Columbia spring chinook fishing hot, closed beginning on Monday

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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Anglers will have caught almost 10,000 spring chinook salmon this week alone through Sunday prompting Washington and Oregon to close the lower Columbia River beginning on Monday.

State officials agreed Thursday that fishing will close, as scheduled, after Sunday. The sport fleet will have taken a projected 88 percent of its early-season allocation, largely in the final-week blitz.

Biologist John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said the catch rate on Wednesday exceeded a chinook per boat.

"It certainly has turned on significantly in the last week,'' said Steve Williams, an assistant administrator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

A big run of 314,200 spring chinook headed for upstream of Bonneville Dam is forecast to enter the Columbia River. Yet only 1,079 adult spring chinook have been counted at Bonneville Dam through Wednesday.

The commercials have taken 4,366 upper Columbia spring chinook in their two fishing periods and the sportsmen will have killed a projected 11,129 through Sunday.

Bruce Jim, representing the four Columbia River treaty tribes, who fish upstream of Bonneville Dam, said the tribes have caught about 25 salmon.

"This is really one-sided,'' Jim said. "It's really frustrating.''

North said sport catches are good through the lower Columbia. The states are anticipating there will be 2,000 boats a day on the river on Saturday and Sunday, but said it could swell to 3,000 per day.

Jim Wells of Astoria, a commercial fisherman, said he is hearing reports of "phenomenal fishing'' on the river from gillnetters who also sport fish.

Wells asked the states to consider an additional commercial fishing period. The commercials are at 74 percent of their early-season allocation.

Most sportsmen testifying at Thursday's joint state hearing agreed it is time to stop fishing next week to avoid exceeding allocation agreements.

"It's time to take a breather and see where the run is going to end up,'' said Larry Swanson of Vancouver, a member of the bi-state Columbia River Recreational Adviser Group.

Guy Norman, regional director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he is encouraged by the hot catches and is optimistic counts at Bonneville Dam will build soon.

Williams said he would have preferred a spring chinook season in the lower Columbia that had steadier catches over a longer period, compared to a derby in the final week.

Washington and Oregon officials will meet again at 2 p.m. April 30 to review the sport fishing upstream of Bonneville Dam. That season is schedule to be closed beginning May 3.

Chinook fishing will remain open Oregon's Willamette River, plus in the Cowlitz, Kalama, Lewis, Wind and Klickitat rivers of Southwest Washington, along with Drano Lake.