SW Washington Fishing: This year's winter steelhead season got off to a promising start just before Thanksgiving, when the first wave of fish started snapping up anglers' lures in several Columbia River tributaries. With decent river conditions, catch rates should continue to improve in the weeks ahead.
The first jag of winter steelhead was definitely on the bite, said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). So long as the rivers don't rise too high or fall too low, we could be looking at a darn good fishery this year.
Hymer recommends the Cowlitz, Lewis (including north and east fork), Kalama, Grays, Washougal and Elochoman rivers, along with Salmon Creek in Clark County and Abernathy Creek in Cowlitz County.
Anglers might also want to try Lower Rock Creek in Skamania County, which is open to fishing for hatchery steelhead until further notice. Last year, WDFW released 20,000 smolts there and first adults are expected to return during the 2014-15 winter season.
All streams have a two-fish daily limit, but anglers should check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet for other rules specific to each river. As with all steelhead fisheries in southwest Washington, only hatchery fish with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar may be retained. All wild steelhead must be released.
As basic preparation for a steelheading trip, Hymer recommends checking the Northwest River Forecast or other sources for river conditions before heading out. Most anglers do best when water levels are rising or dropping, Hymer said. It's a lot harder to catch steelhead in the peaks and troughs.
In deciding where to fish, it also helps to know how many smolts were planted in specific rivers and how many adult fish have returned to area hatcheries. Hymer recommends checking WDFWs steelhead smolt-planting schedule for 2013, along with hatchery returns posted on a weekly basis.
While winter steelhead are the main attraction right now, late-stock coho will continue to bite through December. As of mid-November, boat anglers were averaging one hatchery coho per day on the Cowlitz River, where returns to Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery through Nov. 17 have been on a record pace with 88,306 adults. The Klickitat River has also been producing strong coho catches.
State regulations allow anglers to catch and keep up to six adult coho salmon per day on the Cowlitz, Klickitat, Kalama, Lewis and Washougal rivers and on the lower portion of the Grays River. Only those fish with a clipped adipose fin may be retained, except in the Klickitat River where anglers can also keep unmarked coho.
For fall chinook, the North Fork Lewis should continue to produce catchable fish through December. Any chinook, adipose fin clipped or not, may be retained on the Lewis.
Hymer flagged several new fishing regulations that take effect on or around Dec. 1 on area rivers:
Grays River Fishing opens Dec. 1 for hatchery steelhead, hatchery coho, and adipose and/or ventral fin clipped chinook from the Hwy. 4 Bridge to the South Fork, and from the mouth of the West Fork Grays River to 300 yards below hatchery road bridge.
Green River, North Fork Toutle River, and mainstem Toutle River from mouth to the forks Nov. 30 is the last day to fish for hatchery steelhead and hatchery salmon in these waters.
South Fork Toutle River Nov. 30 is the last day to fish for hatchery steelhead from the 4100 Bridge upstream. The stretch from the mouth to the bridge remains open, with selective gear rules in effect beginning Dec.1.
Swift Reservoir Nov. 30 is the last day to fish for trout.
Cowlitz River Under permanent rules, Nov. 30 is the last day of the night closure and anti-snagging rule from Mill Creek to the barrier dam.
Mill Creek (tributary to Cowlitz River) Beginning Dec.1, the creek opens to fishing for hatchery steelhead from the mouth to the salmon hatchery road crossing culvert. Night closures and anti-snagging rules will be in effect for the one-month fishery.
North Fork Lewis River Starting Dec. 1, night closure and anti-snagging rules are lifted on the North Fork Lewis from Johnson Creek to Colvin Creek.
Wind River Nov. 30 is the last day of the catch and release game fish season above Shipherd Falls.
Klickitat River Starting Dec. 1, fishing closes for trout, hatchery steelhead and salmon, except for the salmon fishery from the Fisher Hill Bridge downstream which remains open through Jan. 31.
For something different, the whitefish season on the Klickitat River opens Dec. 1 from 400 feet above Fishway #5 upstream to the Yakama Reservation boundary. Whitefish gear rules will be in effect.
If Thanksgiving is about turkey, the next day is about trout. With the national holiday approaching, WDFW hatchery crews stocked 33 lakes including six in southwest Washington for the Black Friday trout-fishing event Nov. 28.
Thousands of rainbows weighing 1¼ pounds each will be waiting for anglers that day and the weeks ahead in Battleground Lake and Klineline Pond in Clark County; Kress Lake in Cowlitz County; Fort Borst Park Pond and South Lewis County Park Pond in Lewis County; and Rowland Lake in Klickitat County.
Those Black Friday fish should carry through December really well, said John Weinheimer, a WDFW fish biologist. He noted that additional fish will also be planted in Klineline Pond and Battleground Lake in December.