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Friday, August 23, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Drought prompts fishing limits on 38 rivers in Washington

Reacting to reports of drought-related dead and stressed fish, Washington Fish and Wildlife Department officials are enacting fishing restrictions involving 38 rivers, including the Spokane River.

The Kettle River near Republic is one of 21 rivers that will be closed to fishing when the emergency rules take effect on Saturday.

The Spokane River and tributaries are among 16 river systems that will be restricted to “hoot owl” hours that prohibit fishing from 2 p.m. to midnight.

Sturgeon fishing also is being temporarily closed in the Columbia River by an emergency rule adopted Thursday by the Columbia River Compact, a board of fisheries managers from Oregon, Washington and regional tribes. Dozens of decades-old sturgeon have been found dead in the Tri-Cities area and farther downstream.

“We thought the 2001 drought had terrible impacts on fish, but it was a drop in the bucket compared with this year,” said Chris Donley, the state’s regional fisheries manager in Spokane.

“Catch-and-release fishing should be OK on the Spokane River but we want to lighten up on the fish when the water temperatures get high later in the day,” he said.

The river’s native redband trout are stressed when water temperatures go above 70 degrees, leaving them susceptible to dying from disturbances such as fishing, he said.

“Water temperatures have been close to 80 degrees near Barker Road and under 70 most days in areas where the river is recharged by the aquifer,” Donley said.

The complete closure of fishing in the Kettle River stems from reports of trout dying since early July, he said.

“Water temperatures have been exceeding lethal limits for trout,” he said. “We realize we’re losing recreation, but we just have to close it.”

All of the closures statewide are set in areas where drought conditions have reduced flows and increased water temperatures.  

High water temperatures can be deadly for fish, especially trout, while diminished stream flows can strand migrating salmon and steelhead, said Craig Burley, state fish program manager.

“We’ll continue monitoring stream conditions throughout Washington this summer and take additional actions if necessary,” he said.

Other Spokane region streams that will be closed to fishing include portions of the Touchet River and tributaries and Asotin Creek.

Notable river closures farther west include fishing in the lower Wenatchee, Icicle and portions of the Okanogan.

Hoot owl restrictions in this region will be applied to portions of the Walla Walla, lower Touchet, Tucannon, Colville and Sullivan Creek as well as the Spokane River and tributaries such as the Little Spokane River.

Last month, the state called an early closure of the spring chinook fishing season in the Grande Ronde River because of low, warm flows.

“All of these rules are not set in stone,” Donley said. “If we get another round of 100-degree weather we’ll evaluate if we have to be even more conservative.”

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