Lower Columbia spring chinook fishing projected to stay open through April 7

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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Washington and Oregon officials will adopt on Wednesday spring chinook salmon fishing rules for the lower Columbia River, likely setting a season open through April 7.

The meeting begins at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Clark Regional Wastewater District, 8000 N.E. 52nd Court.

Exceptional table fare, spring chinook are the glamor fish of the Columbia River. On average, it takes eight to 10 trips per fish, yet anglers jam the boat ramps for the chance to catch one. The run peaks in April, yet the fishing frenzy starts by late February.

A good spring chinook season sparks good sales all year for the tackle, bait and boat industries.

The bistate Columbia River Recreational Advisor Group last week unanimously recommended the Washington and Oregon departments of Fish and Wildlife allow boat and bank angling daily downstream of Beacon Rock and bank-fishing-only between Beacon Rock and Bonneville Dam.

Fishing is open now downstream of Interstate 5 and is expected to open March 1 upstream of the bridge.

Jeff Whisler of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said a total of 308,000 adult spring chinook are forecast to enter the Columbia River in 2014. That includes 81,000 headed for waters downstream of Bonneville Dam and 227,000 for tributaries upstream of the dam.

The upper Columbia number is considerably better than the forecast of 141,400 in 2013. The number of upper Columbia fish is what determines catch levels, primarily.

Under the plethora of buffers, guidelines, allocations and catch-sharing agreements, there are total of 14,460 upper Columbia spring chinook available to non-Indians prior to a forecast update in May.

Initially, sportsmen get 12,491 overall for the lower Columbia, mid-Columbia and lower Snake rivers with 10,157 spring chinook downstream of Bonneville Dam, Whisler said.

A season ending April 7 is projected to generate 106,000 angler trips and use 10,016 of the upper Columbia allotment of 10,157. Overall kept catch of spring chinook is projected to be 12,436 when lower Columbia chinook are included.

In 2013, the season was scheduled to close on April 5, but was extended to April 12 due to a slower-than-expected catch.

Whisler said March 25 and April 1 are Tuesdays that likely will be closed to allow the gillnet fleet to fish in the lower Columbia. Initially, the commercials get to harvest 1,731 upper Columbia spring chinook in the main river, plus 238 in off-channel areas.

Whisler said the models assume a low and clear Columbia River this season, which results in a good sport catch-per-time-fishing.

Kevin Kuhel of Milwaukie, Ore., an advisory committee member, asked if delaying the start of fishing until mid-March would buy more time in April.

“We waste our time out there in March,’’ Kuhel said. “I want to fish when there’s fish.’’

Whisler said an average of 120 upper Columbia spring chinook get caught per day in March, compared to an average of 1,000 per day in April.

Sacrificing the entire month of March would gain only three or four more days in April, he said.

Harry Barber of Washougal, a committee member, said fishing also has a social aspect and angling in March still can provide a quality time out with friends.

Committee member Jim Bridwell of Portland said giving up March for three more days of fishing in the crowded conditions of April is not worth it.