Record sockeye salmon returns flooding the upper Columbia River region this year have allowed Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fishery managers to extend fishing opportunity in Lake Wenatchee sockeye through Labor Day and increase the daily bag limit.
The daily limit per angler is five sockeye 12 inches in length or greater, which is an increase from the previously mandated bag limit of three.
The overall Columbia River basin sockeye salmon run this year is far and away a record, with 515,666 counted through Thursday at Bonneville Dam, which is the first hydro project the fish encounter on their spawning run. The previous high count on a record dating back to 1938 at Bonneville was 386,505 in 2010.
The count this far at Rock Island Dam on the mid-Columbia is 410,498 sockeye this year. Rock Island is the seventh and final dam that sockeye hurdle before turning into the Wenatchee River.
The great majority of the Columbia sockeye run continues on up the Columbia over Rocky Reach and Wells dams before heading up the Okanogan River. Through Monday 363,153 sockeye had been counted at Rocky Reach, the first hop upstream of the Wenatchee. That’s more than triple the 10-year average count through that date of 94,736.
Since 2006 sockeye returns to the Wenatchee have typically represented less than 20 percent of the overall run with more than 80 percent going to the Okanogan basin.
As of late last week at least 46,000 fish have migrated past the Wenatchee River’s Tumwater Dam en route to Lake Wenatchee and projections of the total run could exceed 62,000 fish. Current angler participation and catch rates have indicated that an increase in fishing and bag limits is warranted, say the WDFW. At least 23,000 fish are estimated to be available for harvest above the natural spawning escapement goal of 23,000 fish. To date, less than 7,000 sockeye have been estimated in the harvest.
Selective gear rules require anglers to use single barbless lures and knotless nets. No bait or scent are allowed. Bull trout, steelhead, and chinook salmon must be released unharmed without removing the fish from the water. The two-pole endorsement is not valid for this fishery. A night closure will be in effect. Legal angling hours are one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset.
The Lake Wenatchee sockeye fishery may still be closed on short notice depending on angler participation response to these regulation changes and catch rates. Anglers are advised to check daily the Fishing Hotline at 360-902-2500 or the Fishing Update webpage at https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/rules_all_freshwater.j
Additional notes to anglers: All sockeye with a floy (anchor) tag attached and/or one or more round quarter-inch holes punched in the caudal (tail) fin must be released. These fish are essential to ongoing studies being conducted by WDFW.
Fishers must have a current Washington fishing license and catch record card, as well as a Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement (CRSSE). Harvest must be recorded on the angler's catch record card. Revenue from the CRSSE supports salmon or steelhead seasons on many rivers in the Columbia River system, including enforcing fishery regulations and monitoring the upper Columbia River steelhead fisheries.
For more information see CBB, July 27, 2012, “Sockeye Bounty Shared; New Tools Improve Fish, Water Management Strategies For Upper Columbia Stocks” http://www.cbbulletin.com/421841.aspx