OLYMPIA – Columbia River anglers will have four more days to catch hatchery-reared spring chinook salmon below Bonneville Dam, where tough fishing conditions have held this year’s catch below expected levels since late last month.
Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon agreed Thursday to extend the season through April 19 to give anglers more time to reach the initial harvest guideline set at the beginning of the season.
The additional four days of fishing will follow on the heels of an eight-day extension previously approved through April 15.
Cindy LeFleur, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said test fisheries have found relatively high concentrations of spring chinook salmon in the lower river, but water conditions have slowed their passage over Bonneville Dam and made them hard to catch with a hook and line.
“Anglers have been catching fish in some areas of the lower river, but turbid, high-water conditions have put a damper on overall catch rates,” LeFleur said. “Visibility underwater is about two feet, so the fish have a hard time seeing anglers’ lures.”
Through April 15, lower-river anglers are projected to have caught and kept a total of 5,900 spring chinook, including 4,600 upriver fish that count toward the 7,700-fish harvest guideline.
This year’s harvest guideline for the lower river fisheries is based on a projected return of 198,400 upriver fish, minus a 30 percent “buffer” to guard against overestimating the run. Based on the estimated catch through April 19, the fishery will close with a buffer of approximately 43 percent, said Guy Norman, WDFW southwest regional director.
“After this extension, we don’t anticipate making any changes in the season until more fish pass over the dam and we can update the run-size forecast,” Norman said. “We want to give lower-river anglers a chance to catch some more fish, but we also have to make sure we can meet our conservation objectives and our obligations to upriver fisheries.”
The fishery affected by the extension ranges from Buoy 10 upriver to Rooster Rock for boat and bank anglers, and to the fishing boundary below Bonneville Dam for bank anglers only. When the fishery is open, anglers can retain one marked, hatchery-reared adult chinook salmon as part of their daily limit.
Anglers may also retain shad and hatchery-reared steelhead when the spring chinook fishery is open. However, all wild salmon and steelhead not marked as a hatchery fish by a clipped adipose fin must be released unharmed.
The fishing extension does not affect the spring chinook season above Bonneville Dam, which will be reviewed at a joint-state hearing April 20. That fishery is open seven days a week through April 24 between the Tower Island powerlines below The Dalles Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam. Bank fishing is also allowed from Bonneville Dam upriver to the powerlines located about 6 miles below The Dalles Dam through April 24.
Anglers fishing above Bonneville Dam can retain up to two marked, hatchery-reared adult chinook salmon or hatchery steelhead as part of their daily limit.