Spring Chinook will reopen for four days over the next week and a half on the Columbia on two stretches between Woodland and the Washington-Oregon border east of McNary Dam.
ODFW and WDFW salmon managers approved the move this afternoon, but also stressed that anglers should use “common sense” not to pack ramps or boats, should fish with family members and keep 6 feet away from others to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
“I’m extremely excited to provide this opportunity, but I’d caution people against irrational exuberance,” said Tucker Jones, ODFW’s Columbia River manager during a teleconference this afternoon.
“It’s exciting. A week ago I wouldn’t imagine we’d be in a situation to look at proposals like this,” said his WDFW counterpart, Bill Tweit.
It wasn’t until this past Monday afternoon that a clear plan for reopening fishing and hunting in Washington was announced.
The open dates are Tuesday, May 5; Thursday, May 7; Saturday, May 9; and Wednesday, May 13.
Open waters are similar to earlier in the season: Warrior Rock at the mouth of the Lewis River up to Bonneville, with bank angling only from Beacon Rock to the dam, and then from the Tower Island powerlines below The Dalles Dam up to east of McNary, where the state line is.
Daily limit is two hatchery salmonids, but only one Chinook. Barbless hooks are required.
Managers say there are 2,817 fish available for anglers below Bonneville and 387 in the upper stretch.
They expect that half of the quota could be caught on the first day of fishing below the dam, and will be tracking the catch as closely as possible.
“Staff will be prepared to review fishery results on May 6 and again on May 11 to determine if catch rates align with expectations and consider if any season modifications are needed,” states a fact sheet distributed before the call.
It’s also possible that with a runsize update more salmon could become available.
“Stay tuned in,” urged Jones.
The opener is considered to be a “conservative” approach given that the fishery will occur near the likely peak of the run and with good river conditions, pent-up demand due to Washington’s 41-day angling closure that will be lifted on the 5th, the fact that current fish counts at Bonneville are a little on the “iffy” side at just 20 percent of the 10-year average (but also better than recent years), and the potential for some Idaho hatcheries not to meet broodstock goals, said Tweit.
During comment there was widespread support from sportfishing advisers including Bob Rees, Randy Woolsey and Harry Barber, and other advisers as well as anglers on the call.
“We also get some days in May that we haven’t had in recent years,” Tim Schoonover pointed out.
May 2016 was the last time that occurred.
These are very different times, however, and a number of speakers expressed caution.
“Washington guys are chomping at the bit, but we’ve got to practice social distancing,” said Greg King of the Lower Columbia Chapter of Puget Sound Anglers. “We’re going to be watched. We don’t want to get it closed down is what I’m saying.”
Jones, the ODFW staffer, said that on the Willamette River, where spring Chinook fishing has been able to continue, anglers have been “complying pretty well” with guidelines meant to limit the spread of coronavirus.
“This is going to require some common sense,” he said.
Guide Bill Monroe Jr. welcomed the chance to show that fishing could be done safely.
Tweit said WDFW wasn’t intending to institute strict rules but the agency is emphasizing that sportsmen recreate locally, though the definition of that varies by location.
“We’re relying on folks to show good judgement, assess their own risks and come up with a strategy for their own boat and business,” he added.
If there were stronger notes of caution, one came from Stuart Ellis, representing the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. With subsistence and ceremonial fisheries going on in the gorge pools, Ellis said he was “highly concerned” about crowding at boat ramps and popular fishing areas.
Last week, fisherman Bobby Begay, a Yakama and Celilo Village member and CRITFIC lead technician, died of complications of Covid-19.
“Bobby was dedicated to his family, the Celilo community, salmon, the river, and tribal culture. He was a bridgebuilder who connected many groups and individuals across cultural divides,” CRITFIC posted on Facebook.
Ellis pointed out that Army Corps of Engineers boat ramps in the Columbia Gorge are currently closed.
And an IDFG representative on the call noted the springer run is tracking low, and that some Idaho facilities aren’t expected to meet escapement goals.
Too few springers expected back to the Cowlitz and Lewis mean that the Lower Columbia below Warrior Rock and the mouth of the latter river won’t reopen for the moment, but sockeye will from Buoy 10 to I-5 starting May 16.