Rod French calls Sherars Falls the epicenter for spring chinook salmon fishing on the Deschutes River.
And many anglers will flock to the falls again this spring, as the Lower Deschutes — from Sherars Falls downstream to the mouth at the Columbia River — will be open to spring chinook fishing from April 15 to June 30, according to French, a fisheries biologist for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in The Dalles.
There was no spring chinook season last year on the Deschutes, as fish were too scarce for the ODFW to implement a season.
“It’s very variable on the Deschutes,” French said Thursday. “We’ve been constrained by our low wild fish numbers.”
The Lower Deschutes has not been open to spring chinook fishing consistently over the past five years, he noted. There was an abbreviated season in 2016, no season in 2015, a season in 2014, and no season in 2013. The river opened for spring chinook each spring from 2010 to 2013.
The Lower Deschutes is technically closed to chinook salmon fishing but can be opened by temporary rule each spring and fall.
Most of the wild spring chinook that enter the Deschutes from the Pacific Ocean via the Columbia return to the Warm Springs River to spawn. Before they turn south into the Deschutes, they must pass over Bonneville and The Dalles dams.
While the wild chinook numbers projected to return to the Warm Springs River are again low, a strong projection of 7,600 hatchery chinook returning to the Deschutes is enough to allow for a season in 2018, French said. The June 30 closing date is a month earlier than normal for spring chinook seasons on the Deschutes.
“There’s certainly enough of a buffer there to protect our small wild fish numbers,” French explained. “Because the wild run is typically a little bit later, and to lessen the impacts on wild fish, it’s closing a month earlier. Hatchery fish typically are a little bit earlier, and so that’s the purpose for the earlier closing date. Generally most of the harvest occurs in the May to early June period, anyway. So there’s generally very little harvest after the end of June.”
The number of hatchery chinook projected to return to the Deschutes is substantially higher than last year, according to French. But with numbers of wild fish returning to the Deschutes predicted to remain extremely low, a reduced bag limit and conservative regulations will be in place to protect their numbers.
“There’s been ongoing issues with the wild stock for at least the past 15 years,” French said. “We’re trying to get a handle on what the issues are. We don’t have a real good idea of what’s constraining those wild fish. But if the (hatchery) run comes back as predicted, hatchery chinook salmon fishing on the Deschutes should be good.”
In recent years, as many as 10,000 anglers a year have participated in the spring chinook fishery, according to the ODFW.
The bait-fishing zone — from Sherars Falls 4 miles downstream to the first railroad trestle — is the most popular and most productive area for chinook fishing on the Deschutes, according to French. Downstream of the trestle, fishing is limited to artificial flies and lures.
Bait fishermen near Sherars Falls — located about 90 miles north of Bend near Maupin — usually use a glob of eggs that they drift, or a tuna ball (canned tuna packed into a mesh bag and tied off) that they plunk into eddies, according to French.
“The fishery below Sherars Falls is extremely popular because it offers a great chance to catch a spring chinook from the bank,” French said. “It’s super popular, with a large contingent from Central Oregon. Most spring chinook fishing takes place from a boat. It’s high catch rates in the Deschutes, and it takes place from the bank. You don’t need a boat. And the table fare of Deschutes fish is said to be some of the highest (quality) in the Columbia Basin.”
The catch limit for spring chinook on the Lower Deschutes is one adult adipose fin-clipped salmon per day, and five adipose fin-clipped jack salmon per day. All non-adipose fin-clipped chinook salmon must be released unharmed.
According to the ODFW, the Hood River — another Columbia River tributary — is also open for spring chinook fishing from April 15 to June 30.
— Reporter: 541-383-0318,