Outdoors

Forget most steelhead fishing this winter. Very low numbers counted near Tri-Cities

The steelhead season is closing Saturday in the Columbia River from the blue bridge to the old wooden power line towers at the former Hanford townsite. It usually is open into the spring.
The steelhead season is closing Saturday in the Columbia River from the blue bridge to the old wooden power line towers at the former Hanford townsite. It usually is open into the spring. Tri-City Herald File

The steelhead season is being closed in the area near the Tri-Cities because of extremely low returns of the fish.

The season usually is open from Oct. 1 until April 15 for steelhead from the blue bridge upstream to the old Hanford townsite wooden power line towers.

This year it closes Saturday.

Every fall the trap at the Ringold Springs Hatchery on the Columbia also catches steelhead when they are set with the intent of collecting spawning fall chinook.

The steelhead don’t spawn until the spring, so their tail fin is clipped and they are hauled to the Tri-City area to be released back into the river.

Numbers are counted to estimate how many may return to spawn at Ringold in the spring, indicating whether there will be enough brood stock for the hatchery.

This year just 96 steelhead have entered the trap in the past five weeks, said biologist Paul Hoffarth of the Washington state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

It’s the lowest return in 18 years.

Last year, which was one of the worst for returning steelhead, there were 277 that entered the Ringold trap by this time of the year, Hofarth said. In 2014 there were 867.

The hatchery, which raises the steelhead for fishing, needs 300,000 fertilized eggs this spring to meet the production goal of 180,000 juvenile steelhead for release in 2020.

Low returns are partially due to warm water as the juvenile steelhead migrate down the Columbia River to the ocean in the spring, Hofarth said.

A high snowpack and spring rains provide the ideal conditions for good flow, and the cool water that help steelhead thrive.

Added to that have been poor recent ocean conditions and birds nesting at the river in the spring that prey on juvenile steelhead as they swim close to the surface of the water.

Fish and Wildlife also announced this week that there would be no salmon and steelhead fishing on the Columbia River downstream of the blue bridge in the Tri-Cities until Jan. 1.

After ending the season early in the summer, the agency considered whether it could be reopened this fall.

But fall chinook counts at Bonneville Dam fell far short of the number anticipated, and reopening fisheries for coho and steelhead downstream of the Columbia River this fall would impact the fall chinook, Fish and Wildlife concluded.

By Jan. 1 the the fall chinook should no longer be present.

Some tributaries remain open for salmon and steelhead fishing, but anglers should check for emergency fishing rule changes before heading out.

Annette Cary; 509-582-1533
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