Gorge anglers anticipate metro influx for Bonneville pool sturgeon

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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THE DALLES, Ore. — Columbia Gorge anglers say they expect to see an invasion from the Portland-Vancouver area come January when sturgeon retention opens in the Bonneville pool of the Columbia River.

That's because sturgeon retention will stay closed in the Columbia River downstream of Bonneville Dam in 2014, making the reservoir upstream of the dam the closest spot to the metropolitan area where a legal-size sturgeon can be kept for the table.

"I think the effort shift will be huge,'' said Jess Zerfing of Always Catching Guide Service of Cascade Locks at a public meeting here Tuesday with the Oregon and Washington departments of Fish and Wildlife.

Sturgeon retention is scheduled to reopen Jan. 1 in the Bonneville, The Dalles and John Day pools.

Washington and Oregon are projecting a 20 percent increase in angler effort in Bonneville pool, but admit that the figure is little more than a guess.

"We really won't know until we get there,'' said John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Herb Good of Hood River also said a 20 percent estimate of effort shift is too low.

"I just sit here and wonder how competent you are,'' Good said. "People want to fish that time of year.''

North said Bonneville pool is expected to have an annual catch quota of 1,100 sturgeon, with the harvest likely to be split about equally between fishing periods in January and mid-June.

Washington and Oregon floated three options for the season:

• Open daily Jan. 1 to 24 plus two or three days in June. This gets a projected 24 days of winter season.

• Open alternate weeks from Jan. 1 to Feb. 2 plus two or three days in June. This provides a projected 19 days of winter fishing.

• Open Thursdays through Saturdays in January plus two or three days in June. This season is projected to get 12 open winter days and the catch allocation filled by Jan. 25.

The Thursday-Saturday plan was panned by the anglers Tuesday night, with daily fishing through Jan. 24 appearing the favored choice.

Sturgeon fishing is best at the west end (Cascade Locks, Ore., to about Wind Mountain) of Bonneville pool in the winter and best at the east end around The Dalles in the summer.

While winter sturgeon catches can be slow, anglers in total can catch 200 or more a day in summer.

Guide Ken Schleicher of KD Guide Service of White Salmon said the June season is largely a bank fishery, as it is often too windy in June to fish from a boat in the Columbia Gorge.

Guide Josh Frederick of Big Fish Guide Service in Hood River said if the bite is on early in the west end of the Bonneville pool, and there is an effort shift from the metro area, the entire 1,100 sturgeon might be caught in a week.

Zerfing suggested eliminating the January portion of the Bonneville pool season.

"It's hard for a guide to get people to come out and go sturgeon fishing in the winter,'' he said.

Bonneville pool has an estimated 15,000 legal-size sturgeon. Population updates are completed every third year, said Brad James of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

North said the population of legal-size sturgeon in Bonneville pool appears to be increasing slowly although spawning success was poor in 2012 and 2013.

He said the winter season could be structured so sturgeon retention closes on a set date or when 550 fish are kept, whichever comes first.

A joint state hearing will scheduled in December to select the January fishing season for Bonneville pool.