With a major upgrade to the forecast, state managers will open hatchery Chinook retention on 300-plus miles of the Lower Columbia for five days starting on the Fourth of July.
Summer king counts at Bonneville have been tracking well above expectations, leading a technical advisory committee on Monday to bump expectations from 38,000 to 65,000, and that opened up a chance to harvest some downstream of Tri-Cities.
And probably upstream as well – stay tuned, Wenatchee and other North-central Washington salmon anglers.
As it stands, during a conference call this afternoon ODFW and WDFW managers approved Chinook fishing July 4-8 from the Tongue Point-Rocky Point Line just upstream of Astoria to the Highway 395 bridge in Tri-Cities, with a daily limit of two clipped adult kings.
Managers expect anglers to retain 335 Chinook below Bonneville, with another 180 wild fish released.
During public testimony, sportfishing advisor Randy Woolsey called the opener “incredibly important to anglers.”
Like 2020 in general, angling opportunities on the Lower Columbia this year have been a mess, with key early waters closed due to low trib returns; Covid-19 leaving a huge hole in the spring Chinook season, then broodstock worries scuttling it; a proposed June sturgeon retention opener kiboshed because WDFW wouldn’t compromise with ODFW; and last week steelhead and sockeye abruptly shut down — more on the latter below.
On the conference call, Bob Rees of the Northwest Guides and Anglers Association and guide Bill Monroe Jr., both asked that the lower boundary of the proposed fishery be pushed downstream to the Astoria-Megler Bridge, which was a very good spot in 2015, though ocean and river conditions were much different during that summer of The Blob.
According to WDFW staffer Ryan Lothrop, it wouldn’t have changed catch expectations, but ODFW’s Tucker Jones wasn’t game.
He also demurred on agency staffers’ recommendation to keep up to one hatchery steelhead a day as well. Sockeye must be released as well.
Summer kings anglers below Bonneville typically anchor fairly close to shore or at pinchpoints and run a larger Kwikfish, Mag Lip or FlatFish, or a big spinner behind a 360-degree flasher. Plunking off the beach with a large Spin-N-Glo and prawn can produce.
Between Bonneville and Highway 395, less than 100 hatchery Chinook are expected to be kept.
Even as a good return of an estimated quarter of a million sockeye are making their way up the Columbia, concerns were expressed during the call about potential impacts to the Snake River’s stock, which is listed under ESA as endangered, the most critical level. Recreational fishing had to be shut down last week on the Columbia because the quota had been exceeded after good fishing.
Idaho Department of Fish and Game asked ODFW and WDFW to move the Columbia Chinook opener back to allow more sockeye to make it past Bonneville. They said that 94 percent of Gem State reds are typically above the dam after July 8, but as few as 50 to 66 percent have been as of July 4 in some recent years.
Commercial advisors were blistering in their opposition to the king fishery, for various reasons, and one sport advisor had reservations as well.
“I don’t want to be the one making the decision on this one. People want to go fishing, but conservation is a concern,” said Robert Moxley.
WDFW’s Bill Tweit said that if he’d been asked two weeks ago about the odds of a Chinook fishery below Priest Rapids Dam, they would have been “effectively zero, so I would have lost some money on that.”
Even as dam counts rose, he added that given the sockeye quota overage of last week, he would have said at that time the odds were also “effectively zero.”
But here we are with a narrowly focused fishery on hatchery kings, with a check-in on catches next week.
Besides the good news about lower river Chinook fishing opportunities, there may be some for the upper river in the near future.
“Region 2 and Region 3 staff are talking about what this update means above the mouth of the Snake,” Tweit said during the call.