After a yearlong closure, anglers, beginning Saturday, will again be able to stalk southwest Washington’s lower White Salmon River in hope of hooking winter and summer steelhead making their spawning journey.
That fishing opportunity will include the roughly two miles of river from the former site of Condit Dam up to the head of its former reservoir – Northwestern Lake. That stretch of river had for nearly 100 years been submerged and inaccessible to salmon and steelhead.
The fishing rule change announced Thursday by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife reopens to steelhead Jan. 5 until further notice on the White Salmon River from the county road bridge below the former Condit powerhouse to Northwestern Lake Road Bridge. Condit was located 3.3 miles upstream from the White Salmon’s confluence with the Columbia River in the reservoir above Bonneville Dam.
Condit Dam, owned by PacifiCorp on the White Salmon River was breached in the fall of 2011. There had been a closure to fishing in the river above and below the dam due to safety concerns while the structure was being removed. The area this past fall was reopened for public access when the work was completed.
The area of the closure has historically been a popular fishing area, though since the dam was built in 1913 fish passage upstream has for the most part been blocked.
“There’s nothing to hold them back now,” the WDFW’s Joe Hymer said of upstream passage. The dam’s removal is intended to provide access to long-blocked habitat that was, prior to the dam’s construction, used by steelhead and salmon.
This year’s returns are likely dominated by returning hatchery steelhead that were released as juveniles below the dam in 2010, Hymer said. Those returns include both summer steelhead and “3-salt” winter steelhead, large fish that have spent three years in the Pacific Ocean.
The daily limit is two hatchery steelhead. All other species, including salmon, must be released.
The last remnants of the dam had been removed by early November and access restrictions on the White Salmon River were lifted downstream of Northwestern Park. Caution is still advised as the rapids on the lower river are significant, according to PacifiCorp.
The last pieces of the dam came out in September. PacifiCorp’s Vancouver, Wash.-based contractor, J.R. Merit, by the end of October completed removal of a large logjam that would have significantly blocked boats drifting the river.
Some access restrictions will remain along the river banks, where signs will identify areas recently planted with native vegetation.
Removal of the dam opened approximately 33 miles of new spawning and rearing grounds for steelhead and 14 miles for salmon in the White Salmon River basin. In the summer of 2011, fish biologists moved more than 500 adult salmon upstream of the dam, which spawned in their new habitat that fall and then descended the White Salmon River unimpeded by the dam.
For more information, see CBB, Oct. 12, 2012, “Salmon Spawners Make Way Past Former White Salmon River Dam Site For First Time In Nearly 100 Years” http://www.cbbulletin.com/423362.aspx