Columbia Gorge anglers will get two more cracks at sturgeon in the Bonneville Pool this month instead of just one, albeit on weekdays, while season was extended on The Dalles Pool as well during a joint state meeting this morning that also offered good signs for smelt dippers.
Sturgeon retention will be allowed Wednesday, March 9, and Wednesday, March 16, in the Bonneville Pool, ODFW and WDFW managers decided, tweaking a staff recommendation that would have opened the reservoir on Saturday, March 12.
That weekend day proposal made ODFW’s Tucker Jones “really uncomfortable” for how close it could have brought the catch to the sturgeon guideline, 660 fish out of 675 available, or 98 percent.
He worried because January 2021’s fishery exceeded its guideline, though WDFW staffers noted that on the balance of the past 10 years, recreational anglers have only caught 92 percent of the quota, though when commercial catches are included, it amounts to 101 percent.
Staff modeling based on recent winters’ catch rates suggested a Saturday fishery would yield as few as 49 to as many as 117 fish.
So with weekday fishing producing fewer sturgeon – 47 was reported to be a high mark for workweek Bonneville Pool anglers – Jones altered the proposal that was before he and WDFW’s Dr. Charlene Hurst to the two March Wednesdays.
He said doing so provided opportunity while being cautious about the resource.
But for angler Dennis Schwartz, it was “very disappointing” that working sportsmen were stiffed by the Wednesday openers.
“This only benefits guides and retirees,” said the former senior fisheries biologist with the US Army Corps of Engineers’ Portland District who also served as the federal agency’s hydroelectric power operations manager.
“It’s so typical lately and it’s just over the top,” said Schwartz. “If you can’t manage a fishery without excluding 80 percent of your state license holders, then you may want to rethink your management practices. Not all of us can just take off work at the whims of the states opening crap on Wednesdays.”
Both Bonneville days also align with openers on The Dalles Pool, forcing fishermen to make a choice on where to try for diamondsides. Jones and Hurst OKed extending sturgeon season there on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from March 2-30. Fishing has been slow in the middle Columbia Gorge reservoir.
The decision to wait to reopen the Bonneville Pool until next week also took into account the high water working its way into the Columbia from the strong atmospheric river that hit the Northwest in recent days.
On the smelt front, Jones and Hurst – who represent ODFW Director Curt Melcher and WDFW Director Kelly Susewind, respectively, at the Columbia River Compact – approved eight more commercial smelt openers on the lower river as a means to gauge the strength of the ESA-listed eulachon run and provide insight into possible tributary dipnetting openers.
Smelt began moving into the Columbia in some numbers in mid-February, with average deliveries rising to 354 pounds on February 18 to 1,659 pounds on February 23, dropping to 1,083 pounds on February 25.
A total of 13,281 pounds have been landed, per ODFW, topping 2021’s total commercial tally by roughly 2,500 pounds.
Commercial fisherman Gary Soderstrom said there was a “huge volume” of smelt in the river, and it was taking just minutes and “a little piece of net” to catch good numbers.
While his aim is to build the market back for the oily little fish, he suggested the schools weren’t far below the Cowlitz, though it’s unclear how well the smelt will deal with the big volume coming down the tributary, which crested at 50,000 cubic feet per second at Castle Rock this morning.
The state smelt managers pointed out the commercial fishery provides important run indexing information, biological sampling data and a heads up on potential recreational dipping timing.
Last year’s Cowlitz sport opener, held on a Tuesday, produced an estimated 90,750 pounds of smelt for 9,900 dippers – essentially, near limits – in just five hours.
“At this time, Washington and Oregon are not recommending recreational smelt fisheries in the Cowlitz or Sandy rivers. Washington and Oregon staff will determine if fisheries are warranted after additional freshwater abundance indicators become available,” today’s fact sheet states.