Guide Bill Monroe Jr was doing some serious juggling as he attempted to keep five anglers’ lines and gear working while trolling within a tight fleet of other boats.
We were fishing the Columbia River at the mouth of the White Salmon River, where a huge school of fall salmon were holding, and biting.
It seemed as if Monroe was conducting a symphony orchestra as he tried to keep everyone on their toes as the salmon continued to smash the baits. The hot bite kept us fighting fish, reeling in, and putting our gear back out while he threaded a path through heavy traffic.
Our planned trip to the Buoy 10 fishery underwent a forced change, following the state’s decision to close the Columbia River from the mouth to Bonneville Dam.
The river above the dam was all that was left for sport anglers and guides.
Luckily the bite was a hot one, and we had most of our limit before the bite died about 90 minutes after first light.
We finished out our limit by fishing the mouth of the Hood River.
Monroe was just happy to have a boat of clients, after most of them were unable to make the changes needed to fish the Gorge, instead of the estuary.
Like most anglers, he was not thrilled with the closure. He bemoaned the process and legalities that led to it.
Anglers were experiencing incredible Buoy 10 action and the best fishing in over a decade.
However, on Tuesday the states announced a partial reopening of the lower river. Including coho retention in the estuary. Still, these constant changes are difficult for guides to adjust to.
“Every year it’s the same thing; Tules, tules, tules,” said Monroe, referring to the wild lower Columbia River fall Chinook.
“There is a certain harvest rate that we can effect on certain stocks of fish that we are constrained with,” he continued. “Only hatchery fish were allowed until August 24, and that was working.”
However, on Aug. 25 the fishery began allowing harvest on unmarked fish, and that’s when things went south, and quick.
“From August 25 to 29 they had catches in the Buoy 10 zone that they have never seen before,” Monroe said. “It went from the average of about 2.1 (Chinook) per boat to 3.4. We have never seen that before.”
The fishery quickly went way over its mortality limit on wild tule stocks, and the states were forced to act.
Oregon and Washington must comply with the preseason forecasts. Even though it was obvious the run had been seriously under-forecast, the state’s hands were tied.
The decision was disastrous for the Astoria area businesses that rely on fishing dollars. Hotels, restaurants, convenience stores, guides, and fishing gear outlets went from boom to bust, and many of these rely on the Buoy 10 fishery dollars for their financial security.
These businesses may be able to make up some of the losses with the area opening for coho, but the highly prized Chinook are what draws the anglers.
Why is the fishery run this way? That’s what Monroe would like to know.
Monroe reports that he lost about 75 percent of his business when he had to move up to Hood River, and most of his clients could not pull that off.
“We all have to abide by the North of Falcon process,” said Monroe, “and that process is broken.”
Monroe was referring to the process that is used to plan the Northwest’s recreational and commercial salmon fisheries.
“The way they measure and forecast these tules to expectation, and then they are always wrong, and things are always getting shut down. It’s not working and we are paying the price. Astoria, Hammond, and other towns near the estuary are virtually ghost towns.”
Monroe plants the blame on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which he says is in charge of the North of Falcon process.
Ryan Lothrop, the WDFW Columbia River Fishery Manager, explained that the entire lower river had to be shut down, even though most of the wild tules were headed to the Lewis River.
“Lower river tules return to the Washougal River as well,” said Lothrop in an email, “and we have seen (wild tules) recovered in fisheries upstream of there, too.”
In an unexpected move, starting Thursday (Sept. 15), the states opened a small section of the lower Columbia from Reed Island to Bonneville Dam. This basically protects wild tules from the Washougal River downstream. The Buoy 10 zone also reopened to coho retention.
“There are no additional sport impacts available given they are over their allocation, so it would have to be with no expectations of impacts,” Lothrop said. “The later the better and further upstream the better.”
Anglers were chafing to have to sit by as a possible record run of salmon swam by, especially after the poor runs of recent years.
“This is the fifth or sixth year of an early shutdown,” Monroe said. “Surely there is a better way of doing things.”
“Right now, I don’t think the WDFW commission is pro-sport fishing. They are all about selling licenses, but don’t care about the fishing. Are there any recreational anglers on the WDFW commission? They are ruining the WDFW.”
The North of Falcon process is unlikely to be altered anytime soon, so Monroe and other anglers must adapt to these frequent changes. While he has obviously still found a way to get his clients fish above Bonneville, it was not at all like fishing Buoy 10.
Still, with the rule-making process where it is today, salmon anglers have little choice. At least, until the North of Falcon process is repaired.
Guided trips: Bill Monroe Jr of Bill Monroe Outdoors, 503-702-4028, https://billmonroeoutdoors.com/