Tag Archives: clearwater river

Columbia Springer Run Downgraded To 75,000

File this one under Unsurprising News, but the Columbia upriver spring Chinook forecast has been cut by a quarter as the return begins to flag.

The U.S. vs OR Technical Advisory Committee, also known as TAC, yesterday estimated that only 75,000 adult kings will return to the mouth of the big river this spring, down from the preseason prediction of 99,300.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER GRAPH SHOWS THE 2019 UPRIVER SPRING CHINOOK RUN AT BONNEVILLE DAM (RED LINE) COMPARED TO 2018 (BLUE LINE) AND THE 10-YEAR AVERAGE (BLACK). (FPC)

If it comes to pass, it would be the fewest springers since 1999’s 43,067.

As it has become apparent this year’s run won’t meet predictions — the count at Bonneville Dam through yesterday is 46,653, more than 80,000 fewer than the 10-year average — managers throughout the watershed tightened the clamps on this year’s fisheries even more, closing waters or announcing they wouldn’t open for angling.

Idaho scrubbed the two-day-a-week Clearwater River fishery because it didn’t look like enough salmon would return to meet broodstock needs and Washington helped out by cancelling the weekends-only opener at Clarkston on the Snake and later today at Little Goose Dam.

Oregon stated that its Snake, as well as the Wallowa and Imnaha Rivers and Lookingglass Creek also would not open, then WDFW put out an e-reg shutting down the popular Wind River and Drano Lake fisheries after this past Sunday to collect broodstock for hatcheries elsewhere, such as Leavenworth, an important facility powering sport and tribal fisheries on Icicle Creek.

While the Lower Columbia fishery saw three weekend-only extensions after its April 10 last scheduled day, the overall 1,471 upriver Chinook kept plus release mortalities accrued through the season between Warrior Rock and Bonneville should be covered by the run.

In a fact sheet out a couple weeks ago when managers mulled an April 27-28 opener said that a runsize of 53,300 would cover up to 1,691 mortalities.

The Columbia below Warrior Rock down to Buoy 10 was kept closed this year to protect weak returns of Cowlitz and Lewis springers. Hatcheries on those two systems need 1,337 and 1,380 fish to meet goals and as of last Tuesday, 416 and 421 had returned.

A total of 4,700 are needed for Idaho’s Clearwater system and analysis of passive integrated transponders placed in a portion of the run show that 3,500 had been counted at Bonneville as of last week.

A SPRING CHINOOK COMES ABOARD A BOAT FISHING AT THE MOUTH OF THE WIND RIVER. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

The Willamette Falls springer count of 11,922 through May 16 is about 4,500 fish fewer than the 10-year average for the date but still much better than 2017’s 4,156.

As for this year’s new May lower Skagit Chinook sport fishery, only an estimated 22 had been caught through the 12th, though a better gauge of the run might be hatchery return.

If there is any bright spot to this year’s poor Columbia springer run, it might be that if this is the bottom of the salmon stock’s up-and-down cycle, it’s a whole lot better than the last big crash.

Only 24,095 and 12,792 entered the big river in 1994 and 1995, an era when there was no directed fishery on above-Bonneville-bound fish in the lower river.

Since that time, state, tribal and federal dollars have been poured into hatcheries, habitat and passage improvements, notes WDFW’s Ryan Lothrop.

The numbers of jacks — a potential indication for future runs — this year isn’t great, but it’s better than any time during the 1990s and during a downturn in the middle of this millennium’s first decade too.

IDFG Halts Clearwater Springer Fishery; WDFW Closes Clarkston Area Of Snake

Editor’s note: Updated 2:50 p.m. Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Idaho salmon managers are closing the two-day-a-week spring Chinook fishery on the Clearwater system because not enough fish are returning to cover eggtake needs, and Washington followed suit in the Clarkston area.

A FISH PASSAGE CENTER GRAPH SHOWS THE 2019 SPRING CHINOOK RUN AT BONNEVILLE DAM (RED LINE) SO FAR. BLUE LINE IS 2018 AND BLACK LINE IS THE 10-YEAR AVERAGE. OVER THE PAST DECADE, AN AVERAGE OF 111,686 SPRINGERS HAVE BEEN COUNTED AT THE DAM AS OF MAY 13, BUT THIS YEAR’S TALLY IS JUST 38,415. (FPC)

IDFG says it’s possible that the season could reopen later in May depending on dam counts, but returns at Bonneville took a downturn the past seven days after reaching a high of 4,807 last Tuesday.

So far, only 38,415 springers have been tallied at the first blockage of the Columbia, just 35 percent of the 10-year average.

“Based on the number of PIT tagged fish passing over Bonneville Dam, fisheries managers are projecting that not enough Chinook will return to hatcheries in the Clearwater River basin to meet brood needs. However, dam counts and PIT tag detections have been fluctuating and there’s some uncertainty to the actual size of the run,” IDFG said in a press release out today.

