Fall chinook salmon season opens on upper Snake River

By Dick Mason, The Observer September 03, 2010 12:40 pm
The record sockeye being caught in Wallowa Lake is not the only reason salmon fishing is making headlines in Northeast Oregon.

Salmon fishing is also making news in the upper Snake River.

Wednesday marked the opening of the first fall chinook salmon season on the upper Snake River in more than 40 years. Until now there has not been a sport fishing season for fall chinook salmon in the upper Snake since at least the 1960s, said Bill Knox, an Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist in Enterprise.

The season is being opened because of a projected strong run of fall chinook. The total, more fish than needed for hatchery production, will be available for sport harvest.

A 70-mile stretch of the Snake, from the Oregon-Washington border to the deadline below Hells Canyon Dam, is open for salmon fishing. The deadline is a marked area below the dam where people can safely fish.

The stretch will remain open until Oct. 31 — or until a closure is announced. The season, which is for hatchery-raised salmon, could close early if it is determined that angling pressure is having too great an impact on wild chinook.

The impact will be determined by judging how many wild chinook are being caught and released, Knox said.

Anglers will be landing hatchery-raised salmon weighing between 10 and 30 pounds. Fall chinook salmon spend between two and four years in the ocean. They are generally larger than spring chinook because they spend more time in the ocean, Knox said.

Most of the chinook that will be caught in the upper Snake over the next two months will be significantly bigger than the record sockeye, or kokanee, anglers are landing at Wallowa Lake. Fishermen have pulled in state record-breaking sockeye four times this year at the lake. The latest state record trophy was caught June 13 by Ron Campbell of Pendleton. The Wallowa Lake fish weighed, depending on the scale used, either 9 pounds 8 ounces or 9 pounds 10 ounces.

Salmon anglers in the upper Snake River have a daily bag limit of two adipose fin-clipped fall chinook salmon per day. Only one can be an adult salmon longer than 24 inches. Only barbless hooks may be used.

Fishing will be best from late September to mid-October because this is when most the fall chinook will arrive in the upper Snake. The fall chinook will spawn from mid-October through November.

Anglers taking salmon early in the season will have more of a treat for their palates, Knox said. Early-season salmon taste better. The quality of their flesh deteriorates as salmon get closer to spawning.

Much of the angling will be done by boat since fishermen have relatively few places they can drive to fish from shore. Angling sites they can drive to include the area immediately below Hells Canyon Dam.