The Klickitat River is a bright spot in the otherwise grim news of this year’s lagging steelhead and salmon runs, a veteran fishing guide says.
While poor runs are forecast for the Columbia – and especially up the Snake and into Idaho – the Klickitat is poised about 30 miles above Bonneville Dam in a convenient spot for traveling fish.
“In addition to the Klickitat’s fishery produced by the Yakima tribe, you never know when upriver bound fish are going to turn into the Klickitat for a break,” said Tracy Zoller of Zoller’s Klickitat River Guides. Taking after his father, who started the guiding business, Tracy has been guiding for 40 years.
The Klickitat is a different river from beginning to end, he said.
“The state is hot and dry yet the Klickitat is running full because the sun is bearing down on the glaciers that feed it,” he said.
Zoller has learned to track the cool nighttime temperatures in the mountains that slow the glacier melt. He follows those stretches of clearer, lower-flow water downstream.
“After a cold night, it takes two days for that lower cfs water to get down to where we fish,” he said. “We’ll start out and it will be a murky and then it will get a little clearer and a little clearer underneath us as we drift, and then we stay with that flow.”
Having a little color in the water extends good fishing periods beyond morning and evening, he said.
“Klickitat salmon and steelhead will bite right in the middle of the day,” he said. “Some West Side streams are running so clear the fish don’t want to come up in the day.”
Everyone in the fisheries business is concerned about this year’s B run, the bulk of which is moving upstream this month headed for the Clearwater and Salmon rivers of Idaho, Zoller said.
“Those fish are usually the big attraction in the Columbia in August, September and October, but Fish and Wildlife wants to protect most of what’s coming up in a near record-low run. There will be restrictions at the mouths of streams where those fish hold up in cool water as they migrate.
“We’re more fortunate in the Klickitat. It’s the second longest free-flowing stream in Washington and they aren’t going to close any of it. The Yakima Nation runs the hatchery program, rather than the state. They put a lot into it because it’s a seed fishery for the tribe’s dipnet fishery in the lower river.
“The result is that a lot of money has been spent. They’re increasing our steelhead runs and they’ve added the fall chinook fishery, which never used to be in the Klickitat.
“These fall chinook came from the upriver brights in the Hanford Reach. They get very big. They self-spawn, and because they have more egg production than they need at the hatchery way upstream, and because it’s not native to the Klickitat, we can keep chinook that are not fin clipped once they get a certain distance up the river.”