Relief On Way From High Columbia Flows?

Editor’s note: This was our annual April Fools day story.

Columbia hydropower operators will begin holding back runoff starting today, 4-1, in an effort to improve spring Chinook fishing in time for the season extension.

With flows as high as they’ve been in 70 years for this time of year, the big river’s been an even bigger roiling, murky mess loaded with debris, making for difficult angling and low catches below Bonneville Dam through late March, traditionally when action begins to pick up as the year’s first salmon make their way upstream.

WATER SURGES THROUGH BONNEVILLE DAM IN THIS CROPPED JUNE 2014 CORPS OF ENGINEERS PHOTO. (ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS)

State managers say only 53 springers had been retained through last Sunday, compared with 2,211 for the same period in 2016.

“We recognize that the way we’ve been flushing this year’s increased snowpack through the system has harmed the fishery in the Lower Columbia, and we want to make amends for that by sharply curtailing outflows from our seven largest upriver reservoirs,” a joint press release from the Bonneville Power Association and Army Engineers Corps says.

Federal managers believe the move should reduce flows in time to take advantage of this week’s DFW push-back of the season closure from April 6 to April 10.

For anglers, gear manufacturers and fishing tackle shack owners, it will come as a relief. Though a middling forecasted return, just under 7,000 upriver-bound fish are available for harvest, but angst has been running as high as the river, because springers are a highly sought after fish, provide a great kickoff to the fishing season for Portland, Vancouver and environs, and taste great on the plate.

“Should’ve known a sunny-day Chinook and barbecue reference on my cover would’ve jinxed this year’s fishery,” joked a regional hook-and-bullet magazine editor, who also gnashed his teeth knowing that in fact he had jinxed it.

Hydropower system operators will try their best to fix that.

“Our goal is to drop the Columbia into the 200kfs range at The Dalles Project, which is still above the longterm mean for this time of year, but far below flows in recent days of 450kfs,” they stated in their release.

That should provide better water conditions for trolling herring, sitting on anchor and running plugs, or plunking from the beach instead of the parking lot.

You’ll want to watch this USGS gauge to verify when flow levels actually drop.

“We hope anglers get out and take advantage of this window of opportunity, because we’re not quite sure how long we can hold this wall of water back without damaging our dams and flooding communities all the way back into Northwest Montana,” said a high-ranking yet very nervous federal administrator, Al Floorips.

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