Anglers who attended a meeting on Washington’s salmon and steelhead fishing seasons Thursday at Walla Walla Community College in Clarkston convinced officials from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to allow spring chinook fishing near Clarkston this year.
Fisheries managers in the Columbia Basin are expecting only about 99,000 spring chinook bound for tributaries above Bonneville Dam to return this year. Washington officials predict that will mean anglers fishing on the Snake River in Washington will only be allowed to catch about 342 adult springers before the season must be closed. They estimate fishing is likely only going to be open for two to four days before the quota is met.
Because the harvest quota is so low, the department was set to allow fishing on the Snake only at Little Goose Dam.
“We don’t have a whole lot of butter to spread on the bread here,” said Chris Donley, fish program manager for the department. “With not many fish to give away in the Snake, our concept was to do it in one place where we have a lot of access.”
But anglers pushed back on that idea. They argued that allowing fishing only at Little Goose Dam will make for crowded conditions. They also noted the area doesn’t offer many opportunities to fish from boats and instead is a great place to fish from the bank. They said the opposite is true near Clarkston, where the fishery is dominated by boat anglers.
“I think to give it all to Little Goose is not the way to go,” said Toby Wyatt, a fishing outfitter from Clarkston. “Give one day to bankies down there and one day to the boats up here.”
Donley said the fishery is going to be short and crowded throughout the basin, but he committed to working on a proposal that would allow a Clarkston fishery. The season format is expected to be finalized by April 16.
Steelhead fishing isn’t quite as grim. Fisheries managers expect about 110,000 A-run steelhead to return above Bonneville Dam, but only 8,000 B-run steelhead. The low forecast for the bigger B-run fish is likely to lead to rolling steelhead fishing closures on the Columbia River and cold water tributaries such as Drano Lake, Wind River and the mouths of the Klickitat and Lewis rivers during the time that the B-run fish are progressing upriver.
B-run steelhead are bound mostly for the Clearwater Basin, with a smaller number returning to the South Fork of the Salmon and Middle Fork of the Salmon rivers, all in Idaho. But on their way upstream, the fish often detour into the mouths of Columbia River tributaries, where the water is much cooler.
The steelhead season on the Snake River between its mouth and Couse Creek in Washington will likely come with restrictions that allow anglers to only keep hatchery steelhead less than 28 inches long. The requirement is designed to allow B-run steelhead to escape the fishery.
The fall chinook fishery is expected to be similar to last year, open in mid-August and run through Oct. 31. There is a chance that anglers may be able to keep fall chinook that have not had their adipose fins clipped. To help protect wild fish, most hatchery salmon and steelhead in the Snake River basin have their adipose fins clipped. Anglers must release wild fish, identified by their intact adipose fins.
However, many of the hatchery fall chinook are not fin-clipped. Donley said if a joint fisheries management plan authored by the states of Idaho and Washington is approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the next few months, anglers might be able to keep fall chinook with intact adipose fins.
“We are pushing NOAA to get it done before the fall fishery,” he said.
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