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News / Sports / Outdoors

Columbia River spring Chinook season: Another tough year

Projections remain low on river as season set to open Sunday

By Terry Otto, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 26, 2020, 6:28pm
3 Photos
Buzz Ramsey of Yakima Bait attempts to net a spring Chinook on the Columbia River during a past season. For the second year in a row, spring Chinook seasons will be constrained by poor projected returns.
Buzz Ramsey of Yakima Bait attempts to net a spring Chinook on the Columbia River during a past season. For the second year in a row, spring Chinook seasons will be constrained by poor projected returns. (Terry Otto/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Spring Chinook seasons on the Columbia River will be constrained by poor projected returns for the second year in a row.

Anglers will once again be kept from fishing the lower Columbia below Warrior Rock, in order to protect poor expected returns of hatchery brood stock to the Cowlitz and Lewis Rivers.

Spring Chinook retention will be allowed seven days a week for boat and bank anglers on the Columbia River from Warrior Rock at the mouth of the Lewis River to Bonneville Dam from March 1 through 31, and open to bank angling to the Bonneville Dam deadline.

Anglers will be allowed to fish three days a week above Warrior Rock, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, starting April 2, and continuing until the upriver spring Chinook guideline is projected to be met.

The limit will be two hatchery salmonids, only one of which may be a Chinook.

This is a change from last year, when the fishery was held seven days a week until April 10.

“It will be open three days a week, and there is no set closure,” said Ryan Lothrop, the Columbia River Fishery Manager for the WDFW. “that gives us an extra few days to re-evaluate every week. I think that’s one benefit.”

A total of 135,800 spring Chinook are expected to enter the Columbia this year, which would be an improvement over last year’s actual return of 109,800 adults.

Poor river conditions kept anglers from getting their quota of the fish last year, and although the river did close on April 10, it was reopened repeatedly for spring Chinook retention to allow anglers another shot at the fish. However, conditions never improved, and the catch stayed poor.

While the three-day-a-week fishery should better allow anglers to take their share of the fish, it will mean the river will be extra busy when the fishery is open.

“Obviously we know that there will be effort shifted onto those three days,” Lothrop said. “They will be busier than normal.”

In addition to the short season on the Columbia, the Cowlitz and Lewis Rivers will close to Chinook retention on Sunday (March 1). Also, the daily limit on the Kalama River will be reduced from two Chinook to one.

Above Bonneville Dam spring Chinook fishing will be open from the Tower Island power lines, approximately six miles below The Dalles Dam, upstream to the Oregon-Washington state line from April 1 through May 5. Also, the Washington banks between Bonneville Dam and the Tower Island power lines will open to salmon fishing. The daily limit will be two hatchery salmonids per day, but only one may be a Chinook.

The expected harvest below Bonneville Dam is approximately 2,500 adult Chinook.

Lothrop said the states will be keeping an eye on the runs and harvest and may affect changes early if needed. There will be a two-state compact meeting on April 15 to assess the run.

Once again, poor ocean conditions are believed to be the reason for the poor returns.

The Willamette River will be open seven days a week with a limit of two hatchery Chinook or steelhead per day. There is an expected return of 40,800 spring Chinook adults to the Oregon river this year.

“If that run comes in as forecast, anglers might catch as many as 10,000 spring Chinook,” said Buzz Ramsey of Yakima Bait, who may turn to the Willamette if the Columbia fishes poorly.

Ramsey also said that last year’s hot spots, the Multnomah Channel, and the Davis Bar — just above Warrior Rock — should be the places to fish again.

“No doubt that the channel should be good, especially with the fact that those fish will not have not seen a lure until they get in there,” Ramsey added.

Oregon guide Bob Rees is wondering if this year will see another season of high-water conditions in the Columbia. If that is the case, he will forego trolling.

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“I have a history of good luck in high water years,” Rees said. “I’ll be anchoring in strategic locations and putting plugs out the back. That’s a comfortable way to fish in high water.”

A few spring Chinook have been taken already, with most coming from the Willamette.

The summer Chinook run for 2020 is expected to be about 39,400, which is an improvement over 2019, but is still low enough that if any fishery is allowed, it would be severely limited.

Sockeye numbers should be better this year, with 246,300 expected to return this summer. That would be a big increase from the 63,222 sockeye that returned to the Columbia in 2019.

Fall Chinook: An improved outlook

The states have released some forecasts for fall salmon, and the outlook for Chinook is a little better than last year.

A total of 431,000 fall Chinook are expected back to the Columbia this year, an improvement over the actual return last year of 375,700.

An expected return of 19,700 lower river wild fall Chinook stocks would be an increase over the actual return of 16,700 from last year. These wild stocks are often a constraining factor when the states set fall fishing seasons, which should be finalized during the North of Falcon Process this spring.

Coho projections are expected to be poor for 2020. Jack returns in 2019 were 50 percent below the 10-year average.

Anglers are reminded that barbless hooks are required when fishing the Columbia River for salmon.

Guide service

Bob Rees’ Oregon Fishing Guide Service: 503-812-9036

Columbian staff writer