SW Washington Fishing: Steelhead fishing is heating up on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers, kokanee are biting at Merwin Reservoir, and five area lakes are set to receive thousands of rainbow trout this month. Starting March 2, sturgeon fishing is limited to catch-and-release in the Bonneville Pool, but anglers can keep one legal-size fish per day in The Dalles and John Day pools until annual harvest guidelines have been met.
Even so, the main attraction this month is the spring chinook fishery in the lower Columbia River, the first major salmon fishery of 2015. Anglers have already reeled in several nice springers, but the real action begins later in March.
Based on pre-season projections, 312,600 adult spring chinook are expected to return to the big river this year, including 232,500 upriver fish bound for rivers and streams above Bonneville Dam. The forecast for upriver chinook is just shy of last years return of 242,600 upriver fish.
The stage is set for another great spring chinook fishery this year, said Ron Roler, Columbia River policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Not only is the run forecast well above average, but water conditions also appear to be favorable for the upcoming season.
Initial seasons set by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon are as follows:
Below Bonneville Dam: Open from March 1 through April 10 to boat and bank fishing from Buoy 10 upstream to Beacon Rock. Bank fishing will also be allowed from Beacon Rock upriver to the fishing boundary just below the dam. The sport fishery will be closed March 24, March 31, and April 7 (Tuesdays) to allow for potential commercial fisheries. The adult daily catch limit is two hatchery salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a chinook.
Above Bonneville Dam: Open daily from March 16 through May 6 to boat and bank anglers between the Tower Island powerlines (six miles below The Dalles Dam) 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 below the dam, the adult daily catch limit will be two hatchery salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a chinook.
Anglers are required to use barbless hooks in both areas, and release any salmon or steelhead not visibly marked as a hatchery fish by a clipped adipose fin.
Under this years initial catch guidelines, anglers fishing below the dam will be allowed to catch up to 11,500 spring chinook before an updated run forecast is released in late April or early May. Another 1,200 adult upriver chinook will be reserved for anglers fishing between Bonneville Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line.
To guard against overestimating this years run, the states will again manage the fisheries with a 30 percent buffer until the forecast is updated with information about actual returns.
Several tributaries will also be open to fishing for hatchery spring chinook salmon and hatchery steelhead in March. A strong return of 11,200 spring chinook is expected this year to the Cowlitz River, which is currently open with an adult daily catch limit of two hatchery salmon. Late stock winter hatchery steelhead have also been biting anglers hooks on the Cowlitz.
On the Kalama River, anglers can catch one adult hatchery salmon per day, along with hatchery steelhead. Returns of late stock winter hatchery steelhead have been good so far so good that the daily limit on the lower Kalama will increase to three fish starting March 1.
Wind River and Drano Lake open for salmon fishing March 16, with a daily limit two hatchery chinook, or two hatchery steelhead, or one of each.
In anticipation of low returns, the mainstem Lewis and North Fork Lewis rivers are closed to spring chinook fishing under an emergency rule, although both remain open to fishing for hatchery steelhead.
In addition, anglers should be aware that March 15 is the last day to fish for steelhead on Abernathy, Cedar (Clark Co.), Germany, Mill (Cowlitz Co.), Rock (Skamania Co.), and Salmon (Clark Co.) creeks and on the Coweeman, Elochoman, Grays, East Fork Lewis, South Fork Toutle, and Washougal rivers. Barbless hooks are required in all Washington Columbia River tributaries.
Meanwhile, thousands of catchable trout will be planted this month in Clark County lakes, including Klineline Pond, Battleground Lake and Lacamas Lake. Two lakes in Cowlitz County Sacajawea and Silver Lake will also receive plants of rainbow trout.
Walleye fishing has been good in The Dalles and John Day pools, and bass should start biting there and in Bonneville Pool as the water warms up.