Spring chinook fishing in lower Columbia extended six days

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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Spring chinook anglers in the lower Columbia River are getting an additional six days of fishing.

Washington and Oregon agreed to extend the season though April 12, except closed on Tuesday to allow for gillnetting. Sport fishing was scheduled to be closed beginning Saturday.

Biologist Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife said the harvest through Friday is projected to be 32 percent of the sport allocation.

Through April 12, the sport fleet is projected to catch 75 percent of its allocation.

A run of 141,400 spring chinook is forecast to enter the Columbia River headed for upstream of Bonneville Dam. Another 67,600 are predicted to return to the Willamette and other lower Columbia tributaries.

Under the plethora of state, federal and tribal management agreements, sportsmen in the lower Columbia are allocated 4,900 of those upper Columbia chinook before mid-May.

Elhke said 1,572 of those 4,900 are projected to be caught through Friday and 3,652 chinook through April 12.

State biologists project 24,000 fishing trips between April 6-12 with a total catch of 2,560 chinook of which 2,080 will be upper Columbia-Snake salmon.

Ehlke said the high number of smelt in the lower Columbia might have contributed to low catch rates in March.

Biologist Jimmy Watts said there was an excellent check of five boats with nine chinook at Cathlamet on Wednesday morning. Checks at Beaver, Troutdale and other Oregon ramps on Wednesday morning were 51 boats with seven chinook.

Pete Hassemer of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game suggested a couple of closed days next week to lessen the harvest on the earliest-returning spring chinook, which largely are headed to Idaho.

Mike Bireley of the Tri-State Steelheaders urged sport fishing in the lower Columbia be limited to three days per week until 10 percent of the projected upper Columbia-Snake run has crossed Bonneville Dam.

Guy Norman, regional director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, cautioned that sport catches can skyrocket in April if the fish arrive.

"River conditions are very good for catching spring chinook salmon,'' Norman said. "I want to be sure we're on top of this.''

Washington and Oregon officials mentioned a possible meeting on April 10 to review sport catches from the lower Columbia. Norman said he also wants the states to track the catch and be ready by Monday or Tuesday if an early closure is warranted.

State officials will meet at 2 p.m. Monday to consider commercial fishing on Tuesday in the lower Columbia.