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Columbia River 2020 Spring Chinook season is almost here

Salmon: The spring Chinook season doesn’t officially get underway on the lower Columbia River until March, but anglers can fish for ocean-fresh early arrivals under current rules throughout the month of February. Hatchery steelhead are also available in several rivers below Bonneville Dam.

The daily limit for salmon on the mainstem Columbia River is two adult hatchery Chinook, two hatchery steelhead, or one of each per day downstream from the Interstate 5 Bridge. The same is true in the lower Cowlitz, Kalama and Deep rivers, although the daily limit on the Lewis River remains at one adult hatchery chinook per day.

Fishery managers from Washington and Oregon are scheduled to announce this year’s spring Chinook season later this month. This year’s spring Chinook fisheries are likely to have constraints similar to those in 2019.

The 2020 pre-season forecast for Columbia River spring Chinook is estimated to be 81,700 upriver adults (135,800 upriver and lower river combined), the lowest prediction since 1999. Forecasts for tributaries below Bonneville Dam – and in the Bonneville pool – show similar trends.

Steelhead: February can be a relatively slow month for winter steelheading on lower Columbia tributaries as it marks the transition between early- and late-timed hatchery stocks. Most area rivers with hatchery steelhead seasons that are open this month have three-fish daily limits, although there are some exceptions.

Anglers who already have some experience winter steelheading in this area may have noticed somewhat later return timing than what they’re used to in some spots, due to a recent transition in some hatchery programs that utilize local steelhead stocks.  The table below shows southwest Washington rivers that are stocked with winter steelhead and the number of smolts released in 2018.  Most of the fish that will return from these releases will arrive in the winter of 2019-20. The table also provides the range of months when fish will be returning, with peak returns generally occurring in the middle of this range.

Tributary 2018 Smolt Releases Return Strategy Expected Fishery Timing
Elochoman River 114,100 Early Nov. – Feb.
Cowlitz River 626,000 Late Feb. – Apr.
Coweeman River 12,200 Early Dec. – Feb.
Kalama River 119,500 Late Feb. – Apr.
Lewis River 104,700 Early Nov. – Feb
Salmon Creek (Clark Co.) 37,600 Late Feb. – Apr.
Washougal River 87,800 Early Dec. – Feb.
Rock Creek (Skamania Co.) 20,000 Early Dec. – Feb.

Anglers are reminded to check the Sport Fishing Rules Pamphlet for specific rules since barbless hooks and selective gear are also required in some locations.

Sturgeon: Retention fishing for white sturgeon remains open seven days a week in three pools of the Columbia River above Bonneville Dam and adjacent tributaries. The daily limit is one white sturgeon per day until further notice and an annual limit of two legal-size fish.

  • Bonneville Pool: Anglers may retain white sturgeon measuring 38-54 inches (fork length) between Bonneville Dam and The Dalles Dam until the catch reaches the 500-fish guideline.
  • The Dalles Pool: Anglers may retain white sturgeon measuring 43-54 inches (fork length) between The Dalles Dam and John Day Dam until the catch reaches the 135-fish guideline.
  • John Day Pool: Anglers may retain white sturgeon measuring 43-54 inches (fork length) between John Day Dam and McNary Dam until the catch reaches the 105-fish guideline.

Anglers should be sure to check for emergency rules affecting these fisheries. Sturgeon retention remains closed below Bonneville Dam, but catch-and-release fishing is open there and in areas above the dam that are open to retention fishing.

Trout: February is going to be a great month to catch trout. With more sunny days in the forecast, hatchery workers have been stocking area lakes with thousands of rainbows from Battle Ground Lake to Fort Borst Park. Check the Catchable Trout Report for weekly updates.

Anglers are harvesting kokanee in both Merwin and Yale reservoirs.

Interested in fishing for trout, but aren’t sure how to get started? How about carp and warmwater fish? Send an email to Stacie Kelsey at the WDFW regional office, and she’ll send you an informational fishing packet for youth or adults. Packets include information on fishing in southwest Washington; gear tips; cookbooks and more.




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