Fisheries officials say that the estimated total recreational fishing “handle” of 20,451 steelhead trout during July on the lower Columbia River mainstem from Bonneville Dam down to the mouth is the highest on a record dating back to at least 1969.
The previous record for any single month was 18,516 in August 2011. The steelhead handle total includes both the harvest of hatchery produced fish that are marked with a clipped adipose fin and unmarked fish that have been caught by anglers and released. Fishing regulations require that unmarked steelhead be released. Many of the unmarked fish are of natural origin and are protected under the Endangered Species Act -- Snake River, Upper Columbia and Mid-Columbia wild summer steelhead.
The July total includes an almost even split with 10,300 fin-clipped fish caught and kept by anglers and 10,150 steelhead caught and released.
Anglers may have again been aided by above average flows down the Columbia, and cooler than average water. Washington bank anglers in particular had a good July, handling about half of the steelhead caught during the month from Bonneville Dam nearly 140 miles downstream to near the mouth of the river.
Steelhead typically like to cruise up river in shallower water. They are also likely drawn toward the Washington side of the river where cooler water refuges such as the mouths of the Lewis and Cowlitz offer resting places, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Joe Hymer. Such lower Columbia tributaries are experiencing strong returns.
Angler effort has slowed in August with the opening of the fall chinook salmon season, Hymer said.
The record comes despite a 2012 upriver summer steelhead return that is lagging to some degree behind expectations. The summer steelhead are headed for destinations above Bonneville, which is located at about river mile 146.
Through Tuesday a total of 136,642 steelhead had been counted crossing over Bonneville so far this year. The 10-year average through that date is 197,218.