Yakima River Chinook Fishing – Finally!

The kings are coming! The kings are coming! Yakima Nation and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife fish pros are expecting 2,000+ harvestable Levi George (Cle Elum) Hatchery springers in the river – even though they are very late this year. As of today, the 20+ miles of the middle reach of the Yakima River is open for hatchery spring Chinook. This reach extends from the I-82 Bridge at Union Gap (river mile 107.1) to the BNSF railroad bridge about 600 feet below Roza Dam (river mile 127.8).

The fine print: Daily limit is two (2) hatchery Chinook, at least 12 inches long (legal fish are missing an adipose fin, with a healed scar in its location of the missing fin) and all wild salmon must be immediately released unharmed and never removed from the water; Use up to two (2), single-point barbless hooks with a hook gap (point to shank) of 3/4 inch or less; Bait is allowed and knotted nets may be used only in the river section open to salmon fishing; Night closure is in effect; For this fishery, the upper “closed water” line is moved up to the railroad bridge (just downstream of Roza Dam) to provide maximum opportunity to catch hatchery kings; Steelhead fishing remains closed; You must have a Columbia River Salmon/Steelhead Endorsement.

More fine print: Use two fishing rods during this fishery with your purchase of a “Two-Pole Endorsement” in addition to regular licenses; Fishing from boats with gas motors is allowed only from the I-82 Bridge at Union Gap to the east-bound I-82 Bridge (upstream) at Selah Gap (used for transport only above that bridge; All fishing closed for 400 feet above the upstream side of the Yakima Avenue/Terrace Heights Rd. Bridge in Yakima (including areas adjacent to, and downstream of, the Roza Wasteway No. 2 fish barrier rack by Morton & Sons; More info from John Easterbrooks, Regional Fish Program Manager at 509-457-9330 or Eric Anderson, District 8 Fish Biologist at 509-457-9301.

That’s the simple part – the fishery is open, as above.

The rest of the story is how this opener happened – and the team and science and thinking involved. It’s actually pretty interesting; we can both learn a few things here!

The process starts with the U.S. v. Oregon Technical Advisory Group – TAC – (this court decision predates the Boldt decision, relating to Washington’s salmon management). The TAC is administered from Portland and involves both states and the feds using a sliding scale for water conditions, salmon needs, and fish numbers. The members of the TAC monitor the various runs and provide ongoing in-season updates.

Our DFW fish pros (such as John Easterbrooks) work very closely with the Yakama Nation fish pros (especially Bill Bosch) and the Bonneville Power Administration to manage hatchery and natural-origin salmon based on the TAC data and agreements. Hatchery salmon are generally fitted with a PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tag, which identifies age and origin. If this salmon “team” was not working hand-in-hand, we would have no salmon to argue over in our part of the world.

Earlier this week, recalculations were based on returns through 12 June of various aged PIT-tagged Levi George Hatchery salmon at Bonneville. The results indicated that 2,400 to 2,800 fish would be moving into the mouth of the Yakima and heading home to the hatchery. The Lower Yakima has been open for a bit, but few salmon have been taken – conditions on the river have largely held the fish at the river’s mouth (with fishing limitations there to protect them). Finally, later than anyone expected, the River settled and the fish began moving past Prosser. Thus, today, the pros opened a two-hatchery-fish limit in the 20+ mile reach from Union Gap to Roza Dam. At this point, salmon fishing is open on every reach of the Yakima River under state jurisdiction!

You probably think we are fishing for fun and food. True, but we have a management purpose I’ve not considered. Fisheries pros want a ratio of 50-50 hatchery- and natural-origin salmon on the spawning redds above Roza Dam – and the more “natives” in the mix, the better. Our job is to remove enough excess hatchery fish to protect that ratio at spawning areas.

All those PIT tag and other salmon counts provide a fascinating insight into our fishing success on the Yakima. The ratio of hatchery to natural-origin fish at Prosser is 30-70. The ratio improves for hatchery fish as the season goes along and as the fish move up the river. Above the mouth of the Naches, it improves. At Roza, as the season progresses, you have a better that 50% chance of catching mostly Levi George Hatchery fish. The odds are highest at the point where both return counts and fishing participation drops off, and that is probably a month away.

Bottom line of all this is that, by the time these fish get to Roza, you have a better-than-coin-flip chance that the salmon on your line is a fat hatchery keeper. And those odds will continue to improve over the next few weeks.

Go fish.

Written by Jim Huckabay. Posted in Uncategorized

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