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Salmon Late to the Party

by Rob Phillips
Yakima Herald-Republic, May 10, 2007

The 2007 spring salmon sport fishing season is in full swing. And, as many local anglers are discovering, this year is turning out to be a little different than in years past.

The first big difference is that the fish are returning late. Or at least, biologists are hoping that's what is happening. Normally by early to mid-May, the majority of the run of spring salmon has made its way up over Bonneville Dam, and the fish are well on their way to their spawning tributaries.

But this year, only a little over half of the predicted spring chinook salmon run has come over Bonneville. As of Monday, 41,350 salmon had made it up through the fish ladders at Bonneville. This year's upriver run of spring salmon is projected to be in the neighborhood of 78,000. If that number is correct, a bunch of fish are still headed upriver to the Wind, Little White Salmon, Klickitat, Deschutes, Yakima and other tributaries.

While it is extremely unlikely that there will be a spring salmon sport fishing season on the Yakima River this year, many of the other tributaries are open to salmon fishing and continue to attract a number of Central Washington salmon anglers.

In the past couple of weeks, both Drano Lake and the Wind River have been the most popular spots for trying to catch a spring salmon. But the success at these locales has been inconsistent.

There was a little bright spot on the salmon fishing front when, late last week, the catch limit at the Wind was raised from one hatchery fin-clipped salmon per angler per day to two per day. That change was made after officials determined that the run on the Wind, which was forecast to be around 2,100, was most likely going to be larger than originally predicted.

To date however, anglers at the mouth of the Wind have not had a great amount of success in catching even one fish per day.

Normally, in any given year the counts at Bonneville will build to a peak of anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 salmon per day. That has yet to happen this year. Since the salmon started migrating upriver in earnest this spring, the top day was on April 25 when just over 3,400 salmon climbed the Bonneville fish ladders.

This year's predicted run of 78,500 would be the worst in a decade even if it hits the biologist's estimations. Last year an estimated run of 88,000 was forecast, but biologists and anglers alike were surprised and pleased when the actual number of returning salmon topped the 132,000 mark.

Many anglers were hoping that another surprise might be in the offing this year. But the way the numbers are going, it is probably not going to happen. In fact, as this year's run is developing, biologists are still thinking that their original forecast of just under 80,000 fish is probably right on.

The other difference in this year's spring chinook salmon fishing is that there seems to be more anglers working the few spots that actually have a few fish.

Last weekend at Drano Lake, where biologists are predicting that 6,000 fish will return this year, there were nearly 100 boats working the small lake, with roughly one-third of those boats coming from Oregon. Normally the anglers from the Portland area can find salmon fishing much closer to home, but with the main Columbia River closed below Bonneville and with the Willamette River not producing much, it pushes those anglers upriver.

While the Wind River and Drano Lake still seem to be the most popular spring salmon fishing destinations, there are a couple of other options for local anglers to try. And both are closer to home.

Boat and bank anglers have been catching a few salmon on the Columbia below the John Day Dam near Goldendale. As the fish keep moving upstream, the fishing in this portion of the river should continue to improve. As of Monday, some 28,000 chinook salmon had made it over The Dalles Dam, and a little more than 22,000 had gone over John Day. But as of last Friday, the state Fish and Wildlife Department closed the Columbia between Bonneville and McNary dams for salmon retention.

Another option is to try bank fishing on the Columbia at Ringold near Pasco. This fishery opened on May 1 and will remain open to fishing for spring chinook through May 31. It is bank-angling only and is restricted to the hatchery side of the river from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife markers a quarter-mile downstream of the Ringold irrigation wasteway outlet to the markers a half-mile upstream of Ringold Springs Creek (hatchery outlet). The daily limit is two adipose-fin-clipped hatchery salmon. Night closure and non-buoyant lure restrictions are in effect. All wild chinook (with an intact adipose fin) must be released immediately and may not be removed from the water.

As the fish continue to filter upstream, this can be a fun and productive fishery. Being so close to the Tri-Cities, however, it can be crowded. But it does give anglers another option to try to catch a spring salmon.

Another spring salmon season is well under way. It is certainly not a normal spring salmon season, though, as many local anglers are discovering. If more salmon are on the way, as the biologists predict, the fishing should get better and hopefully more consistent. Unfortunately, nobody knows for sure what is going to happen, so the only advice is to go give it a try and hope for the best.

Rob Phillips is a freelance outdoor writer and partner in the advertising firm of Smith, Phillips & DiPietro.
Salmon Late to the Party
Yakima Herald-Republic, May 10, 2007

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