The mainstem Columbia River is starting to get busy with late season upriver runs of chinook and coho salmon beginning to build, and the fortunes of both anglers and gill-netters improving as well.
The catch and fishing pressure in the lower Columbia (from Bonneville Dam 146 river miles down to the mouth) has grown steadily and more growth is expected. Daily counts of upriver fall chinook passing over Bonneville had slowly ticked up from 100 fish on Aug. 1 to 6,830 on Wednesday.
By the end of August a total of 57,688 upriver fall chinook had passed over Bonneville. Fishery managers have predicted 399,600 adult “upriver brights” will make it back to the mouth of the river on their way to the mid-Columbia’s Hanford Reach, the Snake River and elsewhere.
A total of 12,213 coho salmon had been counted at Bonneville through Wednesday with a tally of 2,848 that day. Coho counts are also beginning to rise.
The so called Buoy 10 (from the buoy at the river mouth about 18 miles upstream to Tongue Point) fall chinook fishery ended Sunday with a total kept catch 10,521 by anglers, who released 2,193 of the big fish. During the first week of August only 54 fall chinook were caught; 5,500 were caught during that last week of August.
Anglers the Buoy 10 area also caught and kept 3,338 coho and released 5,723. The Buoy 10 area remains open to retention of fin-clipped coho and steelhead.
Anglers logged more than 36,000 trips to Buoy 10 Aug. 1-28.
The mainstem sport fishery from Tongue Point yielded a kept catch of 4,880 fall chinook, 13,041 steelhead and 197 coho Aug. 1-28. Again, the catch grew bigger with each succeeding week as more chinook arrived from the Pacific Ocean. There were 66,889 angler trips recorded in that so-called lower river fishery.
Preseason expectations are for a sport catch of 20,730 fall chinook and 1,000 coho in that fishery, which remains open.
September is prime time for salmon fishing in the Columbia River Basin, as large numbers of fish move upriver and into tributaries on both sides of Bonneville Dam, said Joe Hymer, a fish biologist for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“Prospects are good for salmon fishing this month, but it's important to remember these fish are on the move,” Hymer said. “As the month goes on, successful anglers will follow the fish upriver and into the tributaries.”
The retention fishery for chinook salmon ended Aug. 28 at Buoy 10, but hatchery coho should remain strong below Rocky Point throughout the month. Even so, the prospect of catching a hefty chinook salmon is drawing most anglers farther upstream.
Through Sept. 9, anglers can keep one adult chinook per day as part of their limit from Rocky Point upriver to Bonneville Dam. Anglers fishing those waters have a daily limit of six fish, including two adult salmon (chinook or hatchery coho) or hatchery steehead, or one of each. That six-fish bag limit would include jacks, young salmon that return to freshwater after only one year in the ocean.
Beginning Sept. 10, chinook retention will close from the Lewis River downstream but increase to a maximum of two adult chinook per day upriver to Bonneville Dam. The Lewis pours into the Columbia at Woodland, Wash.
Starting Oct. 1, when most protected wild tule fall chinook have passed up into tributaries, the stretch of the Columbia River below the Lewis River will also open to retention of two adult chinook per day.
“Anglers targeting chinook do best in fairly deep water – 40 to 50 feet down,” Hymer said. “Some of the best fishing for both salmon and steelhead will be at the mouth of tributaries, where the fish hold up before heading upstream.”
As the month progresses, salmon fishing will heat up farther upstream in the tributaries, Hymer said. He reminds anglers of several new rules that will be in effect on various rivers this season.
In August outings in fishing zones below Bonneville the non-Indian commercial fleet hauled in 25,338 chinook and 1,746 coho and 1,251 sturgeon.
Gill-netters also hauled in 6,782 chinook and 2,336 coho so far during the late summer-fall season in the Youngs Bay select area. Youngs Bay near Astoria is an area where young hatchery fish receive their final rearing so they return there as adults to provide fodder for commercial and sport fishery. Such off channel sites are intend to provide fisheries in areas where few wild fish roam.
In their first week, Aug. 22-25, of commercial fishing during the fall season the Nez Perce, Umatilla, Warm Springs and Yakama tribes 3,961 chinook, 1,867 steelhead and 1,060 coho in mainstem reservoirs above Bonneville. Additional set net fisheries were scheduled for this week and next.