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News / Sports / Outdoors

Slow spring picks up steam for Chinook

No additional days of Chinook finishing expected on Columbia

By Terry Otto, Columbian freelance outdoors writer
Published: March 30, 2024, 6:01am
3 Photos
Guide Austin Moser, (left), and Buzz Ramsey with a nice lower Columbia River spring Chinook. The season for spring Chinook retention on the Columbia will close after April 5.
Guide Austin Moser, (left), and Buzz Ramsey with a nice lower Columbia River spring Chinook. The season for spring Chinook retention on the Columbia will close after April 5. (Photo courtesy of Buzz Ramsey) (Photo courtesy of Buzz Ramsey) Photo Gallery

Spring Chinook fishing on the Columbia River will close after Friday, April 5, and although fishing has been very slow, there are signs that it will improve during the last days of the fishery.

Catches rates have been very low, although a few guides are doing OK.

However, even though anglers may not achieve the total harvest allowed them, it is unlikely that anglers will see any extra fishing days until the states update the run forecast in May.

The projected Columbia River return is expected to come in at 121,000 adults. That is below last year’s actual return of 141,000, and well below the 10-year average of 152,000.

Anglers have not had to face the awful fishing conditions that existed last year, when very high water in the Columbia made it downright unsafe to fish, even though the states did allow some extra fishing days. He warns anglers should not expect such luck this year.

“Conditions are good this year,” said Ryan Lothrop, the WDFW Columbia River fisheries manager. “That’s different from the last few years. I think we are set up better for the remaining week. I think it would take a scenario like last year when we were so far behind it was obvious we were not going to make it.”

Fishing Guide Bob Rees concurs. He notes that when the state allowed those extra days, conditions were terrible, as well as the fishing.

“I think it will fish pretty well through the fifth,” said Rees. “Those extra days last year were a colossal waste of time.”

While effort has been pretty high, most anglers are still striking out. However, that is typical of springer fishing in March. This year’s run is also not expected to be a good one, further exacerbating the poor showing so far.

However, fishing should improve in April.

“As usual its slow in March,” said Lothrop, “But we are starting to see a little catch around the Longview section and the Cathlamet area.”

“I don’t think we are off course,” he said. “We are on schedule as much as we can see early on. The catch should increase substantially every day until the closer.”

He said that the catches down low signal that the schools are on their way to other reaches further up the Columbia, and that the lower reaches should fish well until the closure.

Rees has also heard of a few strong catches near Tenasillahe Island and the Clifton Channel, with one report of a boat landing four spring Chinook in one day, including two keepable adipose-fin clipped hatchery adults.

All wild unclipped spring Chinook must be released unharmed.

Guide Bill Monroe Jr. reports that he has fished the section below Longview lately, and it has been slow. Still, a few fish are showing.

“Every day we are out there we are seeing maybe three or four springers caught,” said Monroe.

While Monroe prefers to troll for his fish, he noted that anglers fishing plugs on anchor have been doing as well as anybody.

He knows that the run is not expected to be strong one, and he also thinks the run timing has been getting later over the past decade.

“Every year we are trending later and later,” said Monroe, “it’s definitely happening.”

He explains that as the summers have gotten longer due to climate change, spring Chinook that arrive later are better able to survive until the fall spawning time.

Both guides will fish down low in the Columbia until the Columbia season ends, and both of them are going to be trolling herring behind triangle flashers. They report that the water temperature in the Columbia is still too cold for trolling spinners, or using the 360 Pro-Troll flashers. They also doubt the water will warm up enough for these techniques before the season closes.

However, Monroe did say the river is running about five degrees warmer than last year at this time, and that should improve the bite when the fish do come in.

“One April day can be really crazy if they show up,” he added.

After the closure both guides will move over into the Willamette River in Oregon, where over 48,000 spring Chinook adults are expected back. While most Southwest Washington tributaries will be open for spring Chinook this year, they will all allow only a single Chinook to be harvested per day.

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In the Willamette the limit is two adult Chinook per day, and anglers can use barbed hooks. Still, Monroe enjoys fishing the Columbia River whenever it is open.

“It’s nice to be out there on the big water,” he said.

The daily limit in the Columbia is two hatchery steelhead or Chinook, but only one can be a Chinook. All salmon and steelhead fishing in the Columbia requires the use of barbless hooks. Closures can happen quickly in this fishery, so anglers are reminded to check for changes to the regulations before fishing each day.

If there are closures the announcement can be found on the WDFW Emergency Rules Changes webpage: https://wdfw.wa.gov/about/regulations/rule-changes

Guides list

Bill Monroe Outdoors: 503-702-4028, https://billmonroeoutdoors.com/

Bob Rees’ Fishing Guide Service: 503-812-9036, https://www.theguidesforecast.com/bob-rees-fishing-guide-service/

Austin’s Northwest Adventures: Austin Moser, 509-669-3557, https://www.austinsnorthwestadventures.com/

Columbian freelance outdoors writer