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Snake River open for spring Chinook

Grande Ronde and Imnaha tributary seasons planned

May 5, 2015

ENTERPRISE, Ore. – Spring Chinook fishing in northeast Oregon kicked off Saturday, May 2 with the opening of the upper Snake River to salmon fishing. It is the first of several Chinook fisheries expected to open later this spring.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has opened the upper Snake River for spring chinook fishing under the following regulations:

  • Open to sport fishing seven days a week from Dug Bar Boat Ramp to the deadline below Hells Canyon Dam.  The fishery will remain open until a notice of closure is announced.
  • The daily bag limit is four adipose fin-clipped spring Chinook salmon (adult and jacks) per day, no more than two can be an adult salmon more than 24-inches long.  Anglers must stop fishing for salmon for the day when they have kept four jack salmon (equal to or less than 24-inches long) or two adult salmon, whichever comes first.
  • Only barbless hooks may be used. Anglers are reminded to consult the 2015 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations for other applicable regulations.

ODFW and Idaho Fish and Game fishery managers, who co-manage the upper Snake River fishery, anticipate over 2,000 hatchery adult salmon will return to the base of Hell’s Canyon Dam. 

“However, as we track Columbia and Snake River dam counts during the early part of the return, we think the numbers might be much better than our pre-season projections,” said Jeff Yanke, ODFW district fish biologist in Enterprise. 

Managers are also monitoring early season returns of Chinook salmon destined for the Grande Ronde and Imnaha river basins.

“Based on our pre-season projections, we’re also planning for fisheries in Lookingglass Creek and the Wallowa and Imnaha rivers,” Yanke said.  Oregon and Washington managers also will consider opening the lower Grande Ronde River for the second time in recent history, Yanke said. Last year’s test fishery was blown out by unexpectedly high flows.

Setting salmon season in Northeast Oregon has been helped by the use of real-time detections of fish as they make their way up the Columbia and Snake rivers. According to Yanke, electronic tags in the fish and corresponding tag readers at the dam allow managers to track not just the number but the final destination of migrating adult salmon.

“These early run real-time detections allow us to set seasons with some confidence that the fish are on their way,” Yanke said.

This year’s data also suggests salmon anglers may be hitting the water earlier this year, Yanke said. Early-returning Idaho salmon stocks appear to be moving through the Columbia and Snake Rivers at much faster pace than usual.  As a result, Oregon fishery managers plan to open tributary fisheries a few weeks earlier than usual.

For example, Tim Bailey, La Grande district fish biologist, is hoping to open the Lookingglass Creek fishery as early as May 23.

“Lookingglass Creek typically offers Northeast Oregon’s earliest tributary fishery for springers,” Bailey said. 

Yanke hopes to open the Imnaha and Wallowa Chinook fisheries in early-to-mid June depending on how the Snake River run shapes up.  The lower Grande Ronde fishery would open shortly after.

“Barring any unforeseen changes to our Chinook run, I expect to announce the upcoming seasons within the next two weeks,” Yanke said.

While the upper Snake River fishery opened last weekend, it might be a few weeks before anglers start catching fish. According to Yanke, only a handful of Chinook salmon were harvested in the Idaho’s Clearwater River during its opening weekend, though catch rates have recently increased.

“We expect the catch rates to pick up in the upper Snake around mid-May,” he said. But he cautions that several factors, including water flow and temperatures, affect catch rates each year.

Season changes and closures announcements will be posted on the ODFW website and released through local news outlets.




Jeff Yanke (541) 426-3279
Tim Bailey (541) 962-1829
Jessica Sall (503) 947-6023  

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