(Clark, Cowlitz, Klickitat, Lewis, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties)
Fishing: Steelhead fishing is heating up on the Cowlitz and Kalama rivers, kokanee are biting at Merwin Reservoir, and five area lakes are set to receive thousands of rainbow trout this month. White sturgeon are also available for harvest through March 9 in the Bonneville Pool, and until further notice in The Dalles and John Day pools.
But the main attraction this month is the spring chinook fishery in the lower Columbia River, the first major salmon fishery of 2014. Anglers caught a few early arrivals in February, but the real action begins later this month.
Based on pre-season projections, 308,000 adult “springers” are expected to return to the big river this year, including 227,000 upriver fish bound for rivers and streams above Bonneville Dam. That compares favorably to last year’s total return of just 123,100 upriver fish.
“All signs point to a great season this year,” said Ron Roler, Columbia River policy manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “The run forecast is well above average, and the rivers are dropping back into shape after the heavy rain in late February.”
Initial seasons set by fishery managers from Washington and Oregon are as follows:
•Below Bonneville Dam: Open from March 1 through April 7 to boat and bank fishing from Buoy 10 upstream to Beacon Rock. Bank fishing will also be allowed from Beacon Rock upriver to the fishing boundary just below the dam. The sport fishery will be closed Tuesday, March 25 and Tuesday, April 1 to allow for potential commercial fisheries. The adult daily catch limit will be two adipose fin-clipped salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a chinook.
•Above Bonneville Dam: Open daily from March 16 through May 9 to boat and bank anglers between the Tower Island power lines and the Washington/Oregon state line, 17 miles above McNary Dam. Bank anglers can also fish from Bonneville Dam upriver to the Tower Island powerlines during that time. As in the area below the dam, the daily catch limit will be two adipose fin-clipped adult salmon or steelhead in combination, of which no more than one may be a chinook.
Barbless hooks are required in both areas, and anglers must release any salmon or steelhead not visibly marked as a hatchery fish by a clipped adipose fin.
Under this year’s initial catch guidelines, anglers fishing below the dam will be allowed to catch up to 12,400 spring chinook before an updated run forecast is released in late April or early May. Another 1,325 adult upriver chinook will be reserved for anglers fishing between Bonneville Dam and the Washington/Oregon state line.
To guard against overestimating this year’s run, the states will again manage the fisheries with a 30 percent buffer until the forecast is updated with information about actual returns.
The Cowlitz River is currently open salmon fishing, with a daily catch limit of two adult hatchery chinook. However, the following rules are in place on other tributaries to the lower Columbia River:
•Until further notice, release all chinook on the Kalama River from the mouth upstream to the upper hatchery (Kalama Falls Hatchery).
•Until further notice, release all chinook on the mainstem Lewis River upriver to the mouth of the East Fork.
•Until further notice, release all chinook on the North Fork Lewis River from the mouth of the East Fork upstream to Merwin Dam.
•The North Fork Lewis River is closed to all fishing from Johnson Creek – located downstream from the Lewis River Salmon Hatchery – upstream to Merwin Dam through May 31.
In addition, anglers should be aware that March 15 is the last day to fish for steelhead on Abernathy, Cedar (Clark Co.), Germany, Mill (Cowlitz Co.), Rock (Skamania Co.), and Salmon (Clark Co.) creeks and on the Coweeman, Elochoman, Grays, East Fork Lewis, South Fork Toutle, and Washougal rivers. Barbless hooks are required in all Washington Columbia River tributaries.
Meanwhile, thousands of catchable trout will be planted this month in Clark County lakes, including Klineline Pond, Battleground Lake and Lacamas Lake. Two lakes in Cowlitz County – Sacajawea and Silver Lake – will also receive plants of rainbow trout.