On Wednesday (Sept. 28), the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife opened a selective fishery for hatchery steelhead on the upper Columbia River above Rock Island Dam, and on the Wenatchee, Icicle, Entiat, Methow, and Okanogan rivers.
Salmon fishing also reopened Wednesday from Wells Dam to Brewster, and the Similkameen River will open to hatchery steelhead retention beginning Nov 1.
The steelhead fisheries will remain open until further notice, while the salmon fishery will run through Oct. 15.
Jeff Korth, regional WDFW fish manager, said approximately 18,000 adult steelhead are expected to return to the upper Columbia River this year – enough to allow the department to open area steelhead fisheries for the eighth straight season.
However, both wild and hatchery-reared fish are expected to return in significantly lower numbers than in the past two years, requiring additional constraints on those fisheries.
“Allowable impacts on wild steelhead will be tighter this year, so we may have to close earlier than in the past two seasons,” Korth said. Three areas of the Columbia River – Vernita, Priest Rapids and Wanapum – will not open at all for steelhead fishing this fall.
Steelhead fisheries are managed to protect naturally spawning steelhead listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. Korth said WDFW will closely monitor the fisheries and enforce fishing rules to protect wild steelhead.
The daily limit on all rivers is two hatchery steelhead, marked with a clipped adipose fin and measuring at least 20 inches in length. Any steelhead with an intact adipose fin must be released unharmed and must not be removed from the water. Anglers must also release any steelhead with one or more round holes punched in their tail fin.
Like last year, anglers must retain any legal hatchery steelhead they catch until they reach their daily limit of two fish. Once they have retained two fish, they must stop fishing for steelhead.
“These selective steelhead fisheries are specifically designed to help maintain a high proportion of wild steelhead on the spawning grounds and enhance recovery of the region’s wild steelhead,” Korth said. “Anglers can play an important role in that effort by removing hatchery fish above the number needed to meet spawning goals.”
Selective gear rules apply to all areas where steelhead seasons are open, except that bait may be used on the mainstem Columbia River.
In the chinook salmon fishery between Wells Dam and the Highway 173 Bridge in Brewster, anglers will have a six-fish daily limit, which can include up to three adult chinook, only one of which can be a wild fish. The salmon fishery has been closed since Aug. 31 to protect wild steelhead until managers were sure there would be sufficient numbers of steelhead to open the season.
Areas that opened to fishing for hatchery steelhead Sept. 28 include:
-- Mainstem Columbia River: From Rock Island Dam to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam. Night closure and selective gear rules apply, except bait is allowed.
-- Wenatchee River: From the mouth to the Icicle River Road Bridge, including the Icicle River from the mouth to 500 feet downstream of the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery Barrier Dam. Night closure and selective gear rules apply. Motorized vessels are not allowed.
-- 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 Hwy 153 Bridge. Night closure and selective gear rules apply.
-- Okanogan River: From the mouth upstream to the Highway 97 Bridge in Oroville. Night closure and selective gear rules apply.
On the Similkameen River, which opens for hatchery steelhead Nov. 1, the fishery will extend from the mouth of the river to 400 below Enloe Dam. Night closure and selective gear rules apply.