Allen Thomas: Yes, there are coho in Vancouver Lake

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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I've been the outdoor writer here for more than three decades and thought -- arrogantly enough -- I knew almost everything about local salmon and steelhead fishing.

Then I learned recently there is a coho fishery in Vancouver Lake.

That's right. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife labels it as "excellent'' on its website.

When this excellent fishery was brought to my attention, I assumed it was a website mistake.

Uh, no.

"It's been going on forever,'' said Stacie Kelsey, who works in the inland fish program for the Department of Fish and Wildlife. "I've been here 17 years and I've seen adult coho every year. I didn't think it was a big deal.''

Kelsey does electroshocking on Vancouver Lake. She zaps up both adult and juvenile coho. Young coho like the east side of the lake, particularly around the mouth of Burnt Bridge Creek, as a nursery area.

The adult coho are 16 to 18 inches or larger, she said. Because she is concentrating on resident fish, she has never paid much attention to what percentage of the coho are fin clipped.

Kelsey speculated the coho enter Vancouver Lake via Lake River and exit out the flushing channel.

Most of the catch is from late August until early October.

Some coho are caught on lures, but they get taken on lots of other offerings include Power Bait, corn, and biscuit dough.

Kelsey said the Vancouver Lake Park and flushing channel inflow are two of the best coho fishing spots.

The coho are not recorded on a state catch-record card, she said. There's a simple reason: Vancouver Lake does not have a code number.

Washington's regulations pamphlet does not mention salmon fishing as open or closed in Vancouver Lake. The 2,300-acre lake is open year-round for trout with a 12-inch minimum-size limit and two-fish daily catch.

Technically, keeping coho in Vancouver Lake was illegal, said Pat Frazier, regional fish manager for Southwest Washington.

Waters listed in Washington's regulations pamphlet are closed to salmon fishing unless specified as open.

Frazier said the state has adopted a regulation to allow retention of coho with a clipped adipose fin in Vancouver Lake, consistent with the adjacent section of the Columbia River.

"In essence, we are going to apply Columbia River regulations to Vancouver Lake, including the flushing channel and Lake River,'' he said.

In that case, two adult coho could be kept per day, but they would have to be fin clipped and the catch record code would be 523 (Longview Bridge to I-5 Bridge).

Chinook also can be kept when chinook retention is allowed in the Columbia.

Allen Thomas covers hunting, fishing, hiking, camping and other outdoor recreation topics for The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4555 or at al.thomas@columbian.com. Follow him on Twitter at@col_outdoors.