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Washington Easing Hatchery Steelhead Limit Restrictions On Southeast Waters

Washington fishery managers are partially scaling back steelhead bag limit restrictions on waters in the southeast corner of the state.

As of Sunday, Oct. 15, daily limits will increase from one to two hatchery fish on the Walla Walla, Touchet, Tucannon and Grande Ronde Rivers.

GRANDE RONDE AND SOUTHEAST WASHINGTON ANGLERS WILL SOON BE ABLE TO RETAIN TWO HATCHERY STEELHEAD A DAY AS DAM COUNTS INDICATE MORE ARE RETURNING THAN FEARED JUST TWO MONTHS AGO. (GREG OLENIK)

However, the Snake will remain catch-and-release only from the mouth up to Clarkston. But between there and the Couse Creek boat ramp, near the mouth of of Hells Canyon, the river will also offer a two-hatchery-steelhead limit, though any longer than 28 inches must be released.

That’s to protect expected low returns of B-runs headed back to Idaho rivers.

Above Couse Creek, any hatchery steelhead can be retained, daily limit two.

Idaho managers are also mulling easing restrictions.

Going into this year’s season, Washignton’s fishing regs pamphlet listed a three-hatchery-steelhead limit on most of the rivers, except the Snake where fall season was yet to be determined.

Though this year’s A-run of steelhead is still well below average, it’s not looking as critically poor as it was in midsummer, when dam counts suggested we might only see 54,000 back.

That led Washington, Oregon and Idaho managers to chop bag limits or switch to catch-and-release-only fishing in the Snake and its tributaries.

But since then more have been counted at Bonneville Dam, and the preseason forecast of 112,100 has just about been met and will probably be exceeded.

“These measures will help ensure that sufficient numbers of wild and hatchery fish return to their natal streams,” said Chris Donley, WDFW regional fisheries manager. “But we’ll continue to monitor the steelhead run over the coming months, and either curtail the harvest of steelhead if needed, or provide more harvest opportunity if possible.”

Along with bag limit tweaks, the mandatory steelhead retention rule will be waived on Washington waters, but anglers will need to quit for the day after keeping two.

SE WA Steelheading Restrictions Taking Effect Sept. 1

Though steelhead counts downstream are picking up from a very bad runsize update earlier this month, Washington managers are restricting fisheries in the state’s southeast corner.

The Snake River will only be open for catch and release fishing for the species, while limits on the Walla Walla, Touchet, Tucannon and most of the Grande Ronde are being reduced to one hatchery steelhead a day because of a very low return.

FOR THE TIME BEING, GRANDE RONDE STEELHEADERS FISHING ABOVE THE COUNTY BRIDGE NEAR THE MOUTH WILL BE LIMITED TO ONE HATCHERY STEELHEAD A DAY, THOUGH MANDATORY RETENTION HAS BEEN WAIVED FOR THIS DESTINATION FISHERY. ERIC STEIN CAUGHT THIS NICE SUMMER-RUN BELOW COTTONWOOD A FEW YEARS BACK. (FISHING PHOTO CONTEST)

The changes, which also include waiving of the mandatory retention rule, take effect Sept. 1 and are posted on WDFW’s emergency rule-change notices page.

In mid-August, steelhead managers updated this year’s already low forecast of 112,100 A-runs to just 54,000,

“With a significant reduction to the preseason forecast for Group A steelhead reducing bag limits will minimize impacts to natural origin fish and assure that WDFW will meet broodstock needs for the hatchery program,” the agency explained.

Since that runsize update, however, counts at Bonneville Dam have improved and now sit at 66,933, a figure that includes mostly As but now-arriving Bs as well.

It is also still just a third of the 10-year average through Aug. 28 of 222,333, and it’s the fewest through that date since 1978.

WDFW says it will monitor the run to see if it improves and can offer more opportunities.