SW Washington Fishing: This years fall chinook fishery opens Aug. 1 on the Columbia River amid huge expectations. Based on current projections, 1.5 million fall chinook salmon will return to the river in the next few months the highest number since at least 1938. Coho salmon are also expected to return in numbers well above the 10-year average.
All signs point to a spectacular salmon fishery in the Columbia River, said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Weve already seen the impact of these runs off the coast and theyre heading right this way.
Upriver brights, known for their hard-hitting ways, are expected to make up 973,300 of the fall chinook returning this year, Hymer said.
Although the opener for fall chinook will extend upriver as far as Priest Rapids Dam, most of the action during the first few weeks focuses on the popular Buoy 10 fishery in the lower 16 miles of the river. Fishery managers estimate that anglers will catch nearly 45,700 chinook salmon in those waters by the end of the day Sept. 1, when the Buoy 10 retention fishery for chinook is scheduled close for the remainder of September.
Anglers are also expected to catch 56,500 coho in that area by the time that fishery closes at the end of the year. To increase the harvest of hatchery fish, the daily limit will increase to 3 adult coho Sept. 2-30.
Through Labor Day, the daily catch limit for the Buoy 10 fishery is two salmon, two hatchery steelhead, or one of each. Only one of those salmon may be a chinook. Anglers can keep any legal-size chinook marked or unmarked through Aug. 29.
However, only chinook salmon with a clipped adipose or left ventral fin may be retained Aug. 30 through Sept.1. For steelhead and coho, only fish marked with a clipped adipose fin and a healed scar may be retained.
Bank anglers planning to fish near the mouth of the Columbia River should be aware they will need to purchase a Discover Pass to park on State Parks property near the North Jetty. The vehicle-access pass anglers receive with their fishing license only substitutes for a Discover Pass on WDFW lands.
Anglers are also advised that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to close access to the North Jetty in October for repairs.
But by mid-to-late August, the bulk of the chinook run usually begins to move upstream with increasing numbers of coho moving in behind them. There, anglers will find new rules approved by WDFW this year to increase opportunities to catch abundant chinook salmon starting Aug. 1:
Anglers may retain up to 2 adult chinook per day from the Warrior Rock line upriver to the Steamboat Landing Dock in Washougal. (See map)
The daily catch limit is increased to 3 adult fall chinook from the Steamboat Landing Dock in Washougal upstream to the Hwy. 395 Bridge in Pasco. (See map)
Each angler aboard a vessel may deploy recreational salmon/steelhead gear until the daily salmonid limit for all anglers aboard has been achieved while fishing from Buoy 10 upstream to the Oregon/Washington border, 17 miles upriver from McNary Dam.
Anglers will have an opportunity to catch a lot of nice fish in those areas if the fall chinook run even comes near to reaching projected levels, Hymer said.
For anglers following upriver brights upstream, Hymer recommends fishing deep, between 40 and 60 feet down. For a lure, he suggests wobblers anchored with a heavy weight.
Chinook go deep when water temperatures are high, so thats a good place to find them, Hymer said. At the same time, anglers should take care not to drop anchor in the shipping channel. That can lead to real trouble.
Hatchery coho are also expected to make a strong showing, after several years of sub-average returns. WDFW currently anticipates a return of about 638,300 coho this year half again as high as the 10-year average. Hymer said coho salmon usually bite best at Buoy 10 on herring and spinners, and later on bait and lures in the tributaries.
Hatchery steelhead will also be available to round out the catch, said Hymer, noting that the smaller A-run fish should keep biting through mid-August. By then, the larger B-run steelhead many weighing in the teens will start arriving to pick up the slack. Together, returns of both runs are expected to total 281,000 fish at Bonneville Dam, about 90 percent of the recent 10-year average.
The procession of fall chinook, coho and hatchery steelhead should also provide good fishing on area tributaries for months to come, Hymer said. Like the mainstem Columbia River, most tributaries open for fall chinook Aug. 1, although those fisheries usually dont take off until September. For steelhead, Drano Lake and the Wind River are popular spots to cast for migrating fish dipping into cooler waters.
The White Salmon River has historically been another productive dip-in fishery, but how the fish will respond after Condit Dam was breeched in late 2011 remains to be seen.
As in previous years, anglers will be allowed to retain up to six adult hatchery coho on all tributaries to the lower Columbia River with hatchery programs. Those rivers include the Cowlitz, Deep, Elochoman, Grays (including West Fork), Kalama, Klickitat, Lewis (including North Fork), Toutle (including Green and North Fork) and Washougal.
Unlike the mainstem Columbia River, chinook retention is limited to marked hatchery fish on those river systems, except on the Klickitat and Deep rivers where unmarked chinook can also be retained. Mark-selective fisheries also will be in effect on the Wind and White Salmon rivers.
Any fall chinook and coho may be retained at Drano Lake beginning Aug. 1 and any chinook on the North Fork Lewis River beginning in October. At Drano Lake and the Klickitat River, up to 3 adult fall chinook may be kept as part of the extended salmon and steelhead combined daily limits. Anglers are advised to check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet and any emergency rules applicable to specific waters before leaving home
Of course, salmon and steelhead arent the only fish available for harvest in August. Walleye fishing can be good in the Columbia River near Camas, as well as in The Dalles and John Day Pools. Bass fishing is also heating up from Bonneville Dam to McNary Dam.
For trout, the high lakes in the southern Cascades offer unparalleled fishing experiences for those willing to brave the mosquitoes. Wilderness areas south of Mount Rainier and around Mount Adams and Mount St. Helens are now accessible with the snowmelt. There are over a hundred lakes to explore with many different kinds of trout throughout these mountains.
A couple of drive-up lakes primed for fishing are Council and Takhlakh Lake on the northwest side of Mount Adams. Council was stocked June 24 with 3,317 rainbow catchable trout weighing almost a half-a-pound each. Takhlakh was also planted in late June with 3,325 catchables, along with 160 rainbows weighing almost 3.5 pounds each.