The agency said that typically by May 22 four-fifths of the Clearwater run should have gone over the dam and by then officials should know if enough are returning to reopen the season.

“Currently, the number of fish returning to Rapid River Hatchery is projected to be high enough for the fisheries to remain open in the lower Salmon River and Little Salmon River,” IDFG states.

Eric Barker of the Lewiston Morning Tribune broke the news that WDFW was also considering closing the Clarkston area of Washington’s Snake, and that has come to pass.

“This section of the Snake River is adjacent to the Clearwater River. Spring chinook salmon returns to the Clearwater are lower than preseason estimates, and this closure is necessary to protect hatchery brood stock within the Clearwater,” the agency said in an emergency rule-change notice.

That part of the river has only been open one weekend so far.

The waters near Little Goose Dam remain open, per the e-reg,

Last week, Oregon and Washington salmon managers granted two more days of fishing in Columbia Gorge pools up to the state line, but at the urging of anglers, guides and upstream tribes did not add any more time on the lower river.

They planned to provide an update on the run tomorrow.

News From Idaho: Most Fawns, Calves Surviving Winter; Springer Season Opens 4-27

THE FOLLOWING ARE PRESS RELEASES FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Most radio-collared fawns and elk calves survived unusually snowy February

78 percent of fawns and 94 percent of calves were still alive through February, but they’re not safe yet

Despite February storms that battered much of Idaho and pushed snowpack and precipitation above average in most areas, radio-collared young fawns and elk calves were faring relatively well across the state through the end of February.

A RADIO-COLLARED MULE DEER RUNS THROUGH SAGEBRUSH IN SOUTHWEST IDAHO. (IDFG)

Idaho Fish and Game biologists have been monitoring 207 mule deer fawns and 201 elk calves captured earlier in the winter and fitted with telemetry collars.

Through the end of February, 78 percent of the collared fawns and 94 percent of the calves were still alive. That compares with 88 percent of the fawns and 97 percent of the calves surviving through February in 2017-18, and 55 and 80 percent in 2016-17.

While snowpacks and precipitation totals are above average for most of the state, the late arrival of winter weather in 2019 has made for an easier winter for big game than in 2016-17, according to Daryl Meints, State Deer and Elk manager for Fish and Game.

In 2016-17, a prolonged, severe winter resulted in some of the lowest survival rates recorded for mule deer fawns and elk calves. Prior to what was a record-setting February for snowfall for many areas in the state, 2018-19 winter had been a mild-to-average snowfall and temperatures for most of Idaho.

While the weather may be trending warmer so far in March this year, the young animals aren’t “out of the woods” yet. In fact, the March and April are often when fawn and calf mortality is the highest because the young animals’ fat reserves are rapidly depleting and their body’s need time to convert digesting fresh forage.

“April is crucial,” Meints said. “That’s the make-or-break month, when their gas tank is hitting empty. What is going to matter now is how soon winter ends, or how soon spring shows up.”

If the warm weather continues through the end of April, Meints expects fawn survival will fall somewhere in the average range, while calf survival will be above average.

“But if for some reason we get a weather system that is cloudy, cold, and wet, and we don’t get that spring green up on south-facing slopes, we could be in for some additional mortality,” Meints said.

People getting outdoors to recreate in the spring also need to be conscious and considerate of wildlife, particularly big game that remains on low-elevation winter ranges. Despite warmer temperatures and spring green up, deer, elk and pronghorn antelope still need to be left undisturbed to give young animals a better chance of surviving their critical first winter.

…………………

F&G Commission sets spring Chinook to open April 27

Limited fishing days on Clearwater, Salmon, and Little Salmon rivers, and the Upper Snake closed

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved spring Chinook fishing on the Clearwater, Salmon and Little Salmon rivers during their meeting on Wednesday, March 13 in Boise.

Fishing will open on April 27, with a two-day-a-week season on the Clearwater River and a four-day-a-week season on the Salmon and Little Salmon rivers. The season will run until sport anglers’ shares of the harvest are met (which varies by river) or Aug. 11 — whichever comes sooner.

Due to very low projected returns the Upper Snake River in Hells Canyon, fisheries managers did not propose to open a spring Chinook season for the fishery this year.

Chinook have just started entering the Columbia River and a small portion of them are working their way through Columbia/Snake river systems. Here’s current salmon counts at the dams.

Fisheries managers are forecasting a run of about 32,000 spring Chinook through Lower Granite Dam, which is about 25 miles downstream from Lewiston and the last of the eight dams that returning salmon cross on their way back to Idaho. The forecast is similar to last year’s actual return of 39,000, and below the 10-year average return of 75,000.

