Oregon and Washington have opened this year a portion of the lower Columbia River to spring chinook fishing four times since March 1.
However, passage of the prized chinook at Bonneville Dam is just 12 percent of the 10-year average as of May 1, and catch by recreational anglers continues to be low, according to a two-state Columbia River Compact Spring Fishery Update, released May 1 (https://www.dfw.state.or.us/fish/OSCRP/CRM/FS/19/19_05_01sfu1.pdf).
Still, passage of the chinook at the dam is showing some improvement:
As of April 23, passage was just 1,250 fish, the second lowest in the last 10 years and only 6 percent of the 10-year average (2009-2018) of 22,499 for that date. On average, 9.7 percent of the run has passed Bonneville Dam by April 23.
The May 1 Update said that as of April 30, passage was 4,705 fish, still the second lowest in the last 10 years (23 percent of the run has typically passed the dam on that date).
Since the April 27-28 weekend opener (the fourth), passage at Bonneville has improved considerably, with 1,368 fish passing the dam April 30 and 2,073 passing May 1, for a total passage this year of 6,778 spring chinook, or 12 percent of the 10-year average of 56,727 fish. Last year’s passage on May 1 was just slightly better at 6,887 chinook (www.fpc.org).
With poor water visibility and few fish in the river, catch has remained low throughout the four season openers, March 1 – April 10, April 13-14, April 20-21 and April 27-28.
The Compact will meet again May 8 to consider another spring chinook opener for recreational anglers. The U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee by that time may have completed its first run size update. TAC estimates that half (50 percent) of the fish typically have passed the dam by May 9.
In its May 1 Update, the Compact determined that the combined season kept catch through Sunday April 28 was an estimated 1,676 adult spring chinook from 31,707 angler trips.
Upriver mortalities through April 28 are estimated to be 1,471 adult chinook, or 40 percent of the 3,689 available to this fishery prior to a run update.
“High flow and/or turbidity negatively affected catch rates for all of the recent weekend openings,” the Update said.
Recreational angling upstream of Bonneville Dam to the Oregon/Washington border will remain open until May 5. However, the Compact estimates that no fish have been caught in this section of river through April 28. Due to poor water conditions and low passage at Bonneville Dam, effort has been low with just 357 angler trips.
In addition, during its winter season, the commercial select area fishery in the lower river landed 695 spring chinook (74 percent of the recent 5-year average) and 18 white sturgeon.
The commercial gillnetter catch in select areas so far during the spring season (through April 30) is 278 chinook, well below the average at this point in the season, and 29 sturgeon, according to the May 1 Update.
With the low chinook preseason forecast of 99,300 fish, the variability of test fishing results and the need to assure Lewis and Cowlitz hatcheries get the broodstocks needed, the Compact thus season reduced the open area for the recreational fishery. When open, anglers have been allowed to fish the Columbia River mainstem from the Warrior Rock deadline near St. Helens, Oregon, upstream to Beacon Rock, for both boat and bank angling, plus bank angling only from Beacon Rock upstream to the Bonneville Dam deadline. In previous years, fishing had been allowed from Astoria to Bonneville.
The adult daily bag limit was two hatchery salmonids (chinook or steelhead) per day but only one may be a chinook.
Weekly test fishing in the lower Columbia River began on Monday, March 18, with seven weeks completed so far, the May 1 Update said.
“In reverse order, the last seven weeks of catch rates have been 3.7, 3.5, 5.0, 0.5, 0.9, 0.7, and 0.3 Chinook per drift, with the rates above three Chinook per drift since mid-April. Catch rates during 2018 over comparable weeks were 6.4, 8.1, 6.8, 2.3, 0.9, 0.9, and 0.9.”
Through April 29, Cowlitz and Lewis hatcheries report 105 and 86 adults have returned, respectively.
— CBB, April 25, 2019, “Another Lower Columbia Spring Chinook ‘Re-Opener’ This Weekend; Bonneville Dam Passage Still Low,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/442508.aspx
— CBB, April 18, 2019, “Columbia River Springer Fishing Allowed This Weekend; Passage Numbers Low At Bonneville But Improving” http://www.cbbulletin.com/442478.aspx
— CBB, April 11, 2019, “Two More Days Of Spring Chinook Fishing, But Harvest Managers Wonder If Looking At ‘Really Poor Run,’” http://www.cbbulletin.com/442436.aspx
— CBB, February 1, 2019, “For 2019 Columbia/Snake Spring Chinook, Sockeye Returns Forecasted To Be Well Below Average,” http://www.cbbulletin.com/442083.aspx