State fisheries managers from Washington and Oregon held a joint online meeting on Tuesday, and set the 2021 spring Chinook sport fishing seasons for the Columbia River and its tributaries. The projected run is not expected to be especially strong, and the season will be short because of that. However, the lower Columbia River will be open for Chinook retention this year, after two years of remaining closed to protect weak stocks.
Anglers were shut out of the Columbia River much of last spring when state managers closed it to fishing because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The river from the mouth to Bonneville Dam will be open from March 1 until April 4 with a daily limit of two hatchery adipose fin-clipped salmonids, only one of which may be a Chinook. The states will keep the river below Warrior Rock open during that entire time period.
Weak projected hatchery returns to the Lewis and Cowlitz Rivers the last two years forced managers to close the lower Columbia River to ensure that the hatcheries on the two Washington tributaries received enough returning Chinook to make their broodstock needs. Expectations for the Lewis River are high enough this year, at 2,400 adults, that Washington State will be able to offer an in-river spring Chinook fishery in the Lewis itself.
The Cowlitz River projected return of 1,800 adults is enough to allow a fishery in the lower main stem Columbia, but not strong enough to allow an in-river fishery in the Cowlitz itself. Also, there will be a sport fishing bubble closure in the Columbia at the mouth of the Cowlitz River. That bubble will include the entire Carroll’s Channel.
ODFW ocean salmon and Columbia River program manager Tucker Jones explained that the number of Cowlitz-bound fish that will be caught in the Columbia should be minimal.
“We expect that only about 30 adult spring Chinook headed to the Cowlitz will be caught during a main stem Columbia fishery,” said Jones, “and the run is big enough to absorb that loss.”
In 2020 the Lewis River was projected to get back 1,370 adults, and eventually saw a return of over 1,800. The Cowlitz was expected to see a return of 1,400, but only about 900 actually returned.
Overall, the lower Columbia River and its tributaries are expected to see a total return of 68,000 adults. The Columbia River above Bonneville Dam is expected to see a return of 75,200 adults, for a total spring Chinook return to the mouth of the Columbia River of 143,200.
Anglers are expected to harvest a little over 3,000 adult spring Chinook during the lower Columbia River fishery.
The lower Columbia returns this year are about 46 percent of the 10-year average, but the fact that the river below Warrior Rock will hold a fishery is huge. Lower river anglers, especially bank anglers that targeted lower river beaches, were frustrated with the closures, and will be happy to be fishing their home water again.
On the other hand, anglers above the Bonneville Dam were disappointed once again with their allotment of available fish. From Bonneville Dam to the Oregon/Washington border the season will run from March 16 to May 5, if the season stays open that long.
During the meeting several tribal fisheries managers complained about the number of fish being harvested in the lower river, and the effect of that on upper river fisheries. In recent years the upper river has been closed to spring Chinook early because of poor returns in-season after lower river angler harvest had already taken place.
With the Columbia open below Warrior Rock this year, anglers and guides are making plans to fish those sections again.
Guide Bill Monroe Jr of Bill Monroe outdoors said he will definitely be fishing the lower river this year.
“I’ll probably start down low somewhere, below the Longview Bridge toward that Cathlamet area,” he said. “I think that is going to be a good fishery this year.”
“I may fish the 62 marker and the Kalama zone. That whole area is pretty good fishing, and we haven’t been able to fish there for a while.”
Monroe did point out that the early closure of April 4 may mean that the popular and productive fishery up by the Multnomah Falls may not happen. That fishery usually does not get going until the second week of April or so.
His method of choice for the early fishery will be trolled bait coupled with triangle flashers such as the Fish Flash. Once the water temperature exceeds 50 degrees Fahrenheit, he may switch to using the 360 flashers with bait.
Once the Columbia River closes, Monroe will move over to the Willamette River, which is expected to remain open all spring. That river is projected to receive 50,050 hatchery adults, and the bag limit will be two hatchery Chinook or steelhead. Anglers may keep two Chinook a day.
Other fisheries on the Oregon side are expected to get decent returns, including the Sandy River, which should see a return of over 5,000 adults.
The Select Area sport fisheries seasons in both states will be conducted concurrently with the Columbia River when it is open, including the two fish limit with only one Chinook, but will revert to the permanent rules for the Select Areas when the Columbia is closed to spring Chinook. The Select Areas are expecting a return of a little over 6,000 adults.
Southwest Washington Fishing Report: Terry Otto’s fishing update and forecast can be found as part of Bob Rees’ “The Guides Forecast” at: https://www.theguidesforecast.com/
Guided trips: Bill Monroe Jr of Bill Monroe Outdoors, (503) 702-4028