Catherine Creek, a tributary to the Grande Ronde River in the northeast corner of Oregon, will open to fishing for hatchery spring chinook salmon Saturday, the first such opening in 34 years.
The open area is from the Miller Lane Bridge below Union upstream to the Highway 203 Bridge upstream of Catherine Creek State Park. The fishery will remain open until the harvest quota is reached, which is anticipated to be early July.
Biologists from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will monitor the harvest on a weekly basis.
“This is the first time a spring chinook fishery has been opened on Catherine Creek since 1978,” said Tim Bailey, ODFW district fish biologist in La Grande. “This year’s fishing opportunity is due largely to a successful hatchery program and ongoing habitat improvements in the Catherine Creek Watershed. This year’s run is expected to be around 1,000 fish, the majority being hatchery fish.”
A run-size estimate produced this week, based in part on PIT-tagged fish identified as passing by the lower Columbia River’s Bonneville Dam on their way upriver, projects that 744 Catherine Creek hatchery fish, and 455 naturally produced fish, are on their way. Catherine Creek flows out of northeast Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains and into the Grande Ronde between La Grande and Cove. The Grande Ronde funnels into the lower Snake River above Lower Granite, the eighth hydro project the fish encounter on their spawning journey up the Columbia and Snake.
“That’s about half of what we predicted in preseason,” Bailey said of the wild fish component, “but still enough to open up a fishery.” Unclipped fish, most of which are of wild origin, must be released by anglers unharmed but estimated post-release mortalities are counted again impact limits imposed to protect wild fish listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The wild fish, and hatchery salmon, are part of Snake River spring/summer chinook “evolutionarily significant unit” first listed by NOAA Fisheries in 1992. Likewise fish returning to nearby Imnaha River are part of the Snake River ESU. The Imnaha flows out of the Wallowa Mountains and into the Snake upstream of the Grande Ronde confluence.
This year’s Snake River basin return numbers are starting to build. Through Wednesday a total of 36,689 adult spring chinook salmon had been counted passing over the lower Snake River’s Lower Granite Dam. That compares to a 10-year average, in a particularly robust decade, that through that date has totaled 33,688.
The peak count so far this year is 8,425 on May 19, with counts generally declining since. The count Wednesday was 3,727 according to the University of Washington’s DART Columbia River data base. Much of the adult passage data is derived from Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife dam counts disseminated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the dams.
Recent daily counts at Lower Granite have been well above the 10-year average, reflecting what has been judged by federal, state and tribal officials to be a late-arriving spring chinook run. Bailey said that the Catherine Creek fish typically have a run timing that overall is a bit earlier than other spawners returning to the Snake River basin.
Catherine Creek stocks have been used as donor stock for the reintroduction of spring chinook stock in nearby Lookingglass Creek, where a fishery will also open Saturday.
Anglers may retain two adipose fin-clipped hatchery chinook adults and five adipose fin-clipped jacks per day, with two daily limits in possession. Jack salmon are less than 24 inches in length. Anglers do not need to record jack catch on their combined angling tags, but it is illegal to continue fishing for jack chinook once the adult bag limit is met.
Private lands border Catherine Creek through much of the fishery open area. Anglers are reminded to ask first before entering private land. The catch will also likely be held down because the fishing area is relatively hard to access, Bailey said.
Lookingglass Creek, a tributary to the Grande Ronde River at Palmer Junction, will be open from the Moses Creek Lane Bridge (County Road 42) upstream to the confluence of Jarboe Creek. The fishery will remain open until the harvest quota is reached, anticipated to be early July. Biologists from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will monitor the harvest on a weekly basis.
“As in 2011, another good run is predicted for Lookingglass Creek,” Bailey said. “This year’s fishing opportunity is due largely to a revamped hatchery program for Lookingglass Creek that should provide more consistent fishing opportunities in the future. This year’s run is expected to be around 1,705 fish, with the majority being hatchery fish. No wild fish return estimates have been made for Lookingglass Creek.
The Catherine Creek return estimate is pretty solid because about 20,000 juveniles there are outfitted with the “passive integrated responder” tags that flag their existence as they pass signal receivers at mainstem Columbia and Snake hydro projects when some portion of them return as adults to spawn.
“We can count them as they come up through the system,” Bailey said, and extrapolate the run size. The Lookingglass tagging ratio is lesser so there is less confidence is those in-season run estimates.
Anglers may retain two adipose fin-clipped chinook adults and five adipose fin-clipped jacks per day in Lookingglass, with two daily limits in possession. Jack salmon are less than 24 inches in length. Anglers do not need to record jack catch on their combined angling tags, but it is illegal to continue fishing for jack chinook once the adult bag limit is met. Unmarked (wild) fish must be released carefully and unharmed.
As with the trout fishery that opens on Lookingglass Creek on May 26, anglers are restricted to artificial flies and lures while fishing for salmon -- no bait allowed.
"There are bull trout in Lookingglass Creek, and bait fishing could pose a threat to them, so all angling is restricted to artificial flies and lures in the creek," Bailey said.
Private timberlands owned by Forest Capital and open to public access border the area open to sport fishing. Anglers are reminded to respect private property by picking up trash when leaving.
The Imnaha and Wallowa rivers in northeast Oregon will open to hatchery spring chinook fishing Saturday, June 9.
The Imnaha River will be open from the mouth upstream 45 miles to Summit Creek Bridge. The Wallowa River will be open from the deadline at the lower end of Minam State Park upstream to the mouth of the Lostine River. Both fisheries will be open until further notice.
Anglers may retain two adipose fin-clipped spring chinook adults and five adipose fin-clipped jacks per day, with two daily jack limits in possession. Chinook jacks are salmon between 15 and 24 inches in length.
Private lands border much of the area open to sport fishing, and anglers are reminded to obtain permission before entering private property, and to pick up trash when leaving. In addition, anglers are asked to respect tribal members that may also be fishing for spring chinook using traditional methods.
“We’re seeing very late run timing of these stocks, but the run strength appears strong enough to offer these fisheries”, said Jeff Yanke, ODFW district fish biologist in Enterprise. “I’m also optimistic that early snowmelt in both the Imnaha and Grande Ronde basins will allow earlier fishing opportunity than the past few years.”