Washington and Oregon officials will consider in late January whether to change the sport-fishing regulations for sturgeon in the Bonneville pool of the Columbia River.
Angling has been excellent the past two winters and sturgeon retention will open Jan. 1 on a daily basis as scheduled. But the rules could be modified at a joint state hearing Jan. 26 in Oregon City.
The reservoir behind Bonneville Dam in the Columbia Gorge has an abundant population of sturgeon, numbering about 50,000 legal-size (38 to 54 inches) fish and more than 300,000 overall.
The sport retention guideline has increased from 700 in 2009 to 1,400 in 2010 and 2,000 this year.
With retention opening Jan. 1, and allowed daily, the sport allocation was filled on Feb. 21 in 2010 and Feb. 19 in 2011. The states reopened the pool for retention June 30-July 2 and July 7-8 in 2011 when it was determined not all 2,000 had been taken by the Feb. 19 closure.
John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said closures before the end of February have resulted in requests to restructure the fishery to allow angling when the weather is better.
Last week in The Dalles, the states unveiled three options:
Continue the status quo, which results in about a seven-week season.
Limit retention to Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, which might extend the allocation to mid-March.
Delay the start of retention, although this might result in fewer total fishing days as there might be even better catch rates and more anglers in warmer water and better weather.
Paul Ambrose of Great Northwest Rivers Guide Service said he has trips booked through mid-February and two weeks before the start of fishing is too late to revamp the season.
“I’m not the only fishing guide up there,’’ Ambrose said at The Dalles meeting. “There are lots of guys making a living doing it...I can’t book seven days a week because it’s been that way forever then two weeks before the season starts have it change.’’
Ambrose said he could live with whatever regulations are adopted so long as there is ample notice because he books trips a year in advance.
If the decision is to limit retention to three days a week, he suggested the days be Fridays through Sundays.
Guide Jack LaFond of The Dalles said sturgeon fishing in the upper end of Bonneville pool does not get good until warmer weather arrives.
He suggested splitting the pool at Hood River Bridge with a winter season in the lower pool and spring-summer season in the upper pool.
Mid-May to mid-July is best in the upper reservoir, he added.
Ambrose said the weather actually is better for fishing in January and February when the winds blows much less than in summer.
Because the pool has almost no current, if the wind is from the west at more than 5 miles per hour, anchored boats need to run their kicker motors in reverse to stay straight, he added.
Tony Nigro of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the pool could be split geographically with separate retention allocations or there could be two fishing time periods, one in winter and a second in late spring.
Biologist Olaf Langness of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said that spawning activity begins in May.
There are sturgeon spawning sanctuaries below Bonneville, John Day and McNary dams, but not downstream of The Dalles Dam.
State officials agreed to review catch distribution data to determine how the sturgeon harvest might be apportioned between the lower and upper parts of the reservoir.
Bonneville pool sport fishing rules will be discused at the joint state hearing scheduled Jan. 26 in Oregon City to adopt the lower Columbia spring chinook and lower Willamette sturgeon seasons.
State officials also will have catch data from the first three weeks of the Bonneville pool fishery at the time.