By Mike Maltais

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) announced that while some stretches of the upper Columbia River drainage were closed to steelhead fishing Dec. 8, the Methow River from its mouth upstream to the confluence with the Chewuch River remains open as do portions of the Okanogan, Similkameen and mainstem Columbia rivers.

Specific waters that closed to fishing for steelhead an hour after sunset on Dec. 8 include:

• Mainstem Columbia River, from Rock Island Dam upstream to 400 feet below Wells Dam.

• Wenatchee River, from the mouth upstream to the Icicle River Road Bridge.

• Icicle River, from the mouth upstream to 500 feet below the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery Barrier Dam.

WDFW regional fish manager Jeff Korth said the closures are necessary to keep impacts on wild steelhead within limits established under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Areas that remain open to fishing for hatchery steelhead include:

• Methow River, from the mouth upstream to the confluence with the Chewuch River in Winthrop.

• Mainstem Columbia River, from Wells Dam upstream to 400 feet below Chief Joseph Dam.

• Okanogan River, from the mouth upstream to the Highway 97 Bridge in Oroville.

• Similkameen River, from the mouth upstream to 400 feet below Enloe Dam.

The primary reason the upper Columbia steelhead fisheries are permitted is to remove excess hatchery fish from spawning grounds, said Korth, noting that those fisheries provide popular recreational fishing opportunities and economic benefits for rural communities throughout the region.

Those fisheries will remain open until further notice under previously published rules.

“This year’s run is smaller than in recent years and contains a relatively high proportion of wild steelhead,” Korth said. “Because of that, we saw an increase in the rate of encounters with natural-origin fish in some fishing areas.”

Although anglers must release any wild, unmarked steelhead they intercept in area fisheries, some of those fish do not survive and are counted toward ESA impact limits.

WDFW fisheries managers are analyzing fishery impacts to date, and will produce a steelhead run update next month, Korth said. Some areas could be reopened at a later date for additional fishing opportunities, and anglers should keep a close eye on the WDFW website for these possibilities.

For more information, see the fishing rule change on WDFW’s website at https://fortress.wa.gov/dfw/erules/efishrules/erule.jsp?id=1381.