Good fishing for spring chinook salmon has been drawing large numbers of anglers to the lower Columbia River in recent days.
Nearly 1,550 boats were counted March 29 downstream from Bonneville Dam during an aerial survey that also tallied 755 bank anglers on both sides of the river. In all, angler turnout was nearly twice as high as in the past two years on the same date.
A big part of the attraction is that catch rates for March were higher than in any year since 2002. Through March 31, anglers caught 4,400 chinook in the lower river, compared to 1,100 last year and 1,900 in 2006.
In a creel check conducted during the last full week of the month, 4,431 anglers reported catching 726 adult chinook and 10 steelhead below the dam. For boat anglers, that translated to one adult chinook kept or released for every 5.4 rods, compared to 12.5 rods in 2007, 5.6 rods in 2006, 17.1 rods in 2005, 6.4 rods in 2004, 7.1 rods in 2003 and 4.7 rods in 2002.
Bank anglers fishing below Bonneville Dam have been averaging one adult chinook for every 28.7 rods, about the same as in recent years.
"This fishery is definitely up and running, with catch rates running as high a chinook per boat in some areas," said WDFW fish biologist Joe Hymer. "The pre-season forecast called for a strong return of upriver chinook, and that's just what we're seeing on the fishing grounds." He noted that 88.5 percent of the fish sampled were identified as upriver stock.
As in past years, anglers may retain only hatchery chinook and steelhead, identified by a clipped adipose fin. All wild chinook and steelhead with an intact adipose fin must be released.
Hymer reminds anglers that Friday, April 4, is the last day to fish for spring chinook in waters downstream from the west power line towers on Hayden Island. From the west power lines upstream to Bonneville Dam, fishing will continue six days per week--closing from one hour after official sunset Mondays to one hour before official sunrise Wednesdays--through April 30. The limit is one hatchery chinook per day.
Above Bonneville Dam, chinook fishing was slow through the end of March, when only 173 fish had been counted moving through the fishways. But that is expected to change by today, April 10, if not before, Hymer said.
"Starting April 10, spills are planned at Bonneville Dam to help move juvenile salmon downriver," Hymer said. "Those spills should also spur more adult salmon to move upstream, and improve catch rates for bank anglers just below the dam."
Chinook fishing is currently open seven days per week on the Columbia River from Bonneville Dam upstream to McNary Dam, as well as on the Cowlitz, Kalama, Lewis, Wind and White Salmon rivers, plus Drano Lake. The limit for those waters is two adult hatchery chinook per day. Anglers should note that Drano Lake is scheduled to be closed to fishing Wednesdays as of April 9.
Another possibility is the Klickitat River, which opened April 2 for salmon and steelhead fishing on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays only. The daily limit is one hatchery salmon or one hatchery steelhead on the Klickitat from the Fisher Hill Bridge downstream. The fishery will likely be slow until more fish cross Bonneville Dam, Hymer said.
Hymer reminds anglers that the shoreline outside the mouth of Drano Lake will be open for bank fishing for the first time in 30 years. In all, this year's fishing regulations will open up 40 additional miles of bank fishing on the mainstem Columbia River from Bonneville Dam to the Tower Island power lines six miles below The Dalles Dam.
"I think the best bet will be at the mouth of Drano Lake," Hymer said. "Casting a plug or lure from shore is sure to produce fish." Anglers fishing the newly open bank are asked to follow three rules: Don't cross the highway, don't trespass over the railroad tracks and don't interfere with tribal fisheries.
Parking and access to the bank fishery at the mouth of Drano Lake will likely be best Wednesdays, when the rest of the lake is closed to recreational fishing, Hymer said.
Meanwhile, anglers have been catching some legal-size sturgeon in the Bonneville Pool, and the fishery is improving from Portland to Longview as the river warms. In the John Day Pool, sturgeon fishing is "catch and release only" through the end of the year, although anglers have been taking home some walleye.