Look for chinook action to pick up when rivers drop
These salmon will not be creating the Northwest-wide stir the three
national record kokanee caught in Wallowa Lake over the past year are
Still, soon they will be creating a buzz of excitement in Northeast Oregon.They are the hatchery-raised spring chinook salmon now returning to fish facilities on the Imnaha and Lostine rivers. A season for the salmon opened Saturday on the Wallowa and Imnaha rivers and is set to run through July 11. To date few have been angling for them and catch rates have been low.
Still, the season outlook is promising because a strong run is expected to return this spring and summer. About 2,000 adults are projected to return, a higher number than a year ago, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Bill Knox, who works in the Enterprise office.
Angling conditions are poor now because of high river flows.
“Fishing will really pick up once flows drop,’’ Knox said.
Anglers interested in fishing on the Imnaha River are encouraged to monitor flow rate information provided by the state. When the flow rate falls below 1,200 cubic feet per second, salmon angling conditions on the Imnaha will be much better, Knox said.
Anglers can check flow rates online at http://waterdata.usgs.gov/or/nwis/current/?type=flow.
Flow rates jump when the weather heats up because this increases the spring snow melt. Flow rates fall when the weather cools.
High flows hurt fishing conditions in part because they push gravel over boulders, said Dave Chapman of Four Seasons Fly Shoppe in Island City. Salmon like boulders because of the cover and seclusion they provide. When salmon do not have access to them there are fewer good fishing holes available to anglers.
Most of the salmon returning to the Imnaha and Wallowa rivers are four-to-five years old and weigh from 8 to 15 pounds. Chinook salmon weighing up to 30 pounds have been known to return, however.
Between 30 and 40 percent of the returning run are expected to be jacks, which are 24 inches or less. Between 30 and 40 percent of hatchery salmon runs are jacks, but only 10 percent of wild runs are, Knox said. It is not known why this is so.
Jacks, which are three-year-old males, weigh between 4 and 6 pounds and are not considered adults.
The Imnaha River is open from the mouth upstream 45 miles to Summit Creek Bridge. The Wallowa River is open from the deadline at the lower end of Minam State Park upstream to the mouth of the Lostine River. The fishery is set to close July 11 but could close earlier if it is determined that the fishery is having too great an impact on the returning wild salmon run but catching and releasing them.
It is assumed that about 10 percent of salmon that are caught and then released die soon afterward. Chapman said anglers can boost the survival of salmon caught and released by giving them time to recover before letting them go. Providing them gentle support so they remain upright allows water to flow through their gills, speeding their recovery time.
Chapman said that salmon let go while they are still exhausted may not have the strength needed to stay upright. They end up on their backs without water going through their gills, and die.
The salmon fishery in Wallowa County first opened in 2001 after being closed since 1978. Only the Imnaha River was open the first season. The Wallowa River opened for salmon fishing in 2008, Knox said. The Wallowa County salmon fishery has not been open every year since 2008
This season anglers can keep two adipose fin-clipped spring chinook adults and five adipose fin-clipped jacks per day.