Though this year's return of Columbia River spring chinook is characterized as a strong run, the initial 2014 hook and line action will be held to half-throttle.
The preseason forecast for these earliest-returning Northwest salmon is 308,000 adults, which Washington and Oregon managers report is well above the average estimated return for this composite wild and hatchery-origin stock.
An estimated 227,000 fish are expected to pass Bonneville Dam bound for destinations in the Yakima, Wenatchee and Okanogan river basins and greater Snake River basin. By comparison, last year's run was projected to be 123,100.
The conservative strategy governing early exploitation is born out of the necessity to ensure that the run actually meets the strength prediction so that the mortality assumptions for released wild chinook will be within the range allowed by the NOAA Fisheries federal permit.
Another factor this year is the relatively light snowpack that should not produce the higher, murkier flows that normally hold down angler efficiency.
The lower Columbia River from Buoy 10 (below Astoria) to the Interstate 5 bridge is currently open to salmon and steelhead fishers for the retention of hatchery-origin fish under permanent regulations. It's closed now to salmon fishing above the I-5 crossing.
The daily personal use limit is six fish a day, of which no more than two may be adult chinook or steelhead. Only adipose fin-clipped fish may be kept; wild fish must be left in water and quickly released. Barbless hooks are required for terminal gear.
Since the fish do not start entering the Columbia in significant numbers for several weeks, the regulation change will not be imposed until the first of March.
At that time special regulations will take effect to lower the angler bag to one marked chinook per day both below and above Bonneville Dam.
Oregon and Washington technical conferees have set catch ceilings for the personal use fishery at 12,400 adult chinook from waters below Bonneville and 1,325 upstream from Bonneville Dam to the Washington and Oregon state line above McNary Dam. At any point in the early phase, if managers estimate those figures are reached the fisheries could be closed.
Below Bonneville Dam there will be one-day closures on March 25 and April 1, to clear waters for commercial openings.
On March 1, the Columbia River from Interstate 5 upstream to Beacon Rock opens to both shore and boat-borne fishers with the one-king-a-day limit. Bank fishers also may ply the waters from Beacon Rock to the Bonneville Dam sanctuary closure line.
On March 16 a special reg will open the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam to both angler modes from the Tower Island power lines upstream to the Washington/Oregon state line. From Bonneville Dam upstream to the Tower Island line, bank anglers may cast and plunk.
In early May, Columbia Compact technical managers will recalculate the run-size and could either increase fishing opportunity, continue it with the same restrictions or leave it closed until the mid-year term, when management transitions to later entering chinook stocks.
Before wetting a line in the Lower Columbia for any species, anglers should read the pertinent entries in the permanent regulations pamphlet (pages 70-73) and log onto WDFW's emergency fishing regulation posting fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/ for updates.
Also to fish recreationally for salmon and steelhead in the Lower Columbia and virtually all other flowing waters of the Columbia Basin in Washington, anglers need a basic Washington fishing license and an $8.75 Columbia River Salmon and Steelhead Endorsement.
STURGEON FISHING CURTAILED
Though the lower Columbia River is now closed to kill fishing for white sturgeon, bilateral managers agreed to a small retention fishery in the Bonneville Pool from Feb. 1-17 or until the 300-350 white catch ceiling is reached.
Only white sturgeon between 38 and 54 inches may be kept during this brief opportunity.
ROCHE HARBOR CLASSIC
With all its berths sold as of Jan. 7, the 100-boat, 300- to 400-angler-strong field is set for the 11th Annual Roche Harbor Salmon Classic Invitational on Feb. 6-8 in selected marine waters of the San Juan Islands.
This limited-entry salmon derby, featuring a $25,000 prize, is the first of the 2014 contests organized under the aegis of the Northwest Salmon Derby Series by the Northwest Marine Trade Association.
It is organized and sponsored by Roche Harbor Resort on San Juan Island.
Two more 2014 late winter events are scheduled - one out of Discovery Bay on the Olympic Peninsula in February and the other at Everett in March.
Bellingham's annual family salmon derby, sponsored by the Bellingham Chapter of Puget Sound Anglers, is slated for July 11-13.
Doug Huddle, the Bellingham Herald's outdoors correspondent, since 1983 has written a weekly fishing and hunting column that appears Sundays.
WINTER-RUN STEELHEAD HATCHERY WATCH
As of Thursday, Jan. 30, Western Washington state and cooperative hatcheries have reported the following hatchery winter steelhead returns and egg-takes. The deadline for obtaining adult fish to spawn was Friday, Jan. 31. For reference there are comparisons to last year's escapements in the same time-frame.
Maritime Heritage Center Hatchery (Whatcom Creek): 20 adults, no eggs taken. Same time in 2012: one adult.
Kendall Creek Hatchery (North Fork Nooksack River): 145 adults with 220,000 eggs taken (goal is 190,000 eggs). Same time in 2012: 62 adults, 80,000 eggs taken.
Marblemount Hatchery (Cascade River): 85 adults with 163,143 eggs taken (goal is 250,000 eggs). Same time in 2012: 153 adults, 263,000 eggs taken.
Whitehorse Hatchery (North Fork Stillaguamish River): 151 adults, 185,704 eggs taken. Same time in 2012: 128 adults, 227,890 eggs taken.
Tokul Creek Hatchery (Snoqualmie River): 402 adults with 541,903 eggs taken. Same time in 2012: 633 adults, 657,373 eggs taken.
Soos Creek Hatchery (Green River): 114 total adults with 153,500 eggs taken. Same time in 2012: 86 adults: 108,000 eggs taken.
Dungeness Hatchery (Dungeness River): 13 adults with 10,500 eggs taken as of Tuesday, Jan. 21. Same time in 2012, 41 adults: 43,000 eggs taken.
Bogachiel Hatchery (Bogachiel River): 831 adults with 316,400 eggs taken. Same time in 2012: 2,173 adults, 306,000 eggs taken.
Humptulips Hatchery (Humptulips River): 475 adults with 225,920 eggs taken. Same time in 2012: 861 adults, 229,750 eggs taken.
Forks Creek Hatchery (Willapa River): 358 adults with 204,000 eggs taken as of Tuesday, Jan. 21. Same time in 2012: 587 adults, 200,000 eggs taken.
Cowlitz Hatchery (Cowlitz River): 638 adults with no eggs taken. Same time in 2012: 861 adults, no eggs reported taken.
Merwin Hatchery (Lewis River): 98 adults with 86,200 eggs taken. Same time in 2012: 231 adults, 148,000 eggs taken.
Skamania Hatchery (Skamania River): 253 adults with 212,800 eggs taken. Same time in 2012: 228 adults, 231,800 eggs taken.