COUGAR — Anglers and campers at Swift Reservoir will have to co-exist with construction workers and activities for the next two years as PacifiCorp builds a $50 million salmon and steelhead collection facility.
Fishing season opens Saturday at the 4,500-acre reservoir on the upper North Fork of the Lewis River. The boat ramp at Swift Forest Camp is open and the campground opens Friday.
Pacific’s new operating license for the three dams on the North Fork of the Lewis River requires reintroduction of salmon and steelhead in the upper watershed.
For several years, adult salmon have been trucked around the dams and released at the upper end of Swift Reservoir. The fish are recolonizing the watershed, heading mostly up the river upstream of Eagles Cliff.
Pacific is building a floating structure approximately 170 feet long and 60 feet wide at Swift Dam to attract and collect the young downsteam-headed salmon and steelhead outmigrants, plus outmigrating adult steelhead.
The facility will have a pumping capacity of about 600 cubic feet per second.
Once collected, the fish will be sorted at the Swift facility for transport to the lower Lewis River downstream of Merwin Dam.
Work should be done by the end of 2012.
Tom Gauntt, a Pacific spokesman in Portland, said the large, flat area at Swift’s boat ramp at the upper end of the reservoir will be used as a staging location before barging materials to the dam.
After Saturday’s opener, construction work will require some closures.
An area of particular concern will be the public access area on Swift Dam. Normally, fishermen are able to park off the road to the dam and walk through a gate to fish at the dam.
Specific information on closures will be posted, but at times foot access to the dam will be closed temporarily. Boaters also will need to avoid the construction area, which will be at the south end of the dam.
Also, at times, heavy equipment will be moving through Swift Forest Camp. The large loads will be escorted by spotters.
The utility is trying to provide as much access as possible during construction yet maintain safety, said Joe LaMere, Pacific’s Lewis River production manager.
“We know thousands of people enjoy camping, fishing and boating at Swift every year,’’ he said. “This construction project, a key element in reintroducing salmon and steelhead to the upper reaches of the Lewis River system, is necessary at this time, but with it comes an inevitable level of disruption.’’
This week, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife stocked the reservoir with 60,000 catchable-size rainbow.
Swift Forest Camp has the only boat ramp on the reservoir. The water level was seven feet below full pool on Wednesday. Most boats can launch down to 25 feet below full pool.
“Swift was fishing very well through the end of the season last year and I expect this to be a good opener with nice fish,’’ said John Weinheimer, a state biologist.
Anglers also are likely to catch landlocked coho salmon, the offspring of adult coho hauled around the dams and released in past years. In 2010, 62 percent of the sampled catch on opening day was coho.
The power canal at the west end of Swift Reservoir has been planted with 3,500 rainbow trout.
Five lakes in the Columbia Gorge also open for fishing on Saturday. Here’s a look at those waters:
Northwestern Reservoir — The state has stocked 6,000 catchable-size rainbow trout and 256 lunker trout this month in Northwestern Lake, the 93-acre reservoir scheduled to be drained if Condit Dam on the White Salmon River is removed in October.
Pacific Power officials said last week they have not made a final decision if Condit will be blown this fall or not.
Weinheimer has almost 18,000 tiny trout available at Goldendale Hatchery to stock in Northwestern in June or July. Those fish will not reach a catchable size until summer of 2012.
“I’ve been told for a long time that the dam is coming out and it’s still there,’’ said Weinheimer, who been responsible for the lakes in Skamania and Klickitat counties for 24 years. “Northwestern’s a popular and important trout fishery and I’m going to keep managing it until that lake is gone.’’
Weinheimer said Northwestern Lake is a bit of a hidden gem that will be missed by its anglers once the reservoir is gone.
“It’s pretty quiet,’’ he said. “It’s a great place to go to get away from the crowd. You need to fish out of a boat and move around. There are boat ramps at both ends. Guys can get limits.’’
The White Salmon River between the gas pipeline upstream of Northwestern to Gilmer Creek is managed with special rules including no bait, single barbless hooks, a two-fish limit and 12-inch minimum size.
“We see some beautiful wild fish get caught in Northwestern that are using both the river and the reservoir,’’ Weinheimer said. “That’s one of its draws. Some people like to catch those fish.’’
Kidney Lake — The 12-acre lake near North Bonneville has been stocked in April with 6,000 catchable-size rainbow trout plus 224 large trout. Another 1,500 trout are due in May.
The lake also got 1,500 catchable trout in January along with 63 large spawning-size trout no longer needed at Goldendale Hatchery.
A car-top boat often is handy at Kidney Lake.
Rowland Lake — The 85-acre lake is along state Highway 14 just east of Bingen. It is a backwater of the Columbia River.
Split by the highway, only the north portion is stocked. It has been planted with 14,000 catchable-size rainbow and 928 large rainbow for the opener. Another 2,000 catchable-size trout will be stocked in June.
The lake got 4,000 trout in January.
Horsethief Lake — A backwater of the Columbia inside Columbia Hills State Park, the 97-acre lake is a popular spot and has gotten 14,000 catchable-size rainbow this month with 8,000 more coming in May. The lake also has been planted with 100 of the large trout.
The lake has a boat ramp with a small fee.
Much of the Horsethief shoreline is productive smallmouth bass habitat. Yellow perch, bluegill and a rare walleye make the lake a fun place to fish.
Spearfish Lake — The 15-acre lake is just north of The Dalles Dam. It has been stocked with 9,100 catchable rainbow trout with another 4,000 coming in May. In January, the lake got 2,000 catchable rainbow.
Spearfish has a small boat ramp.