Spring chinook forecast good for Wind, Drano

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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State biologists are forecasting good returns of spring chinook salmon this year to Wind River and Drano Lake, popular sport-fishing spots in the Columbia River Gorge.

The prediction is for 8,400 adult spring chinook to enter the Columbia destined for the Wind River and 9,500 headed to Drano Lake, a large backwater at the mouth of the Little White Salmon River.

While not records, the returns would be more than enough salmon to provide robust fishing success if weather and water conditions are favorable.

"I anticipate a fun year up there,'' said Steve Watrous of Vancouver, who fishes at Wind River 10 to 20 days a spring.

The forecast is for 2,100 spring chinook headed for the Klickitat River.

In 2011, the returns were 7,800 to the Wind, 12,200 to Drano and 1,400 to the Klickitat.

Carson National Fish Hatchery fuels the Wind River run, while Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery provides spring chinook for Drano. Carson needs 1,165 chinook back for spawning, while Little White Salmon needs 967, said Speros Doulos, manager of the four federal hatcheries in the Columbia Gorge.

Boaters jam the mouth of Wind River and Drano Lake in April and May. They troll with plugs, spinners and herring, often fighting the strong west winds, in a typically productive fishery.

In 2011, anglers caught 4,600 chinook at Wind River, 1,900 in Drano Lake and 200 in the Klickitat River.

About two-thirds of the catch in the Wind River comes from boaters and bank fishermen at the river's mouth, said Joe Hymer of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Most of the shoreline along the lower Wind is private property.

"There's pretty limited access to the lower river,'' Hymer said.

The catch at the mouth of Wind River also seems to be influenced by the timing of the run.

In years when the run is early, spring salmon tend to dawdle at the mouth of the Wind River and provide good action for anglers. In years when the run is later, the fish transit through the popular fishing area more quickly and head up into the river.

Tribal fishermen have built more than a dozen new scaffolds on Drano Lake in anticipation of the spring run. State and tribal officials will negotiate the sport and tribal regulations next month.

Sport rules are expected to be announced in February or early March for the mid-Columbia tributaries.