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 taking anglers' lures in several tributaries to the lower Columbia River. 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, Elochoman rivers, along with Salmon Creek in Clark County and Abernathy Creek in Cowlitz County. All have a two-fish daily limit, but anglers should check the Fishing in Washington rules pamphlet for additional 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. In the first case, Hymer recommends checking WDFWs smolt-planting schedule for 2012. WDFW also posts hatchery returns on a weekly basis.
While winter steelhead are the main attraction right now, late-stock coho will continue to bite through December. Most of those fish are too dark for consumption, but Hymer said some bright fish are still available. 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. Except in the Klickitat River, only those fish with a clipped adipose fin may be retained.
As Hymer sees it, the best bet for coho is the Cowlitz River, where more than 14,000 fish returned through the middle of November. 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 Dec. 1 on those and other rivers:
Grays River Opens to fishing for hatchery steelhead, hatchery coho and adipose and/or ventral fin clipped chinook from the Highway 4 Bridge to the South Fork. Also on Dec. 1, the open area on the West Fork expands from the hatchery intake/footbridge to the mouth that day.
Green River, North Fork Toutle River, and the mainstem Toutle from the mouth to the forks will all be closed to fishing for steelhead and salmon.
South Fork Toutle River Closes to fishing for steelhead from the 4100 Bridge upstream. Fishing remains open from the mouth to the bridge under selective gear rules.
North Fork Lewis River The night closure and anti-snagging rules are lifted from Johnson Creek to Colvin Creek. In addition, the area from Colvin Creek upstream to the overhead powerlines below Merwin Dam reopens for hatchery steelhead, chinook, and hatchery coho Dec. 16.
Cowlitz River from Mill Creek to the barrier dam Night closure and anti-snagging rules are lifted.
Mill Creek (tributary to Cowlitz River) Opens to fishing for hatchery steelhead under permanent rules. Night fishing closures and anti-snagging rules are in effect.
Klickitat River Closes to fishing for trout, hatchery steelhead and salmon, except for salmon fishing from the Fisher Hill Bridge downstream, which remains open through January. The night closure and anti-snagging rules remain in effect. The whitefish-only fishery opens from 400 feet upstream from #5 fishway upstream to the Yakama Reservation. Whitefish gear rules will be in effect.
Swift Reservoir Closes to fishing.
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. 29. Two-thousand rainbows weighing 1¼ pounds each will be waiting for anglers 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.