For the first time since 2015, people will be allowed to catch smelt on Oregon’s Sandy River. The season, such as it is, will run for seven hours on Thursday, March 30, and it was announced two days in advance.
“We know it’s short notice, but the eulachon smelt will not be present for long,” Columbia River program manager Tucker Jones said in Tuesday’s announcement from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Once the officials realized the smelt numbers were high enough to allow a Sandy River fishery for the first time in almost a decade, they had to clear it with biologists who oversee the release of Chinook salmon smolts. If the young salmon were in the river at the same time, smelt fishing could not be allowed.
Determining it was the “sweet spot between releases,” the agency gave the thumbs-up to smelt fishers.
The season will run from noon to 7 p.m. Thursday on a five-mile stretch of the Sandy, from the Stark Street Bridge near Troutdale to where the river empties into the Columbia a few miles east of Portland.
Harvesting is allowed with a dip net only, and only from the bank. A 2023 fishing license is required. The limit is 10 pounds, or about a quarter of a 5-gallon bucket.
The fish, 6 to 9 inches long, is generally prepared by frying or smoking.
It is found from Alaska to Northern California, and the southern population is considered threatened. This year’s levels allow “limited, conservative harvest,” the OFDW said.
The past two years, Washington declared even shorter smelt seasons — five hours — on a quarter-mile of the Cowlitz River, which empties into the Columbia near Longview. In 2021, an estimated 90,750 pounds of smelt was caught in that five hours.