“There’s a lot of unknowns,” he said. “We don’t know how many people will come out; we don’t know how crowded it will be. These are the things we’ve talked over with (WDFW).”
The popular fishery tends to draw thousands of people to the river bank, and in past years dippers would stand in tight groups along the most popular and productive spots in what can be described as a carnival atmosphere.
“We have to weigh all those factors,” said Krager. “My perspective is public health, and keeping people from getting sick with Covid-19.”
Case rates within the county have been dropping, and that helped with the decision, but there are still serious concerns about the possible spread of the disease in local communities. That had to be balanced against the fact that these communities get a significant financial boost connected with these events.
Both departments want to stress the importance of the public taking the threat of the disease serious while engaging in this fishery. The fact that this is an outdoor activity makes it somewhat safer, but the close proximity of dippers to each other in past years sparks concerns.
“This fishery is very popular, and people come from all over to take part in it,” said Laura Heironimus, the Sturgeon, Smelt, Lamprey Unit Lead for the WDFW in a news release. “We want people to be able to get outdoors and enjoy this unique opportunity. But it’s extremely important that everyone wears a mask and gives each other space to comfortably and responsibly enjoy this fishery. There’s plenty of river for everyone.”
“Fish with people in your household, wear masks and stay six feet apart,” said Krager. “Maintaining that distance can go a long way, and if you are not feeling well stay home. It’s the same kind of message for any outdoor activity.”
Department officials will be out there, as well as law enforcement, to monitor the situation and make sure the rules of the fishery are followed. They will also be watching to see if the public responds well to health warnings. If participants do not follow the safety guidelines, it could jeopardize any opportunity for additional dipping days.
The section of the Cowlitz open to dipping is from the Highway 432 Bridge near the river’s mouth upstream to the Helensberg Memorial Boat Ramp approximately 1,300 upstream of the Highway 411/A Street Bridge in Castle Rock.
Each dip-netter is allowed to keep 10 pounds of smelt a day, with no more than one day’s limit in possession. One quarter of a five-gallon bucket is about 10 pounds of smelt. No fishing license is required during this fishery. Each participant must dip his or her own smelt, and must keep them in a separate container from other dippers. These containers must be in the dippers presence or be identified with the harvester’s name.
All dipping must take place from the banks, and no dipping from boats is allowed. The fishery will take place from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Columbia River smelt are also known as Eulachon, and were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2010. Managers must monitor the run to ensure there are enough fish to support a recreational fishery while staying within ESA limits. Commercial test fisheries are used to monitor the strength of the run.
Recreational fisheries are an important opportunity for the state to collect biological data and further assess the return.
Dippers are reminded to check the regulations before they fish, and make sure that they are following all the rules that apply. During the 2020 fishery law enforcement officers wrote a number of tickets for violations, including keeping more than the allowed limit.
Remember to observe the Covid-19 safety rules, not only to keep yourself and others safe, but to make sure that there can be additional recreational fisheries if the numbers of smelt allow for it.
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/