“Reaching” For Late-Season Salmon on The Columbia

On a recent October Saturday, I had the opportunity to do something that thousands of anglers in southeastern Washington enjoy every year: I got to fish for (and catch) a salmon on the Hanford Reach.

What is The “Hanford Reach?”
The Hanford Reach is a 51-mile stretch of the Columbia River in Washington State. The Columbia River flows over 1,200 miles from its origins in Canada to its mouth at the Pacific Ocean between Washington and Oregon. Along that route, 14 dams have been constructed to provide hydroelectric power and create reservoirs for agricultural and urban uses. The Hanford Reach is the only stretch of the river that remains free-flowing, i.e., unchecked by dams.

In 2000, the United States government declared this section of river and the adjacent land a national monument. The Hanford Reach National Monument includes over 57,000 accessible acres of shrub steppe and grassland, maintained as a natural area with few developed resources.

Rookie O'Neal gets a fish on!
Rookie O’Neal gets a fish on!

The Reach itself, i.e., the 51-mile section of river, is open to motorized and non-motorized watercraft. Land-based activities on the Reach are limited to preserve its wild character. Activities are allowed under certain conditions and in certain areas adjacent to the river including bicycling, hiking, horseback riding, hunting, and fishing. No rockhounding or collecting of any kind is permitted within the Monument and no camping or open fires are allowed. The area protected by the Monument is home to 43 species of fish, 40 species of mammals, 246 species of birds, and a wide diversity of amphibian, reptile, and invertebrates, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service who, along with the Department of Energy, manages the Monument.

Salmon Fishing on The Reach
Most visitors come for one reason and one reason only: the salmon. Chinook salmon, to be more specific. Approximately 20,000 to 90,000 chinook adults spawn here annually.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website, the Reach provides “islands, riffles, gravel bars, oxbow ponds, and backwater sloughs that support some of the most productive spawning areas in the Northwest, including the largest remaining stock of wild fall chinook salmon in the Columbia Basin.”

Upper Columbia River spring chinook and Middle and Upper Columbia River steelhead also use The Reach for migration, but they are all federally threatened and protected species. Smallmouth bass and steelhead may be harvested in their respective seasons.

A beautiful late-season Chinook.
A beautiful late-season Chinook.

The fall salmon fishing season on The Reach runs August 1 to October 31. The week I fished, near the end of the season, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) estimated 1,469 salmon (1,284 adult Chinook and 185 jacks) were harvested.

Most fish caught this late in the season are going to be suitable for smoking only, having lost their firmness and brightness of flesh. In the end, our boatload of four anglers pulled in two smokers and a bonus youngster that was still bright and firm enough for grilling.

The fall of 2014 has been a good season for salmon on The Reach. The WDFW has recorded 44,000 angler trips and a record-breaking harvest of 26,880 adult Chinook, 3,474 jacks, and 171 coho in the fall season, up 17 percent from 2013.

Things to Know
More information about the Hanford Reach can be found on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website.

A Visitor Center is downstream from the actual reach at the confluence of the Columbia and Yakima rivers in Richland, Wash.

The Reach Museum, a visitor center describing the flora, fauna, and history of The Reach, as well as the area’s intimate connection with The Manhattan Project and the Hanford Engineering Works, is located downstream from The Reach itself at 1943 Columbia Park Trail. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $8 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, and free for children under age 5. Call (509) 943-4100 for more information or go to http://www.visitthereach.org.

 

In the Pacific Northwest, it’s all about salmon. What’s the “signature fish” in your neck of the woods?

(Top Photo: Fishing poles at rest in the Hanford Reach.)

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