OLYMPIA - Steelhead fisheries on the upper Columbia River will close one hour after sunset on Dec. 1 from Wells Dam to the Highway 173 bridge at Brewster and on the Wenatchee, Icicle, Entiat, and Methow rivers.
Several whitefish fisheries scheduled to open that day will also close an hour after sunset Dec. 1, including those on the Wenatchee and Entiat rivers, as well as on the Methow River downstream of the confluence with the Chewuch River in Winthrop.
Jeff Korth, Regional Fish Manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said the closures are necessary to keep impacts on wild steelhead within limits established under the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The closures will not, however, affect steelhead or whitefish seasons on the mainstem Columbia River from Rock Island Dam to Wells Dam, or from the Highway 173 Bridge in Brewster to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam. Those fisheries, plus steelhead and whitefish seasons on the Okanogan and Similkameen rivers, will remain open until further notice under previously published rules.
"This year's run is smaller than in recent years and contains a relatively high proportion of wild steelhead," Korth said. "Those factors, combined with steady angler effort, increased the rate of encounters with natural-origin fish in some fishing areas this year."
Although anglers must release any wild, unmarked steelhead they intercept in area fisheries, some of those fish do not survive and are counted toward ESA impact limits.
The federal permit authorizing the steelhead fisheries sets a maximum allowable mortality of natural-origin steelhead to accommodate variations in run strength and angling effort on specific waters. WDFW closely monitors the fisheries and enforces fishing rules to protect wild steelhead.
The primary reason the upper Columbia steelhead fisheries are permitted is to remove excess hatchery fish from spawning grounds, said Korth, noting that those fisheries provide popular recreational fishing opportunities and economic benefits for rural communities throughout the region.
Specific waters that will close to fishing for steelhead an hour after sunset Dec.1 include:
- Mainstem Columbia River: From Wells Dam to the Highway 173 bridge at Brewster.
- Wenatchee River: From the mouth to the Wenatchee River at the Icicle Road Bridge, including the Icicle River from the mouth to 500 feet downstream of the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery Barrier Dam.
- Entiat River: Upstream from the Alternate Highway 97 Bridge, near the mouth of the Entiat River to 800 feet downstream of the Entiat National Fish Hatchery.
- Methow River: From the mouth to the confluence with the Chewuch River in Winthrop.
Areas closing to whitefish angling an hour after sunset Dec. 1 include:
- Wenatchee River: From the mouth to the Highway 2 bridge at Leavenworth.
- Entiat River: Upstream from the Alternate Highway 97 Bridge, near the mouth of the Entiat River to Entiat Falls.
- Methow River: From Gold Creek to the confluence with the Chewuch River in Winthrop.
Areas that remain open to fishing for hatchery steelhead include:
- Mainstem Columbia River: From Rock Island Dam to the boundary markers below Wells Dam and from Highway 173 Bridge in Brewster to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam.
- Okanogan River: From the mouth upstream to the Highway 97 Bridge in Oroville.
- Similkameen River: From the mouth upstream to 400 feet below Enloe Dam.
When these fisheries are open, anglers must retain any legal hatchery steelhead, which can be identified by a clipped adipose fin, they catch until they reach their daily limit of two fish. Once anglers have retained two fish, they must stop fishing for steelhead.
Night closure and selective gear rules remain in effect for all areas where steelhead seasons remain open. Bait is allowed on the mainstem Columbia River.
All anglers must possess a valid Washington fishing license and a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement to participate in these fisheries. Revenue from the endorsement supports salmon or steelhead seasons in the Columbia River system, including fishery enforcement and monitoring. The endorsement has generated more than $1 million per year to maintain and increase fishing opportunities throughout the Columbia River Basin.