewhere to identify unclipped hatchery steelhead,” WDFW states.
The same rule tweak was in effect last winter on the Hoko and previously on a river further south on the Olympic Peninsula.
The Hoko produced 129 hatchery steelhead during the 2016-17 season, mostly in December.
According to state fisheries biologist Mike Gross, just under 24,000 smolts were released into the Hoko for return this year, 10700 in the Sekiu.
In another e-reg, WDFW announced that the night fishing and retention closures on the lower Wind and White Salmon Rivers were being lifted effective immediately.
Those and other restrictions in the Columbia and its Gorge were put in place due to a weak return of A-run summer steelhead that pull into these thermal refuges. Their passage through the area is typically done by this time of year.
And finally, salmon and steelhead fishing will reopen on the mainstem Columbia up to Highway 395 starting Jan. 1, 2019, WDFW announced.
The big river was closed in late summer when the run of fall Chinook did not materialize in the expected numbers and catches exceeded impacts on Snake River wilds.
As kings made their way further upstream, Washington fishery managers looked for ways to reopen the waters for coho angling.
Nothing ever came to pass, but an explanation appeared in the e-reg resetting the Columbia’s regs to permanent rules:
“… (T)hese fisheries would continue to accrue fall chinook ESA impacts at a time when the non-treaty fisheries do not have additional fall chinook ESA impacts remaining.”