Anglers to get more room at mouth of Wind River

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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Anglers will get a larger bubble at the mouth of the Wind River to fish for spring chinook salmon in 2012.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife will move the white buoy line at the mouth of the Wind River about 100 yards south, farther out into the Bonneville pool of the Columbia.

Fishing at Wind River and Drano Lake is schedule to open on March 16.

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Wind River angling expansion

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Strong runs of spring chinook are forecast to enter the Columbia River destined for Wind River and Drano Lake. The lake is a large backwater of the Columbia at the mouth of the Little White Salmon River.

The forecast for the Wind River is 8,400 adults, while 9,500 are predicted headed for Drano Lake. A year ago, anglers caught about 4,600 spring chinook from the Wind River and 1,900 at Drano Lake.

Wind River is one of the most popular spring chinook sport fisheries in Washington. It is common to have 150 to 200 boats per day jammed between the state Highway 14 bridge and the white buoy line to the south that marks the boundary between Wind River and the Columbia.

"The area inside this boundary line is becoming increasingly shallow due to filling in with sediment from the Wind River,'' said John Weinheimer, district fish biologist based in Carson. "This makes it extremely hard to fish, with crowding the boats into extremely small areas that are fishable.''

Weinheimer said the public has been asking for years that the boundary be moved out.

But if the boundary is moved, the state needs to know how many chinook from upper Columbia stocks are caught.

To that end, the Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement Advisory Board has approved spending $33,300 for monitoring the catch at the Wind River and $27,500 for monitoring an expanded season at Drano Lake, six miles to the east.

The money comes from the $8.25 Columbia River endorsement paid by sportsmen who fish in the Columbia or its tributaries.

"This is exactly the type of action the sport angling public has requested to be funded using endorsement dollars,'' Weinheimer said.

It is expected to take a tugboat and small crane to load and move the buoys. Most of the $33,300 is to hire a technician for three months to sample anglers and a biologist for a month to oversee the field work and analyze the data.

The analysis will be done in real-time to estimate the catch and handling of non-Wind River chinook.

Weinheimer said the boundary line could be readjusted in-season if the monitoring shows a high catch of upper Columbia chinook.

Don Axton of Vancouver, a long-time Wind River angler, said he heartily supports moving the buoy line to open more room.

"The very top (east end) of the buoy line gets very shallow, and I have seen boats blown onto the shallow sandbar when the west wind blows while fighting fish,'' Axton said. "It creates a real challenge to turn around and head back down river as well. It would be nice to have more area for sure.''

Drano Lake — Several years ago, bank angling south of state Highway 14 was opened at Drano Lake.

Weinheimer said the new twist is that bank anglers are using boats to set their fishing gear farther out in the Columbia, significantly increasing the catch.

Like with Wind River, the state needs to know how much of the catch are chinook destined for Drano Lake, compared to salmon heading farther up the Columbia.

Weinheimer said if monitoring indicates the catch of upper Columbia fish is low, then the area outside Drano might be considered for fishing from boats.

The proposal also calls for leaving the area south of state Highway 14 open on Wednesdays, when Drano Lake is closed due to tribal fishing, and open after sport fishing in the Columbia closes.

Ed Wickersham, governmental relations chair for the Coastal Conservation Association in Washington, said both the Wind and Drano proposals appear money well spent.

"If for those dollars we can spread those fisheries out a little bit and maybe get a higher percentage of those fish, good deal,'' he said. "My reservation is they need to be diligent in their sampling to ensure we are not getting into those upriver stocks.''

Wickersham said if there are upper Columbia chinook caught in the expanded Wind and Drano fisheries, they need to count against the lower Columbia allocation.

Anglers east of the Cascades get only a "meager allocation'' of spring chinook from the mainstem Columbia River, he added.

Guy Norman, regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said upriver chinook will count against the allocation for the Bonnevillle, The Dalles and John Day pools.