Tribal fishing platforms were recently erected at the mouth of the Wind River, squeezing in at a famed, productive and very small bank fishing spot for spring Chinook.
While this year’s run is running late due to huge flows, and the Wind forecast of 3,600 is on the low side, salmon numbers are building at Bonneville, where more than 250 have been counted so far this year, and it won’t be long before some pull into the drowned mouth of this Washington-side Columbia Gorge tributary.
On good days dozens of anglers will try their luck at The Point, sometimes called Cranky Banky Point, that basalt bone that sticks out into the Wind as it reaches the Columbia.
When the Bonneville Pool is lower, there’s room to accommodate more anglers, but when dam operators are holding back water or dealing with large volumes, there’s less.
The concern is that the two approximately 6-foot-by-6-foot platforms will leave even less place for nontribal fishermen to huck their plugs and other lures for hatchery springers. They set up potential gear conflicts and babysitting hassles for state and tribal game wardens.
This morning, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates several Chinook hatcheries in the area, was referring calls to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s regional office in Vancouver.
According to WDFW Capt. Jeff Wickersham, the wooden structures were put up by Yakama Nation fishers. He said it was a legal activity in the tribes’ usual and accustomed fishing area.
Through a spokesman, he added he believes it is the first time that they’ve been erected at this particular spot on the Wind (there is a tribal in-lieu fishing site upstream), though in 2011 some were installed upriver inside Drano Lake, causing a stir for awhile.
Wickersham says that tribal members can’t obstruct or displace state anglers to build one, and that the structures are basically treated like a fisherman who got to a spot first.
That means tribal members have de facto claimed at least two locations on the point for the season.
The point is private property, owned by Carson Acres LLC, Skamania County tax records show. Anglers access it by walking in on trails from Highway 14.
According to Roger Dick Jr., harvest coordinator for the Yakama Nation, tribal regulations have always allowed for platforms at Wind, and the Yakamas are the only tribe with treaty-reserved fishing rights there.
“The platforms are the property of the YN fishers and the platforms are only to be used by YN members because they are used for treaty fishing. YN rules do not allow non-YN members to exercise YN treaty rights, which includes use of gear/equipment,” he says.
He says that in other areas where there are tribal platforms, such as in the John Day Dam tailrace, it’s “commonly understood” they’re only for tribal fishers.
However, as he confirms, it’s a first they’ve been put up here, which may cause confusion, angst and anger.
More platforms are reported to be being built on the Wind above the Highway 14 and Burlington Northern Sante Fe bridges.
According to the Yakamas’ 2017 fishing regulations, members can fish the lower Wind through June 25, from noon on Monday through 6 p.m. on Saturdays. Fishing is not allowed on Sundays there or elsewhere, for “conservation purposes.”
Dick Jr. explains that poles with rope hanging off of them are used to hang hoopnets, or setnets, the primary way Yakama fishers harvest salmon, though they can also use hook-and-line methods.
The Yakamas’ openness to answering questions this go-around contrasts sharply with what occurred during 2011, when similar platforms popped up at Drano Lake, where the tribe also has treaty fishing rights. Reporters were unable to get comment from tribal officials on what was going on.
Then, anglers and WDFW worried the structures reduced the already limited bank fishing area on the lake even more, as not everyone in Northwest anglerdom has a sled, drift boat or other craft to troll for springers from. And just as tribes can claim long histories of fishing, so too do nontribal anglers have lengthy relationships with good spots. One platform sat by a new handicapped fishing access spot.
Since 2011, however, things quieted down at Drano (in spring 2012, Yakama officials issued at least two statements on the platforms there). Dick Jr. says the Yakamas have another fishery there — the Wednesday closure for netting — and that smaller returns limit the opportunities. He says the tribal council considers cultural, social and economic factors in determining whether to allow platforms there.
As it stands, passive integrated transponder, or PIT tag, data shows no Wind springers having arrived at Bonneville yet (1.3 and 2.7 percent of four- and five-year-old Carson National Fish Hatchery juveniles were PIT tagged before they went to sea).
So for the moment, the platforms at the mouth of the Wind are just being buffeted by the breezes blowing through the Columbia Gorge, though as this year’s run grows, things could get stormier.
Editor’s notes: 1) Hat tip to JH for the story forward. 2) This blog was updated April 14, 2017, to clarify WDFW Capt. Jeff Wickersham’s comments that this is the first time that platforms were built at the point. There is a tribal in-lieu fishing site upstream on the Wind from there. 3) This blog was subsequently updated April 17, 2017 to include links to 2011 and 2012 articles on platforms erected at Drano Lake.