Photo courtesy of Aimee Budrow
Joey Hickman, left, joined Lane Budrow and his father Paul Budrow on a fishing trip to Patterson Lake where they caught several Kokanee.

By Marcy Stamper

With cooler temperatures, much of the Methow River remains open for catch-and-release trout fishing, and anglers can still fish for summer Chinook in the Columbia River near Brewster.

“This is the first time in years that the state has opened a season for natural-origin [non-hatchery] summer Chinook,” said Ryan Fortier, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (WDFW’s) district fisheries biologist for Okanogan County. Fishers can keep up to four summer Chinook a day, including two adults.

On the Methow River from Winthrop to the Burma bridge near Methow, people can still fish for rainbow and cutthroat trout for another month or so. But the season on the Methow River above Winthrop, and on the Chewuch and Twisp rivers, has already closed to protect spring Chinook that are already returning to spawn, Fortier said.

But anglers eager for a fall steelhead season are likely to be disappointed. “That’s definitely the big discussion among the angling community,” said Fortier, who said that, based on the current run, steelhead fishing this year is unlikely. “This return is one of the worst we’ve ever had across the Columbia in general,” he said.

The steelhead run is lower than last year, for both hatchery and wild fish, Fortier said. Low numbers are attributed to two years of drought, which means migrating steelhead were smaller and weaker when they reached the ocean, decreasing their survival rate.

Because steelhead begin their outmigration later in the season, they suffer even more from drought than other species.

A phenomenon called “the blob,” which is a huge area of warm water that has persisted off the Pacific coast for the past few years, also has taken a toll. “The blob is still there and has had a range of impacts on the ecosystem,” from fish to birds to sea lions, Fortier said.

But biologists won’t have a complete picture of the number of returning fish until mid-October, he said. The last time fishing was open for steelhead was in 2015.

It will also be fall before biologists also know enough about returning Chinook numbers to forecast a season for those fish, said Fortier.

Cooler temps help

Just a few weeks ago, anglers were concerned that extremely hot temperatures would force restrictions on fishing in the river. River water over 70 degrees puts too much stress on the fish, said Leaf Seaburg, owner of Methow Fishing Adventures. But with overnight temperatures now dipping into the 40s, river conditions have improved, dropping back into the 50s and 60s.

Seaburg still encourages people to restrict their fishing to the cooler morning and evening hours to avoid overtaxing the fish. “Don’t fish in the middle of the day for the next couple of weeks,” he said. “Besides, you get diminishing returns — it’s not worth the time.”

Trout fishing on the Methow from Gold Creek to the Burma bridge closes Sept. 15. From the Foghorn dam, just north of Winthrop, the season closes Sept. 30.

Lake fishing

Fishing in lakes continues to be good, with opportunities in the valley and in high-mountain lakes for tasty and productive fishing.

Pearrygin Lake is open for rainbow trout through the end of October, and Patterson Lake is open year-round for species including perch and crappie, all good for eating, said Fortier.

Some lakes that have been catch-and-release all summer have fall openers, when anglers can keep up to five fish a day. Davis and Campbell lakes, well stocked with rainbow trout, open Sept. 1.

“Lots of old-timers fish there year in and year out — they get pretty excited about it,” said Fortier. The lakes revert to catch-and-release in April.

Fishing in mountain lakes gives anglers an opportunity to hook tasty fish while helping restore the balance of native populations, said Seaburg. For example, Tiffany Lake has an abundance of brook trout. “If you smoke those brookies and can them, it’s just amazing,” he said. “You can fish and help out at the same time.”