OLYMPIA - Record breaking numbers of salmon returning to the Columbia River this year mean two things for anglers in both Washington and Oregon - an extended season and expanded catch area below Bonneville Dam.
According to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), between 664,000 to 835,000 upriver bright adult chinook are expected to return to the Columbia River - crushing the previous record of 420,000 fish set in 1987.
"This will be a fishing season to remember," said Guy Norman, southwest regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, in a statement released to the media. "This year's run of upriver fall chinook is through the roof, and a positive sign that regional efforts to rebuild this salmon population are making a difference."
The chinook season that would have closed Friday, Sept. 13 along a portion of the lower Columbia River has now been extended through the end of the year.
Joe Hymer, a fish biologist with WDFW, said multiple factors are responsible for reaching record number returns, including good conditions when juvenile fish went out into the Columbia River, good ocean survival rates, improvements happening in the Snake River system and hatchery programs reporting strong numbers as well.
"You put everything together and it's the perfect combination," Hymer said.
With the record breaking return, new fishing rules in Washington and Oregon were just released by the WDFW. Here's what the new rules mean for local anglers:
- Anglers are now allowed to continue fishing for chinook salmon through the end of the year in all areas of the mainstem Columbia River below Bonneville Dam open to salmon fishing.
- The area open to chinook retention has been expanded, moving the lower boundary from Rocky Point 16 miles downstream to Buoy 10 near the mouth of the Columbia.
- Anglers can catch and keep up to two adult chinook salmon per day as part of their catch limit below Bonneville Dam.
- Through Sept. 30, only hatchery chinook with a clipped adipose fin and healed scar may be retained downstream from the Lewis River.
- Anglers aboard a vessel in the Columbia River from Buoy 10 to the Highway 395 bridge in Pasco will be able to continue fishing until the daily limit of salmon/steelhead for all anglers aboard is achieved.
Anglers are still required to release unmarked chinook below the Lewis River - fishery managers said this will help protect wild chinook salmon which are now returning to tributaries. However, that regulation will change Oct. 1 when fishery managers said most of the wild chinook will have moved out of the mainstem Columbia.
Hymer said to date the Bonneville Dam adult chinook count sits at just over 600,000 and as of Friday was expected to exceed the record of just over 610,000 set in 2003.
More information on the new fishing rules is available online.