Washington and Oregon salmon managers this afternoon are mulling a pair of options for reopening the Lower Columbia back up for spring Chinook.
One opens the river for five days, the other “until further notice.”
A third suggestion that is apparently not being considered but was listed on a fact sheet distributed this afternoon would open it for two successive weekends.
But with fugly river conditions — the Willamette is expected to crest tomorrow, and the Columbia is flowing 200,000 cubic feet per second higher than average — some say let’s hold off all together for week.
“Is it ever going to stop?” guide Bill Swann posts on his Facebook page with a screen shot of Columbia flows at Vancouver rising from 7 feet to 14 feet over the past seven days.
As it stands, there are 3,930 above-Bonneville-bound springers available in the sport catch on the lower river.
“Through late March, angler effort was tracking very close to expectations, while catch rates were slightly below expectations. However, during the final eight days of the fishery, effort began to lag and catch rates were much less than expected due to poor weather and water conditions,” reads the fact sheet.
Managers say that so far this season we’ve landed a total of 5,800 with 4,500 kept in 82,300 angler trips.
“Of the total catch (kept and released), about 4,700 have been upriver stock. The kept and release mortality for upriver fish is estimated at 3,820 fish, or 49% of the 7,750 available. Under a run size buffer of 30%, a balance of 3,930 upriver fish remains available for the recreational fishery downstream of Bonneville Dam prior to a run update,” says the fact sheet.
Here’s more about the options, according to the fact sheet:
Option 1 would re-open Chinook retention beginning Saturday April 9 through Wednesday April 13. Given current water conditions, Option 1 poses minimal risk of exceeding the number of upriver fish that remain available prior to a run update. Catch estimates are based on an expectation of river conditions improving toward the end of the proposed fishing period and would therefore be conservative if that does not occur. The expected upriver mortalities would range from 1,330-1,970, or 34%-50% of the 3,930 balance remaining.
Under Option 1, approximately 2,000-2,600 upriver fish (kept + release mortalities) would remain available after April 13 and could be used for additional fishing opportunity to be determined upon conclusion of this five day fishery. Given the proposed closure is midweek, a hearing to consider additional opportunity would not likely occur until after the April 16-17 weekend. This would allow time for management staff to accurately compile catch data.
• Option 2 would re-open spring Chinook retention beginning this Friday (April 8) and continue until further notice. Catch rates would likely start out slow but should improve rapidly once water conditions begin to improve. A season end date and total catch cannot be projected at this time given the current river conditions. This option may require short notification of a closure since catch could escalate rapidly as fishing conditions improve.
A third option would be to open the fishery for two Friday through Sunday periods (April 8-10 and April 15-17). Catch expectations of upriver Chinook would be about 1,000 fish total for the first opener, and could increase to 1,000 fish per day on the second opener (assuming river conditions improve). This scenario would give anglers a set season for the next few weeks, and would allow staff to review catch after the first opener and make season modifications if necessary.
Staff has also received public comment suggesting to post-pone a decision until next week which may allow for a better assessment of river condition trends. This option would likely result in fewer open fishing days and greater uncertainty in catch projections as the potential for large daily catches increases.
The fact sheet leads off with details about river flows which are playing a role in this year’s catch:
The Willamette River is currently at 14.5 feet (Morrison gauge) with an expected crest of 15 feet tomorrow, and a projected drop to 11 feet by Monday April 11. Water clarity is currently between 2-2.5 feet (Willamette Falls and Morrison). Water temperature is currently 47° F.
The Columbia River is currently at 14.6 feet (Vancouver) with an expected crest at 15 feet (flood stage is 16 feet) tomorrow, followed by a drop to 11 feet by Monday April 11. Discharge at Bonneville Dam is currently at 390 kcfs (167 kcfs of which is spill) compared to a 5-year average discharge of 177 kcfs for this date. Water visibility is 2.0 feet compared to 4.0 feet on Friday (April 1). The 5-year average visibility for this date is 4.7 feet. Water temperature is currently 46° F. So far, monthly (Jan-Apr) average water temperatures have been colder than both the 5 and 10-year averages.