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Eastside Steelheading Enters Last Month

by Doug Huddle
The News Tribune, March 6, 2010

Sport fishing on this year's crop of wild and hatchery summer-run steelhead in a number of Eastern Washington streams is winding down to witching hours on Wednesday, Mar. 31, Thursday, Apr. 15... or perhaps sooner.

One shoe already has dropped with last Sunday's (Feb. 28) scheduled closure of the Wenatchee River steelhead fishery. Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife managers anticipated that the maximum allowable incidental catch [and release] of wild summer-run steelhead by sport fishers in the Wenatchee had by then been reached.

With wild steelhead stocks in greater Columbia Basin streams designated as 'threatened' under the federal endangered species act, recreational fishing anywhere on them, either targeted or indirect, is governed by special permits issued to Washington State by the NOAA Fisheries, an arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Department of Commerce.

Fishing opportunities such as those in the Okanogan or Grande Ronde rivers focus on hatchery-origin fish identified by a missing (clipped off) adipose fin with concurrent release of all wild (fish with their adipose fins intact) steelhead required.

Without those permits any commercial or recreation fishery that is reckoned to have a potentially detrimental impact on a listed stock may not be opened.

With the presumption that a percentage of such fish die after release, these annually issued documents include terms that establish the maximum number of individual wild fish that may be handled by anglers. By NOAA mandate under ESA, the incidental mortality is strictly limited to a small percentage of the total numbers of fish expected in each year's wild run to each river.

In the Columbia system, counts of fish passing over various dams provide accurate run-size numbers for management formulas and monitoring of recreational fisheries as they unfold give managers figures to calculate encounter rates.

Here's a summary of remaining steelhead options in Columbia River sub-basin areas under Washington State jurisdiction:


Still open to summer steelhead retention are the mainstem Columbia reservoirs above Rock Island Dam together with portions of the Entiat, Methow, Okanogan and Similkameen rivers.

Under an emergency regulation announced Feb. 10, angling is governed by a night fishing ban and 'selective gear' restrictions on all open waters.

Every wild fish brought to hand must be kept in the water and released unharmed, but anglers also are required to keep each hatchery steelhead, up to a daily limit of four, they land.

With the exception of two Okanogan reaches, the above waters are slated to remain open until Wednesday, Mar. 31 unless the incidental wild fish catch threshold is reached in any individual waters.

Adipose fin-clipped steelhead with caudal fin hole punches may now be kept anywhere in the open streams of the upper Columbia.

Bait usage is banned in the Entiat, Okanogan, Methow and Similkameen River by the selective fishing rule, but the prohibition is waived in the legal-to-fish reaches of the Upper Columbia River (Rock Island Pool, Lake Entiat, Lake Pateros). In another departure from terms of the state's selective gear rule, anglers may fish from motorized boats in the Columbia, Okanogan, Methow and Entiat rivers.

Here are thumbnail sketches by stream:

Upper Columbia River basin waters now closed to retention of steelhead include the mainstem Columbia from Priest Rapids Dam upstream to the control zone below Rock Island Dam, all of Crab Creek, the entire Wenatchee River system, the Methow above Chewuck River and the Entiat River above the federal hatchery and the Okanogan below the Osoyoos Lake Control structure Zosel Dam.


In southeast Washington, still open this spring for steelhead are the Snake and portions of the Touchet, Palouse and Grande Ronde rivers.

Closed to steelhead fishing now in the lower Snake River basin are the Tucannon and Walla Walla rivers as well as all other tributaries.


All streams in the Yakima basin are closed to steelhead fishing at this time, but some reaches are open to angling for other gamefish (any steelhead must be released).


Four larger streams on the Washington side of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam are currently closed to the taking of steelhead but will soon open with the hatchery spring chinook season. They are:

Always check both the special regulations section of the 2009/2010 Fishing in Washington sport fishing rules pamphlet edition for permanent regulations as well as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's on-line center for the posting of emergency or temporary fishing rule changes at:

Doug Huddle, the Herald's outdoors correspondent, has, since 1983, written a weekly hunting and fishing column that appears Fridays.
Eastside Steelheading Enters Last Month
The News Tribune, March 6, 2010

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