The first of several 2010 hatchery steelhead fisheries in central Washington got under way Sept. 4 with the opening of the Hanford Reach section of the Columbia River, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The Hanford opener was followed with the Wednesday opening of hatchery steelhead fisheries on the upper Columbia, Wenatchee, Entiat and Methow rivers. In addition, the Okanogan River will open to hatchery steelhead retention beginning Oct. 1, and the Similkameen River will open for hatchery steelhead fishing Nov. 1.
Anglers fishing the Hanford Reach section of the Columbia River -- from the Highway 395 Bridge at Pasco to Priest Rapids Dam -- will have a daily limit of two adipose fin-clipped hatchery steelhead.
Anglers fishing the upper Columbia, Wenatchee, Entiat, Methow, Okanogan and Similkameen rivers will have a daily limit of four adipose fin-clipped hatchery steelhead.
On all rivers, anglers may keep only hatchery steelhead measuring at least 20 inches in length. Steelhead with an intact adipose fin must be immediately released unharmed and must not be removed from the water.
Steelhead anglers must have a valid fishing license and possess a Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement.
Anglers will be required to retain any legal hatchery steelhead they catch until the daily limit is reached. After they have reached their daily limit, anglers must stop fishing for steelhead.
A strong run of wild and hatchery-produced steelhead returning to the upper Columbia River allowed WDFW to open the fisheries. Through Tuesday, 18,937 steelhead had been counted crossing over Priest Rapids Dam. That's nearly double the 10-year average through Sept. 7 of 11,055 but slightly below the 24,827 count through that date a year ago.
The final count last year, 40,093, was the highest ever on a record dating back to 1977, according to data compiled by the Fish Passage Center. The count so far this year is surpassed by only six other annual totals.
The Upper Columbia steelhead "designated population segment" is listed under the Endangered Species Act as threatened. The DPS includes all naturally spawned anadromous O. mykiss (steelhead) populations below natural and man-made impassable barriers in streams in the Columbia River Basin upstream from the Yakima River, Washington, to the U.S.-Canada border, as well six artificial propagation programs. The wild populations are shielded from "take" through limits on harvests.
The selective fisheries, which target returning hatchery fish that exceed the number needed for artificial production, were approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's NOAA Fisheries. The fisheries will not impede recovery of the region's wild steelhead, according to the federal agency.
Steelhead fisheries are carefully managed to assure that natural-origin steelhead returning to the upper Columbia River Basin survive to spawn. WDFW will closely monitor the fisheries and enforce fishing rules to ensure protection of wild steelhead.
The fishery will reduce the number of excess hatchery-origin steelhead and consequently increase the proportion of natural-origin steelhead on the spawning grounds. Higher proportions of naturally produced spawners are expected to improve genetic integrity and stock recruitment of upper Columbia River steelhead through perpetuation of steelhead stocks with the greatest natural-origin lineage, according to the agencies.
Fishing for hatchery steelhead opens Sept. 4 at:
-- Hanford Reach -- From the Highway 395 Bridge at Pasco to Priest Rapids Dam. The section of the river from the Highway 395 Bridge at Pasco to the old Hanford town site wooden powerlines is scheduled to remain open through March 31. The section of the river from the old Hanford town site wooden powerlines to Priest Rapids Dam is scheduled to remain open through Oct. 22.
Areas that will be open from Sept. 8 until further notice include:
-- Mainstem Columbia River -- From Priest Rapids Dam to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam. Night closure and selective gear rules apply, except bait is allowed. Floy tagged rainbow trout may be retained. There is no limit or minimum size on floy tagged rainbow trout.
-- Wenatchee River -- From the mouth to the Icicle River Road Bridge. Night closure and selective gear rules apply.
-- Entiat River -- Upstream from the Alternate Highway 97 Bridge near the mouth of the Entiat River to 800 feet downstream of the Entiat National Fish Hatchery outfall. Night closure and selective gear rules apply.
-- Methow River -- From the mouth to the confluence with the Chewuch River in Winthrop. Fishing from a floating device is prohibited from the second powerline crossing to the first Highway 153 Bridge. Night closure and selective gear rules apply.
Beginning Oct. 1, the Okanogan River, from the mouth upstream to the Highway 97 Bridge in Oroville, will open for hatchery steelhead. The Similkameen River, from the mouth to 400 below Enloe Dam, will open Nov. 1 for hatchery steelhead. A night closure and selective gear rules will be in effect on both rivers, which will be open until further notice.
For more information on the hatchery steelhead fisheries, check the fishing rule changes on WDFW's website at http://wdfw.wa.gov/fishing/regulations/ .