One-day smelt dip net fishery announced for Cowlitz River on March 5th

Cowlitz River - (Cowlitz County)

by WA Department of Fish & Wildlife Staff

OLYMPIA – Anglers will have an opportunity to dip for smelt in 2022 during a limited-opening recreational fishery on Saturday, March 5.

A portion of the Cowlitz River will be open to recreational dip netting along the shore from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. for one day only.

“The fishery proved extremely popular in 2021, with thousands of dip-netters lining the Cowlitz River banks. Dip-netters caught an estimated 90,750 pounds of smelt in a single five-hour fishery opening last year,” said Laura Heironimus, WDFW’s Columbia River smelt lead.

The 2022 smelt run was predicted to be larger than the 2021 run and in-season monitoring data so far supports that increased forecast, allowing for a limited recreational dip-net fishery for the third year in a row. Commercial fishers first started catching smelt Feb. 18 and since then biologists have observed significant seal and sea lion and avian predator activity on the mainstem Columbia River. Smelt were first detected in the Cowlitz River on March 2.

The portion of the river open to dip netting extends from the Highway 432 Bridge upstream to the Al Helenberg Memorial Boat Ramp, located approximately 1,300 feet upstream from the Highway 411/A Street Bridge in Castle Rock.

Each dip-netter may retain up to 10 pounds of smelt per day, with no more than one day's limit in possession. Ten pounds is about a quarter of a 5-gallon bucket, but anglers are encouraged to bring their own scale for tracking. No fishing license is required to dip net for smelt in this limited fishery. All smelt caught must be retained up to the daily limit. Smelt may only be taken with a handheld dip net that may not exceed 36 inches across the bag frame with a maximum 5/8-inch stretch mesh size and must have a rigid handle.

All individual harvesters must use a separate container to hold their catch, and the container must be in the harvester's presence or identified with the harvester's name. It is unlawful to harvest smelt from a vessel.

Dip netters should be aware that river levels and flows on the Cowlitz River may still be very strong by this weekend, and dip netters are urged to exercise caution. Life jackets are also recommended, especially for children. WDFW Enforcement officers will be out to help ensure public safety, as well as enforce the 10-pound limit, using a separate container and other regulations while the fishery is open.

Fishery managers will continue to monitor the run, as well as catch effort from Saturday’s fishery, to determine if the run could potentially support additional fishing days. Those openings will be announced via news release and on WDFW’s webpage.

Columbia River smelt – also known as Eulachon – were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2010. Managers monitor the run to ensure there are enough fish to support harvest while staying within allowable ESA limits, including the use of commercial test fisheries to help gauge the strength of the run. The recreational fishery also serves as an important opportunity to collect biological data to further assess the run.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife works to preserve, protect, and perpetuate fish, wildlife and ecosystems while providing sustainable fish and wildlife recreational and commercial opportunities.

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