Fisheries managers are bracing for a rather small smelt run into the Columbia River next year. "It is going to be a mixed bag for smelt in 2005," said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and...

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Fisheries managers are bracing for a rather small smelt run into the Columbia River next year.

“It is going to be a mixed bag for smelt in 2005,” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist. “We have some indication that it should be a good parent year for smelt since the spawn went good, but when you look at the by-catch of the shrimp fishery off Vancouver Island it looks poor.”

The information, gathered by the Canadian Department of Fish and Oceans during its annual spring shrimp surveys, are used to predict Columbia River smelt returns.

In a report released last week by Washington and Oregon Fish and Wildlife, the smelt biomass off the west coast of Vancouver Island increased significantly from 2000 to 2002, but declined significantly in 2003 and 2004.

Warm water conditions in the ocean from El Niño returned in April 2001 and has persisted through 2004, possibly explaining poor returns in 2004. It will also have a negative impact on the 2005 smelt return.

Last year, state Fish and Wildlife started out with the maximum season lengths allowed, which meant the Columbia mainstem was open 24 hours daily and tributaries were open every day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

But that was changed when the smelt run fell short of expectations, down to two days per week allowed in the sport fishery after March 19.

“We expect a level-two smelt fishery, which means it will start off on a little more of the conservative side,” Hymer said.

In a level-two fishery, fish managers will recommend a commercial fishery of two or three days per week in the Columbia mainstem from Jan. 1 to March 31. The sport and commercial dip-net fisheries in the Cowlitz would also be two or three days. Fishing time could be adjusted if in-season data indicates a change in run sizes.

The pilot run of smelt typically returns to Columbia mainstem around mid-January, with the peak abundance in February. Smelt begin moving into tributaries by late January through early March and on occasion in April.

Smelt are very sensitive to variations in water temperature, with temperatures of less than 40 degrees often stalling their upstream migration.

The bulk of smelt return to the Cowlitz River, but they also enter the Lewis, Kalama, Sandy, Elochoman and Grays rivers.

The Columbia River fish managers will meet today in Vancouver to adopt sport and commercial smelt-fishing rules.

Top spots of the week

1. Salmon in open marine areas: Central Puget Sound (Area 10) reopens today, and right before it closed on Nov. 30, it had been fairly good. Seek out fish at Allen Bank off Blake Island, Manchester, Yeomalt Point, Jefferson Head, Point Monroe, West Point south of Shilshole Bay, Kingston and Elliott Bay.

The Tengu Derby in Elliott Bay resumes Sunday. Largest fish this season, a 14-pound, 5-ounce blackmouth, was caught by Irene Kiga of Newcastle. Other derby dates are Dec. 26 and Jan. 2, 9, 16 and 23. Details: 206-324-7600.

Chinook fishing is somewhat slow in southcentral Puget Sound (Area 11), and most of the action is occurring off the Tacoma area at Quartermaster Harbor, Point Dalco, Point Evans, Clay Banks and Owens Beach off Point Defiance Park.

2. Squid jigging in Elliott Bay and Puget Sound: “The muddy water slowed down squid jigging (in Elliott Bay), but we had guys who went out and some did pretty good,” said Jerry Beppu, owner of Linc’s Tackle Shop in Seattle.

Places to jig are Piers 86, 62 and 63, Seacrest pier in West Seattle, Seattle Aquarium pier and lighted pier just north of it. Also try Point Defiance, Des Moines, Edmonds and Les Davis piers.

3. Winter steelhead in Western Washington rivers: “It is an upper-river show after all the rain, but Tokul Creek (on Snoqualmie) and Reiter (Ponds on Skykomish) has been pretty darn good the past couple of days, and I’ve heard of a few fish coming out of Fortson (on North Fork Stillaguamish),” said Bryan Nelson at Three Rivers Marine and Tackle in Woodinville.

Those fishing the Green River must release all wild steelhead; the state fishing rules pamphlet states that you can retain wild fish through Feb. 15, which is incorrect. The Snohomish and Skagit rivers are still on the dirty side and barring any more rain could be fishable by the weekend.

In Southwest Washington, “Blue Creek on the Cowlitz is producing fish, and I heard reports that they are catching some steelhead in Grays, Elochoman, East Fork of Lewis, Kalama and Washougal,” said Joe Hymer, a state Fish and Wildlife biologist.

The winter steelhead hotbed is near the northern coast, on the Bogachiel, Calawah and Soleduck.

“We were out on the Bogachiel and it was smoking, and everywhere I looked in the water there was steelhead,” Nelson said.

Other coastal fishing holes worth mentioning are the Queets, Lower Quinault, Hoh, Sooes, Chehalis, Wynoochee, Willapa and Naselle.

Other fishing spots

Rufus Woods Lake in Eastern Washington: “Rufus continues to be the big story with triploid rainbow trout and kokanee dominating the catch,” said Anton Jones of Darrell & Dad’s Family Guide Service.

West Whidbey Island: Slow beach fishing for steelhead at Bush Point, Lagoon Point and Fort Casey.

Columbia River: Anglers in John Day Arm and above John Day Dam were finding fair steelhead fishing.

Fair to good sturgeon fishing in the Gorge, and boat anglers below the Willamette mouth and from Longview to Portland found plenty of action for sturgeon. Areas from the Wauna power lines to Bonneville Dam are open Thursdays to Saturdays only for sturgeon.

Mark Yuasa: 206-464-8780 or