SW Washington Fishing: As this years banner fall chinook season winds down, area anglers are turning their attention to winter steelhead fishing. Thanksgiving Day traditionally marks the start of the popular fishery, but some anglers start working their favorite rivers well ahead of time.
Catch totals usually start to ramp up as area rivers swell with rainwater, said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Steelhead move upriver on pulses of water, he said. Once the sky opens up, well see more fish on the move.
One caveat is that anglers fishing the tributaries must keep the first three hatchery steelhead they catch; catch-and-release fishing is not allowed. In all waters, only hatchery-reared steelhead with a clipped adipose fin may be retained. All wild, unmarked steelhead must be released unharmed.
Major destinations for hatchery-reared steelhead include the Cowlitz, Kalama, Lewis (east and north forks), Washougal, Elochoman and Grays rivers, along with Salmon Creek in Clark County, and Rock Creek in Skamania County.
Starting Nov. 1, several other rivers and creeks open for steelhead fishing, including Abernathy, Coal, Germany and Mill creeks and the Coweeman River in Cowlitz County, and Cedar Creek in Clark County. As with the others, anglers fishing those waters can keep three hatchery fish per day.
WDFWs Hatchery Escapement Reports can provide a good indication of the number of fish returning to each river. Based on the early summer run, we might have a few less winter steelhead this year, but well know a lot more once they start moving into the rivers, Hymer said.
Unfortunately, the news on coho salmon is already in and its not good. With the early run mostly through, counts at Bonneville Dam and catch levels in the lower river were both less than half the number previously expected, said Cindy LeFleur, WDFW regional fish manager.
The late run is just getting started, but were seeing the same trend, LeFleur said. Were not ready to close the fishery completely for coho, but we do believe a more conservative approach is in order.
In response, WDFW issued an emergency regulation effective Nov. 1 that reduces the daily catch limit to one hatchery adult coho salmon per day on the Deep, Grays, Elochoman, Cowlitz, Toutle, Green, Tilton, Cispus, Kalama, Lewis, and Washougal rivers. The same is true at the Mayfield and Scanewa lakes (reservoirs).
Also that day, the Wind River and the stretch of the Columbia River from Beacon Rock to Bonneville Dam closes for all salmon fishing, as reflected in the rule pamphlet.
However, anglers can still catch chinook salmon, coho, and hatchery steelhead from Buoy 10 to Beacon Rock. Chinook catches are still going strong from the Cowlitz River upstream.
The fishery also continues apace above the dam to the Hwy. 395 Bridge in Pasco. Anglers fishing those waters may retain up to three adult salmonids, of which no more than two may be coho, hatchery steelhead, or one of each.
Given current projections, anglers shouldnt expect much for late stock coho at the mouths of the Bonneville Pool tributaries this year, Hymer said.
Even so, Hymer notes that 1.3 million chinook salmon spring, summer, and fall fish crossed Bonneville Dam this year. That breaks last years record of 1.2 million chinook.
Salmon runs always have peaks and valleys, but this has been quite a year, he said. Weve run the gamut from record chinook and sockeye runs to a disappointing coho return in a single season.
Hatchery crews will be stocking six lakes in southwest Washington with thousands of large rainbow trout in preparation for WDFWs fifth annual Black Friday fishing event on the day after Thanksgiving. Area lakes receiving fish mostly 12-17 inches with some in the 3-5 pound range include Fort Borst Pond, South Lewis County Park Pond, Kress Lake, Klineline Pond, Battleground Lake and Rowland Lake. These lakes will be closed November 23-26 and reopening on Nov. 27.
In addition, Goose Lake in Skamania County was stocked in September with over 2,000 large coastal cutthroat in September with fish averaging almost a pound apiece and should provide good fishing in the weeks to come. In addition several hundred large catchable rainbows were also planted.