Spring chinook salmon, unlike many steelhead, waste little time migrating upstream from the mouth of the Columbia River to Northeast Oregon.
IMNAHA GRANDEUR: The fishing season for spring chinook on the Imnaha River opens Saturday and ends July 12. Eighty percent of the salmon returning to the Imnaha will be hatchery fish, predict biologists. The ODFW projects that 5,000 adult spring chinook will be in the Imnaha River - The Observer/PHIL BULLOCK
On Saturday morning, anglers will waste little time getting to the banks of the Wallowa and Imnaha rivers.
Anglers will be flocking to the rivers for the opening of a one-month hatchery spring chinook fishing season.
The ODFW projects that 5,000 adult spring chinook will be in the Imnaha River and that more than 2,500 will be in the Wallowa River.
Fishing conditions should improve as the season, which runs through July 12, progresses, said Bill Knox, an Enterprise ODFW biologist.
Knox explained that high flows will pose a challenge to anglers early in the season. High water makes it harder to get bait down. Anglers are advised to use heavier gear early in the season.
La Grande ODFW Biologist Rich Carmichael notes that the salmon will be lingering on the bottom of the Imnaha and Wallowa rivers and are not likely to move long distances to go after bait. It is important for anglers to get their hooks on the bottom of rivers where they can be right in front of the salmon.
Carmichael also points out that water is murky when there are high flows. Anglers are advised to use colorful tackle that salmon can see.
The salmon arriving in the Imnaha and Wallowa rivers started migrating up the Columbia River in April and May, Knox said. Spring chinook migrating to Northeast Oregon often make much better time than steelhead, which often take longer to migrate because they start their upriver journey in late August and early September when river temperatures are warmer, Carmichael said. The warmer water slows the pace of steelhead.
According to an ODFW press release, 80 percent of the spring chinook salmon returning to the Imnaha will be hatchery fish. By contrast, 50 percent of those coming back to the Wallowa are hatchery fish. The hatchery-raised salmon have had their adipose fins clipped.
The ODFW projects how many salmon are returning based upon dam counts, including those salmon that have pit tags, Knox said. The tags have information on the age and release site of the fish, which scanners at dam count sites read.
Records are not available indicating how many people fished for salmon on the Imnaha and Wallowa rivers in the 2008 season. Statistics do indicate that during a one-week period people spent 2,000 hours salmon fishing on the Imnaha and 650 on the Wallowa.
Anglers on the Wallowa and Imnaha caught an average of one salmon every 30 hours in 2008.
The daily bag limit for anglers is two adipose fin-clipped spring chinook adults and five adipose fin-clipped jacks per day. It is illegal to continue fishing for jack chinook once the adult bag limit is met.
Jacks are salmon 24 inches or less. These are immature 3-year-olds that left the ocean a year early. The adult salmon returning to Northeast Oregon are 4 to 6 years old.
Jacks weigh between 3 and 5 pounds. Most adult chinook weigh 8 to 15 pounds. The fish will spawn in August and September.
Spring chinook salmon are popular among anglers in part because their high fat and oil, which make them more tasty, Knox said.
Anglers may fish for spring chinook from the mouth of the Imnaha River upstream 45 miles to the Summit Creek Bridge. The Wallowa River will be open from the deadline at the lower end of Minam State Park upstream to the mouth of the Lostine River.
Anglers must have a valid 2009 Oregon fishing license and a Combined Angling Tag to fish for spring chinook.