Spring chinook seasons set for lower Columbia, Gorge

By Allen Thomas, Columbian outdoors reporter

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The fishing seasons were set on Wednesday, but the waiting continues — another six weeks or so — until a projected 308,000 spring chinook salmon enter the Columbia River and head upstream to an angling armada.

"The forecast is improved from last year and at this point it appears the river flow will be good for sport fishing in March and April,'' said Guy Norman, regional director the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Fishing already is open downstream of Interstate 5. On Wednesday, Washington and Oregon adopted a season of March 1 through April 7 from I-5 to Beacon Rock for boaters and upstream to Bonneville Dam for bank anglers.

The daily limit is two hatchery steelhead or one hatchery spring chinook and one hatchery steelhead.

Two Tuesdays — March 25 and April 1 — will be closed to allow for commercial fishing on the lower Columbia without a clash between the sport and net fleets.

The closure date is an estimate of when the catch allocation will be reached. Angling could end sooner or be extended.

Returns of 81,000 spring chinook to tributaries downstream of Bonneville Dam and 227,000 to waters upstream of the dam are forecast for 2014, biologist Robin Ehlke of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife told the Columbia River Compact on Wednesday.

Under the plethora of Endangered Species Act limitations, tribal/non-Indian catch sharing agreements, sport-commercial allocation policies and overharvest buffers, sportsmen get 10,157 upper Columbia spring chinook downstream of Bonneville, 1,354 between Bonneville and the Washington-Oregon line east of Umatilla, Ore., and 976 in the lower Snake and upper Columbia.

Commercial fishermen get 1,735 in the mainstem lower Columbia and 238 in the off-channel areas.

Overall, lower Columbia sportsmen are projected to catch 12,400 spring chinook when salmon headed for the Willamette, Lewis, Kalama, Cowlitz and Sandy rivers are added to the upper Columbia fish.

Catch numbers will change after the upper Columbia River run forecast is updated in early to mid-May.

The sport season between Bonneville Dam and the Washington-Oregon line will be March 16 through May 9. Spring chinook fishing is not allowed from a boat between Bonneville Dam and the Tower Island power lines, six miles downstream of The Dalles Dam.

The daily bag this year in the Columbia Gorge is the same as in the lower Columbia, only one fin-clipped spring chinook.

Ehlke said the one-chinook daily bag is expected to extend the Gorge season by a couple of days from the two-chinook limit.