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Look Downstream for Chinook Success on the Columbia

by Greg Johnston
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - March 27, 2003

The focus of spring chinook anglers on the mighty Columbia River has shifted downstream after an inexplicable decline in catches and fish numbers upstream in the gorge.

While catches have dropped off sharply in the Bonneville area, where fishing had been unusually good earlier this month, they've picked up in the stretch well downstream between Vancouver and Cathlamet.

"We got off to a real early start up toward Bonneville," said Joe Hymer, Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist in Vancouver. "But now the numbers (there) are going backwards. Fishing has been good at times lately from about Vancouver to Cathlamet."

Counts at the Bonneville Dam fish ladder clearly illustrate why fishing in that area has slowed. Several hundred springers were moving over the dam daily earlier this month, peaking at 942 on March 16. The daily count has dipped steadily since, down to about 150 on Sunday.

Why the number of fish moving over the dam has dipped when it should be steadily increasing is not known. But since the run typically peaks there in mid-April, it no doubt will rally at some point. Anglers fishing below the dam have complained lately of an unusually high number of sea lions feeding on springers, but it may be premature to blame them.

"It is a head-scratcher," Hymer said. "We don't know if it's just kind of a lull, or if there's some effect by sea lions, or a change in age classes in spring chinook."

Well downstream, Hymer reported good catches Tuesday in the Vancouver and Cathlamet areas. A state catch sampler checked 17 boats Tuesday at Cathlamet with 12 marked hatchery fish, and they had also released five unmarked springers, as the rules require.

However, water turbidity has been a problem at times in the downstream areas, due to high flows coming out of the Cowlitz and Willamette rivers. Water visibility at Cathlamet, reported Tuesday at 3.5 feet, dropped to 1.5 feet yesterday.

Hymer said Oregon and Washington fisheries biologists estimated that through last Saturday, anglers had taken 48,338 spring chinook trips on the Columbia this year, caught 2,836 marked springers and released 1,589 unmarked ones. There is some concern that catch rates on unmarked spring chinook, most of them wild, upriver fish, have been higher than expected, which could lead to some restrictions before the announced May 15 closing date, Hymer said.

Just upstream of Bonneville, the mouth of the Wind River and Drano Lake have produced a few springers, but water clarity has been a problem at times in the Wind, and with dam counts dropping, neither spot is likely to get hot in the next few days.

Greg Johnston
Look Downstream for Chinook Success on the Columbia
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 27, 2003

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