Some bummer news about the Chehalis River came floating out of Olympia this week, but it wasn’t hitching a ride on the Black River. Instead, it was the WDFW that announced via press release that the annual spring Chinook fishery has been called off this year.
That popular recreational fishery was set to run from May 1 through June 30 from the mouth of the Chehalis up to the Highway 6 Bridge in Adna. However, according to the WDFW the forecast for returning springers to the Chehalis Basin falls below the set spawning goal. That development will leave sport anglers holding the short stick this year.
Interestingly, the WDFW said numerous times over the years that they do not have detailed return and harvest numbers for salmon and steelhead on the Chehalis River because its stocks are not listed as endangered. That sort of reasoning, coupled with closures brought on by scarcity, makes one wonder how few fish must exist before they warrant more thorough observation.
In the meantime, out on the Cowlitz River the springer fishery has already closed but winter steelhead are still on the table. That doesn’t necessarily mean the overgrown trout are biting, though.
“I haven’t heard of anything really picking up,’ said Jeffery, they don’t call him “Jig ‘n Rig” for nothing’, out at the Barrier Dam Campground on Wednesday. “Since springers are closed right now the only thing in the river will be steelhead and they’ve been showing up about a hundred at a time at the hatchery.”
More accurately, during five days of operation last week, crews at the Cowlitz Salmon Hatchery separator recovered 375 winter-run steelhead, two spring Chinook adults, and one cutthroat trout. Forty-seven of those steelhead and one cutthroat were then dropped into the Tilton River at Gust Backstrom Park in Morton while another 20 steelies were deposited into Lake Scanewa near Randle. The winter steelhead recycling effort continued last week as well with 142 fish brought back from the hatchery to the I-5 Bridge boat launch for another run up the gantlet.
Last week, the return for hours spent on the water varied greatly depending on the area you chose to do your trolling or plunking. From the mouth of the Cowlitz to the I-5 Bridge 28 bank rods had no catch to report. However, between the freeway bridge and the Barrier Dam 35 bank rods managed to keep 24 steelhead while 97 rods on 33 boats released one Chinook and kept 25 steelies. River flow below Mayfield fell below 3,000 cubic feet per second by Tuesday and water temperature rose to 46.2 degrees but visibility was down to just eight feet.
According to WDFW sampling last week, rod action was muted on the other two tributaries to the lower Columbia River that typically draw the biggest crowds. Five bank anglers and eight rods on three boats were skunked on the Kalama River while nine bank anglers went home with nothing to show on the Lewis River.
Salmon fishing came to an end below Bonneville Dam last week. During that last ditch effort the WDFW sampled 176 salmon boats along with and 34 bank rods between Warrior Rock and Bonneville Dam.
Similarly, sturgeon fishing is all wrapped up in the Columbia River’s dam pools. Last week 10 bank anglers at Bonneville released one sublegal sturgeon. Another 21 rods on seven boats kept 13 legal sturgeon, while releasing one legal size sturgeon, 71 sublegal sturgeon, and two oversize sturgeon. Retention of the river monsters at Bonneville closed on April 13 when the catch quota was reached. Next month, anglers will be allowed to catch-and-keep sturgeon on the lower Columbia River from Bonneville Dam on down. That fishery is slated to run on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from May 13 through June 5.
On the trout line, Longview’s Lake Sacajawea was planted with 3,375 rainbow trout fingerlings on April 15.
Elsewhere, the WDFW recently announced upcoming fishing seasons for the following year in the big salted waters that course along the greater perimeter of the state. Most notably, low returns of salmon to some major tributaries of Puget Sound will mean limited or eliminated fisheries in some areas.
In a press release, WDFW director Kelly Susewind admitted that reductions to traditional Puget Sound salmon fisheries are taxing for both anglers and local communities.
“Reducing fisheries is not a long-term solution to the declining number of chinook salmon,” Susewind said. “The department will continue working with the co-managers, our constituents and others to address habitat loss. Without improved habitat, our chinook populations will likely continue to decline.”
Anglers will also see reduced opportunity for pink salmon in Puget Sound this year with no “bonus bag limits” for those fish.
The news is better out in the great wide open ocean, according to WDFW salmon policy orchestrator, Kyle Adicks.
“We expect some good opportunities for fishing in the ocean this summer,” Adicks said, in a prospect report.
This summer there will be increased catch quotas for coho and a similar catch quota for Chinook when compared to last year. All four marine areas are set to open for daily sport fishing beginning June 22.
On the Columbia River anglers will not have a chance to hook summer Chinook or sockeye this summer due to returns that are expected to fall below the escapement threshold. However, waters from Buoy 10 up to Pasco will be open to fall salmon fishing beginning Aug. 1.
“While we anticipate a robust coho fishery in the Columbia River this year, we’re taking steps to protect depleted runs of chinook and steelhead,” said Adicks.
Adicks added that steelhead fisheries on the Columbia and Snake rivers will be similar to 2017 when a similarly sized (read: disappointing) run came through.
A spring bear hunt is ongoing in Washington, but if you don’t know that already then you won’t be going this year. That’s because the hunt requires a special permit and the application date is long since passed.
For those who are itching to get out but don’t have much paperwork in order, there is an ongoing statewide general hunt for turkeys. That hunt began on April 15 and will continue through May 31.
Cougars are legal to bag in most parts of Washington for a couple more weeks. However, hunters should be sure to check quota numbers that dictate closures before heading out into the field. Those hunts will come to a close on April 30 no matter what.
That doesn’t mean that there won’t be any opportunities left to pursue predators. That’s because there is no expiration date on coyote hunting season in Washington.
What’s more, roadkill salvage is legal in Washington in almost all instances. State law allows for the harvest of most road rashed deer and elk with the use of an emergency permit provided by the WDFW. However, deer are not legal for salvage in Clark, Cowlitz or Wahkiakum counties in order to protect endangered populations of Columbia white-tailed deer. Permits are available online and must be obtained within 24-hours of any deer or elk salvage. Permits can be found at wdfw.wa.gov/licensing/game_salvaging/application.html.
Shrimp lovers will have a chance to procure their own prawns from Puget Sound beginning May 11.
That start date is about one week later than last year. Shellfish officials noted that the delayed opening was due to tidal conditions.
“This is a popular fishery, and the volume of boats using the ramps will require some patience and courtesy,” said Don Velasquez, WDFW shellfish biologist, in a press release. “Fishers should allow extra time for launching their boats to ensure they’re in the water when fishing opens.”
Spot shrimp, commonly called prawns, dominate the early season fishing returns. However, all shrimp species will be open from the get-go, including pink and coonstripe shrimp. Spot shrimp are the king shrimp in Puget Sound. They can grow up to nine inches long.
Marine Area 11 (Tacoma-Vashon Island) is set to be open from 7 a.m. until 1 p.m. on May 11. In Marine Area 12 (Hood Canal) shrimping will be allowed from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. on May 11, 15, 29 and June 1. Marine Area 13 (South Puget Sound, Carr Inlet) will remain closed due to a low abundance of shrimp.
The WDFW will announce additional dates if sufficient catch quota remains following the first round of openers.
All open areas of Puget Sound have a daily limit of 80 shrimp during May. Traps can be set beginning one hour before official sunrise