Smelt season is coming

HOOK AND FUR By Bob Brown For the past couple of weeks, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife offices have had a surge of phone calls asking when the 2016 smelt season is going to start. The staff members of the department haven't been able to answer those queries because they don't know themselves. Currently, prospects for any 2016 smelt fisheries are being discussed by Washington, Oregon and at NOAA. If fisheries were to occur, the season would likely be similar to or reduced from those provided in 2014-15. The 2015 regulation for a two-day smelt season was issued Jan. 29, and for those inquiring about the 2016 smelt season, it is expected that information will be available about the same time in late January, but biologists are forecasting a smaller smelt return. Joe Hymer, supervisory fish biologist for Pacific States Marine Fishery said the state department (WDFW) and tribal field crews are finding two varieties of smelt in the Cowlitz River. Due to the popularity of the infamous smelt fishery, anglers are most familiar with Columbia River Eulachon. However, as a result of increased research and larvae and fish sampling, biologists are also finding Long Fin smelt. This species has a long anal fin (hence the name Long Fin), lacks striations in the gill area, and is smaller than the Columbia River Eulachon. There is also a landlocked population of Long Fin smelt in Lake Washington. Reminder: The entire state of Washington is closed to fishing for Eulachon.
And in other fishing news ...
" Hymer reported there has been a new record return of adult fall chinook. The new mark is nearly 1.4 million. The previous record was 1.2 million fish in 2013. The outlook remains strong for bright stock fall chinook which comprised the majority of this year's return. Preliminary coho 2015 return is much less than the over half-million adults forecasted. Jack returns are also down from recent years. Poor ocean conditions along the Oregon and Washington coasts could potentially have negative impacts on tulle fall chinook and coho returns. Updated fall chinook and coho forecasts by stock will be available in February. " It should be no surprise to anyone that there hasn't been a lot of action on any of the western Washington rivers due to present weather conditions. On the Cowlitz, flows below Mayfield Dam have been running in the 11,000 cubic feet per second range with nasty water conditions. Karen Glazer of Barrier Dam Campground reported last week there were some nice silvers and a few steelhead taken at Blue Creek also quite a few of cutthroat trout. During Nov. 30-Dec. 6, Tacoma Power recovered 300 coho adults, 230 jacks, one fall chinook adult, three summer steelhead, seven winter steelhead and 13 cutthroat. Nineteen North Fork Lewis bank anglers sampled that week kept three hatchery adult coho while 15 boat anglers kept five adult chinook and released three adult coho. On the mainstem Lewis River, 10 bank anglers had no catch. Current flows below Merwin Dam are running a very high 24,000 cubic feet per second. " The WDFW has again delayed the commercial Dungeness crab fishery on a small section of Washington's southern coast. The fishery encompasses the area from the Columbia River north to Klipsan Beach on the Long Beach Peninsula and the inside Willapa Bay. The decision was made in coordination with shellfish managers from Oregon and California, where commercial Dungeness fisheries are also closed. Washington shellfish managers agreed to extend the delay of the southern coast fishery to avoid the chaos that opening such as small area would create. If open, this 13-mile stretch of Washington's south coast would be the only area in Washington, Oregon or California open to non-tribal commercial crabbing. WDFW officials worried it would draw too many crabbers to the area and potentially be overfished. Later this month, shellfish managers from all three states will discuss an opening date for commercial Dungeness crab fisheries. Recreational crabbing is open in all of Washington's coastal waters and in Puget Sound, where marine toxins in crabs have not been a problem.
Bob Brown is a freelance outdoors writer. He can be contacted at


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