The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has announced that a portion of the Cowlitz River will be open to recreational smelt dip netting along the shore from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday.
The portion of the river open to dip netting extends from the state Route 432 bridge upstream to the Al Helenberg Memorial Boat Ramp, located approximately 1,300 feet upstream from the state Route 411/A Street Bridge in Castle Rock.
“This is the first year since 2017 that a recreational smelt fishery has opened on the Cowlitz. Columbia River smelt — also known as Eulachon — were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2010,” according to the WDFW.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, which oversees endangered fish species, approves of limited recreational harvest when runs are strong enough, said Laura Heironimus, WDFW’s Columbia River smelt, sturgeon, and lamprey lead.
“We work closely with NOAA to take a precautionary approach to any fisheries involving an ESA-listed species,” Heironimus said in a news release. “Initial indicators suggest this run is strong enough to offer this limited opportunity while still allowing us to meet our conservation goals and help the population rebuild.”
About 4.2 million pounds of smelt returned to the Columbia River in 2019. Each dip-netter may retain 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. No fishing license is required to dip net for smelt in this limited fishery.
Dip netters are advised to take caution due to recent flooding along the Cowlitz River.