SW Washington Fishing: April begins as catch rates for spring chinook salmon are picking up on the lower Columbia River and ends with the opening of some of the region's most popular trout-fishing lakes. The Dalles and John Day pools are also open for catch-and-keep sturgeon fishing this month until the catch reaches annual quotas for those waters.
High, turbid water swamped the start of this year's spring chinook fishery, but state fishery managers say there's still time to make up for lost time.
"We've seen this before," said Ron Roler, Columbia River policy coordinator for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). "Once conditions improve, catch rates can take off in a big hurry."
Joe Hymer, a WDFW fish biologist, blamed recent rains and the late snowpack for poor water conditions and lagging harvest levels, which totaled just over 100 chinook as of March 23. "The smelt die-off probably didn't help the bite either," he said.
But higher catch rates in areas such as the Multnomah Channel with better water conditions indicate spring chinook are moving into the lower Columbia River, even if they are later than usual, Hymer said.
"Fishing conditions have definitely been tough, but this is still just the beginning of the run," he said.
Hymer noted that fishery managers will continue to monitor the mainstem Columbia spring chinook sport fishery catches, and recommends that anglers check the WDFW website or Fishing Hotline (360-902-2500) for any updates.
Based on pre-season projections, 308,000 adult "springers" are expected to return to the big river this year, including 227,000 upriver fish bound for rivers and streams above Bonneville Dam. By comparison, just 123,100 upriver fish returned last year.
Initial seasons set by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon are as follows:
Below Bonneville Dam: Open through April 7 to boat and bank fishing from Buoy 10 upstream to Beacon Rock. Bank fishing is allowed from Beacon Rock upriver to the fishing boundary just below the dam. The sport fishery will be closed Tuesday, April 1 to allow for a potential commercial fishery. The adult daily catch limit is two adipose fin-clipped salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a chinook.
Above Bonneville Dam: Open daily through May 9 to boat and bank anglers between the Tower Island power lines and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles above McNary Dam. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the Tower Island powerlines during that time. As in the area below the dam, the daily catch limit is two adipose fin-clipped adult salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a chinook.
Barbless hooks are required in both areas, and anglers must release any salmon or steelhead not visibly marked as a hatchery fish by a clipped adipose fin.
Under this year's initial catch guidelines, anglers fishing below the dam are allowed to catch up to 12,400 spring chinook before an updated run forecast is released in late April or early May. Another 1,325 adult upriver chinook are reserved for anglers fishing between Bonneville Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line.
To guard against overestimating this year's run, the states are again managing the fisheries with a 30 percent buffer until the forecast is updated with information about actual returns.
Meanwhile, the Cowlitz River and Drano Lake are open to fishing for salmon and steelhead under rules described in the Fish Washington rules pamphlet, and more will be opening during the month. Anglers fishing the Cowlitz during the last week in March caught just one spring chinook, but took home 140 hatchery steelhead.
Other tributaries opening to fishing for salmon and steelhead this month include the:
Wind River, which opens April 1 under emergency rules for hatchery chinook salmon and hatchery steelhead from the Burlington Northern Railroad Bridge upstream to 400 feet below Shipherd Falls. Waters downriver from the bridge to the mouth opened to fishing for salmon and steelhead in mid-March.
Klickitat River, which opens April 2 for hatchery salmon and hatchery steelhead from the mouth to the Fisher Hill Bridge under the same rules and limits as last year.
Lower portion of the East Fork Lewis River and the lower portion of the Washougal River, which open April 16 for hatchery steelhead fishing under rules described in the Sport Fishing Rules pamphlet.
Additional rules are currently in place that require anglers to:
Release all chinook on the Kalama River from the mouth upstream to the upper hatchery (Kalama Falls Hatchery) until further notice. This area remains open for hatchery steelhead.
Release all chinook on the mainstem and North Fork Lewis River until further notice. In addition, the North Fork Lewis River is closed to all fishing from Johnson Creek located downstream from the Lewis River Salmon Hatchery upstream to Merwin Dam through May 31.
Rather catch sturgeon? Retention fishing is now closed from The Dalles Dam downstream, but anglers can still catch and keep one white sturgeon per day in The Dalles and John Day pools. Legal fish measure 43 inches to 54 inches, fork-length. Each fishery will end when its quota is met, so check the Emergency Rules website for updates before you head out.
Another option is trout fishing, which hits full throttle April 26 when several hundred lowland lakes throughout the state open for business. Although most lakes in southwest Washington are open year-round, "opening day" does mark the opening of such perennial favorites as Mineral Lake, Fort Borst Park Pond, Carlisle Lake, Davis Lake, and Plummer Lake in Lewis County; Kidney Lake in Skamania County; and the Rowland Lakes, Spearfish and Horsethief Lake in Klickitat County.
One change this year is that Swift Reservoir will not open until the first Saturday in June, as noted in the fishing pamphlet. The later opening is designed to protect downstream migrating salmon and steelhead smolts, which are part of an ongoing reintroduction program under re-licensing agreements with PacifiCorp.
In other waters, WDFW will continue to plant thousands of catchable trout in Clark County lakes, including Klineline Pond, Battleground Lake and Lacamas Lake. Three lakes in Cowlitz County Sacajawea, Kress, and Silver Lakes will also receive plants of rainbow trout, as will three lakes in Skamania County Icehouse, Little Ash, and Tunnel Lakes. Swift Power Canal will be planted prior to the opener on April 26.
To accommodate a fishing event for kids with special needs, Klineline Park in Vancouver will be closed to the general public from April 10-12
Anglers are reminded that all 2013-2014 Washington state fishing licenses expire at midnight March 31. To keep fishing, anglers 15 years of age and older must purchase a 2014-15 license. Licenses and permits are available online, by phone (1-866-246-9453) and from sporting goods stores and other retail license dealers around the state.