Smelt run draws crowds to the Cowlitz River


Crowds flocked to the Cowlitz River on Thursday morning as smelt-dipping returned after the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) approved a one-day recreational fishery.

A designated portion of the Cowlitz River was open for recreational dip-netting from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday.

Fishery managers will continue to monitor the run and catch effort from Thursday’s fishery to determine if additional fishing days can be supported, though in recent years that have only been one run a year — if that. 

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.

On Thursday, dip-netting from the shore was permitted on the Cowlitz 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 was allowed to retain a daily limit of up to 10 pounds of smelt.

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.

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