One-day smelt fishery set for Thursday on Cowlitz River 


Smelt-dipping will return to the banks of the Cowlitz River as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has approved a one-day recreational fishery on Thursday, Feb. 15.

During the limited opener, a designated portion of the Cowlitz River in Southwest Washington will be open for recreational dip-netting from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. for one day only.

“The fish have arrived at a great time to open a recreational dipping opportunity,” said Laura Heironimus, WDFW’s Columbia River smelt lead. “Early season forecasts indicated a potential recreational opening, and we are excited to open this fishery to the public.”

Fishery managers will continue to monitor the run and catch effort from Thursday’s fishery to determine if additional fishing days can be supported. 

As of early 2024, a fishing license is not required for dip-netting smelt. However, anglers are required to follow all regulations. Dip-netting from the shore is permitted on the river from the Highway 432 bridge near Kelso upstream to the Al Helenberg Memorial Boat Ramp, located approximately 1,300 feet upstream of the Highway 411/A Street Bridge in Castle Rock. It is unlawful to harvest smelt from a vessel.

Each dip-netter is allowed to retain a daily limit of up to 10 pounds of smelt. For reference, 10 pounds of smelt fills about a quarter of a five-gallon bucket, though anglers are advised to bring their own scale to keep track of their catch. Anglers must keep all smelt caught until they reach the daily limit. Each harvester is required to use a separate container to hold their catch, which must be either in their presence or marked with their name.

With potentially strong river levels and flows on the Cowlitz River Thursday, dip-netters are strongly advised to exercise caution. WDFW recommends the use of personal flotation devices. WDFW Enforcement officers will be present to ensure public safety and enforce regulations, including the 10-pound limit and separate container requirement, during the open hours of the fishery.

Eulachon, commonly known as Columbia River smelt, have been listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act since 2010 due to a sharp decline in returns that began in the 1990s.

To ensure a sustainable harvest, fishery managers monitor the fish population each year. 

“The recreational fishery plays a crucial role in this process, providing the opportunity to gather biological data on the spawning grounds,” WDFW stated in a news release.

WDFW updated its smelt management plan in September 2023. The new plan identifies current management strategies and makes recommendations for monitoring and evaluation of the population, as well as harvest criteria and communication between state and federal managers.