Five-hour smelt fishery set Saturday – The Seattle Times

It still feels like winter in the outdoors, but anglers are getting a sense that spring is in the air.

Take for example a run of smelt along the Columbia River — which usually signals spring is nearing — that will provide a five-hour sport dip-net fishery Saturday along the banks of the Cowlitz River.

Thousands of anglers are expected to gather with dip-nets in hand to pursue these silvery 4- to 6-inch fish from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. only from the Highway 432 Bridge up to the Al Helenberg Memorial boat launch, located about 1,300 feet above the Highway 411/A Street Bridge in Castle Rock.

“We’re expecting a modest return of about 3 million pounds of smelt to the Columbia River this year,” Cindy Le Fleur, a state Fish and Wildlife regional fish manager said.

The daily limit is 10 pounds of smelt with no more than one day’s limit in possession. No fishing license is required to dip for smelt.

This used to be a highly popular recreational fishery from the 1980s to the early 2000s before they started to steadily decline and were listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act along the Pacific Coast.

Smelt bounced back by 2011 when an estimated 3.3 million pounds returned, and hit a peak of 16.6 million in 2014, 11.4 million in 2015 and 5.1 million in 2016. This is the fourth year dating to 2010 that a dip-net fishery was allowed since smelt were listed. Fishing was open for one day last year, five days in 2014 and two days in 2015.

Coastal razor-clam diggers will have some opportunities coming up this week and can also start making tentative plans for more chances this spring.

Another round of digs will begin Thursday at Twin Harbors; Friday to Sunday at Twin Harbors, Copalis and Mocrocks; and Monday and Tuesday at Twin Harbors. Digging is open during evening low tides only.

Tentative dates for evening low tides are: March 9, 24 and 26 at Mocrocks; March 10 and 25 at Copalis; March 11 at Mocrocks and Kalaloch; and March 12 at Copalis and Kalaloch.

Others planned for morning low tides are: March 30, and April 14, 16 and 27 at Mocrocks; March 31 and April 30 at Copalis and Kalaloch; April 1 and 29 at Mocrocks and Kalaloch; and April 2, 13, 15 and 28 at Copalis.

The eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca and northern Puget Sound have been winter chinook central with good action in recent days.

The Olympic Peninsula Salmon Derby’s Winter Blackmouth Classic was held this past Friday through Sunday with 763 anglers landing 208 hatchery chinook. The winner was Tony Beam of Hansville with a 15.25-pound hatchery chinook worth $10,000.

Fishing was good at Winter Hole, Partridge Bank, Protection Island, Freshwater Bay, Double Bluff off Whidbey Island, Midchannel Bank off Port Townsend, Possession Bar, Marrowstone Island and Point No Point.

Next up is the Bill Hayes Hot Plug’s Blackmouth Derby this Saturday on Camano Island. Cost is $50. Details: 425-308-9437 or email edkeller@gmail.com.

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