State plans to reopen Wenatchee River to salmon fishing WENATCHEE, Wash. — The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is working to reopen salmon and steelhead fishing on the Wenatchee River as early as next summer.
The river was closed to most fishing after salmon and steelhead runs started to dwindle and then were protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. It’s been at least 15 years since salmon could be hooked in the river and about eight years for steelhead, said Art Viola, fish biologist for the agency’s Wenatchee office.
Private fishing specialist Don Talbot said anglers have been looking forward to this day since the river was closed to fishing.
“There has been much pain and anguish over this for fishermen. When you grow up fishing here for so many years, then have it closed to you, it’s like losing a piece of your past,” Talbot said.
Viola said the state agency has already received permission from the federal NOAA Fisheries to open sport fishing for hatchery-raised steelhead on the Wenatchee River next year, if the run is large enough.
He is still awaiting word on hatchery spring chinook salmon, but said he is hopeful.
Regional Fish and Wildlife director Dennis Beich said he expects the federal agency to give its approval, but said there are still some problems to work out, including how to avoid conflicts between river rafters and fisherman, since the rafting and fishing seasons coincide.
“The last time we had a salmon season on the Wenatchee, we didn’t have the rafting industry that we have today,” he said.
The fishing seasons would be based on the number of returning salmon and steelhead, which are counted as they pass through dams on the Columbia River.
Chinook and steelhead can be caught on a limited basis in the Columbia River, but the best chances for hooking them are from a boat.
Anglers say there’s just something special about standing in the river in hip waders, shoulder to shoulder with others, waiting for a tug on a line.
“No boat, just you and the river, and all those other fishermen, there’s nothing like it,” Talbot said. “It’s knowing that someone is going to catch a big one, and it just might be you.”
However, Talbot also said the Department of Fish and Wildlife has promised to open the river to fishing before.
“So I don’t think anyone will really believe it until it happens,” he said.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS