Anglers hit Columbia for big steelhead return

The biggest hatchery-raised steelhead return in years and the annual fall chinook run are proving a big lure for anglers on the Columbia River.

Washington's Department of Fish and Wildlife opened the season early for hatchery-raised steelhead through the Hanford Reach because of the huge run and also raised the daily bag limit to three fish between the blue bridge in Pasco and Priest Rapids Dam.

Through Sept. 24, 34,035 summer steelhead were counted at Priest Rapids Dam on the upper Columbia, the highest since 65,292 were recorded in 1986, said Paul Hoffarth, district fish biologist for fish and wildlife. Records have been kept at Priest Rapids since 1962, he said.

At McNary Dam, 297,352 steelhead were counted through Sept. 29, the most since 396,960 were recorded in 2001, Hoffarth said. Records have been kept at McNary since 1956, he said.

The fall chinook run also appears to be up from last year by about 20 percent in the Hanford Reach area, Hoffarth said. So far this year, 2,508 adult fall chinook and 874 jacks had been harvested, and fishing effort also is up.

An estimated 1,872 fall chinook were harvested in the Reach during the week ending Sept. 27. Anglers averaged 1.2 chinook per boat.

And anglers can only expect success to improve, Hoffarth said.

"Cooler night-time temperatures and a little rainfall should help pick things up," Hoffarth said.

The Hanford Reach from the blue bridge upstream to Priest Rapids Dam opened Sept. 22 for hatchery steelhead fishing. An estimated 287 steelhead were caught through Sept. 27, of which 193 were harvested, according to fish and wildlife.

Department staffers interviewed 94 boats (199 anglers) with 15 steelhead at Ringold. Steelhead catch rates for boat anglers were low as most of the boat anglers interviewed at Ringold were targeting chinook, Hoffarth said.

The Hanford Reach of the Columbia and the Yakima River will close for salmon fishing Oct. 22, and the Reach from the wooden power line towers at the old Hanford town site to Priest Rapids Dam will also close for steelhead Oct. 22.

The Columbia downstream of the wooden power line towers will remain open for steelhead fishing after Oct. 22, but the daily catch limit for hatchery steelhead will be reduced to two fish.

Only hatchery fish measuring at least 20 inches that are marked for identification with a clipped adipose fin and a healed scar can be retained.