SW Washington Fishing: Winter steelhead are still the name of the game for many anglers in the lower Columbia River Basin, although several other fisheries are beginning to compete for their attention. Starting Jan. 1, sturgeon retention is allowed seven days a week from Bonneville Dam upstream to McNary Dam, and 45,000 freshly planted rainbow trout will be available this month in 14 lakes around the region.
The Cowlitz River is currently the best bet for steelhead, and several other area rivers are also producing fish, said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The Lewis, Kalama, Grays, Washougal, Elochoman rivers and Salmon Creek in Clark County can also make a steelheaders day in January, he said.
As usual, river conditions basically determine success at this time of year, Hymer said. Most anglers do best when water levels are rising or dropping. Its a lot harder to catch steelhead in the peaks and troughs.
The daily limit for steelhead on all area rivers is two marked, hatchery-reared fish. Any steelhead with an intact adipose fin must be released. Barbless hooks are required.
Anglers should also be aware that Dec. 31 is the last day to fish for steelhead in Mill Creek, a tributary of the Cowlitz River. It is also the last day to catch salmon in the Elochoman, Grays (including West Fork), Tilton and Washougal rivers, or on the mainstem Columbia from the I-5 Bridge upstream to the Hwy. 395 Bridge at Pasco. The same is true for salmon fishing on Drano and Mayfield lakes.
Starting Jan. 1, anglers may retain up to two hatchery adult chinook salmon per day on the mainstem Columbia downstream from the I-5 Bridge, and in the lower Cowlitz River and Deep River. On the Lewis and Kalama rivers, the daily limit is one hatchery adult chinook per day.
Although the popular spring chinook run isnt expected to begin in earnest until March, some often start catching early-arriving fish by late January or early February.
Its good to keep the chinook regulations in mind, even if youre fishing for steelhead, Hymer said. Somebody has to catch the first springer of the year, and it could be you.
Fishery managers recently released preliminary forecasts of Columbia River salmon returns for 2015, predicting an upriver run of 232,500 adult spring chinook. If that prediction is correct, the coming years springer returns will be similar to those in 2014, and the 6th largest since 1979.
As for summer chinook, the forecast of 73,000 fish is also virtually the same as last years actual return. However, the projected return of 394,000 sockeye salmon in 2015 is just over half of last years record run of 645,100 fish.
Rather catch sturgeon? Starting Jan. 1, retention fishing for white sturgeon opens seven days a week in the Bonneville Pool and its tributaries. Anglers can retain one white sturgeon measuring 38 inches to 54 inches long (fork length) per day. State fishery managers anticipate re-opening Bonneville Pool for a summer retention season during June 2015.
Anglers should be aware that a sturgeon research program may still be ongoing in Bonneville Pool in early January. Tribal fishers will be deploying gillnets in designated areas to collect and tag white sturgeon for multi-agency stock assessment work.
Anglers can also retain sturgeon starting Jan. 1 from The Dalles Dam upriver to McNary Dam, including adjoining tributaries. The daily catch limit is one white sturgeon measuring 43 inches to 54 inches (fork length) until harvest guidelines are reached.
Sturgeon fishing remains closed below Bonneville Dam, but catch-and-release fishing is open there and in areas open to retention fishing.
Another option is to head for a local lake and catch some trout. From December through January, WDFW expects to plant near 45,000 catchable sized rainbows in 14 lakes and reservoirs around the region. Those trout were raised at state hatcheries in Goldendale and Vancouver with the intent of providing winter fishing opportunities in the southwest region, said John Weinheimer, WDFW District 9 Fish Biologist.
We want to give area anglers a chance to get outdoors in the wintertime and catch some fish, Weinheimer said. All of these waters can be fished from shore, so you dont need a boat and a lot of gear to get in on the action. He suggests fishing mid-day, when the water warms up, the light is good, and the fish are on the bite.
Weather and road conditions allowing, WDFW plans to stock catchable-size rainbows in Fort Borst Park Pond (1,500) in Lewis County and Silver Lake (3,000), Sacajawea Lake (2,500), Horseshoe Lake (2,400) and Kress Lake (2,000) in Cowlitz County.
Lakes receiving catchable-size trout are Battleground Lake (8,500), Klineline Pond (8,500), and Lacamas Lake (8000) in Clark County; Icehouse Lake (1,000), Little Ash Lake (1,000), and Kidney Lake (1000) in Skamania County; and Rowland Lake (3,000), Spearfish Lake (2,000) and Maryhill Pond (500) in Klickitat County.
Weinheimer notes that some area lakes also have good numbers of triploid rainbows averaging 1.25 pounds each left over from the Black Friday opener in late November. Good bets include Fort Borst Park Pond, South Lewis County Park Pond, Kress Lake, Battleground Lake, Klineline Pond and Rowland Lake.