Included in the forecast are about 26,000 hatchery Chinook and 6,000 wild Chinook. The 2018 returns were 32,000 and 7,000, respectively, and the 10-year averages are 58,000 and 17,000. Forecasts are a starting point for managing Chinook returns, and they will be adjusted as fish migrate through the river systems.

Because the forecasted Chinook return for the Salmon River basin is about 8,700 fish, and the sport anglers’ share would be 1,430 fish this year. Fishing will be open Thursday through Sunday, with a limit of four total fish, only two of which may be adults.

For the Clearwater River basin, the projected return is about 9,400 adult fish, and the sport anglers’ harvest share would be 470. Fishing will be open on Saturday and Sunday, with a limit of four total fish, only one of which may be an adult.

Just 123 adult fish are projected to return the Upper Snake River in Hells Canyon, where fisheries managers do not expect a sport angler harvest share at all.

“Due to extremely high flows at Hells Canyon in 2017, we had high total dissolved gasses, which are potentially lethal to fish,” aid Jim Fredericks, Fish and Game’s Fisheries Bureau Chief. “In 2017, we chose to release the fish allocated for Hells Canyon at Rapid River instead, to ensure that they survived. For that reason, we have hardly any two-year-old fish coming back to Hells Canyon this year.”

Only hatchery Chinook with a clipped adipose fin may be kept by anglers, and all others must be released unharmed. Chinook anglers are restricted to barbless hooks.

Anglers should refer to the 2019 spring Chinook salmon seasons and rules brochure for other rules and special restrictions, which will be available online in early April, and in paper form prior to the spring Chinook season at Fish and Game offices and license vendors.

The Fish and Game Commission is scheduled to decide on summer Chinook salmon fisheries on the Lochsa River, South Fork Salmon River and upper Salmon River at its May meeting. Fish return to those areas later than to the Clearwater River and Rapid River hatcheries, allowing fishery managers more time to develop season proposals.

Waters open to fishing:

Clearwater River drainage — open Saturday and Sunday

  • Mainstream Clearwater River: Camas Prairie Bridge to Highway 12 Bridge; Pink House Boat Ramp to Greer Bridge
  • North Fork: Open, no boats
  • Middle Fork: Open
  • South Fork: Harpster Grade to Mount Idaho Grade Bridge.

Salmon River drainage — open Thursday through Sunday

  • Rice Creek Bridge to Vinegar Creek Boat Ramp
  • Entirety of Little Salmon River

Snake River — closed

Here’s What NOAA Says About Why It Approved IDFG Steelhead Fishery

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RLEASE FROM THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINSTRATION’S FISHERIES SERVICE

NOAA Fisheries has determined that Idaho’s Fishery Management and Evaluation Plan (FMEP) for their recreational steelhead fishery provides necessary protections for salmon and steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  NOAA fisheries has approved Idaho’s plan under section 4(d) Rule.

AN ANGLER ADMIRES A WILD STEELHEAD CAUGHT DURING A DERBY HELD OUT OF LEWISTON, IDAHO, SEVERAL YEARS AGO. (BRIAN LULL)

Under section 4(d), NOAA Fisheries can specify how an activity can be exempt from additional ESA regulations. This applies particularly to “take,” which can include any act that kills or injures fish, and may include habitat modification. The ESA prohibits any take of species listed as endangered, but some take of threatened species that does not interfere with survival and recovery may be allowed.

“Idaho has developed a plan that provides continuing recreational fishing opportunities while ensuring that ESA-listed salmon and steelhead have the protection they need to recover,” said Allyson Purcell, Branch Chief in NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region.

Idaho’s plan came together through collaboration with fishery managers across the Snake River Basin and includes a new basin-wide framework designed to limit total impacts on steelhead from all fisheries in the Snake River Basin.  Under Idaho’s plan, fishermen will continue to be required to release any wild steelhead they encounter.

The plan will also limit impacts of Idaho’s steelhead fishery on other ESA-listed species, such as Snake River sockeye and Snake River fall Chinook salmon. Furthermore, Idaho will be implementing new low-abundance thresholds that will trigger implementation of additional conservation measures when natural-origin steelhead abundance is projected to fall below threshold levels.

“The framework is responsive to changing conditions, and it will provide additional protections when the abundance of wild steelhead falls below critical abundance levels,” Purcell said. “We received over 1000 letters from fishing groups, environmental groups, government officials, and interested citizens during our public comment period on Idaho’s proposed plan.  This level of involvement demonstrates how important these fish are to the Pacific Northwest communities.”

More information:

Idaho Steelheading To Stay Open As Fish And Game Receives NOAA Permit

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Idaho Fish and Game on March 15 received federal reauthorization for its steelhead fishing season, so fishing will continue uninterrupted, and the two areas currently closed will reopen immediately.

STEELHEADERS CAN CONTINUE  ANGLING THE NORTH FORK CLEARWATER, WHERE KELLY COLLITON CAUGHT THIS BIG B-RUN, AND OTHER IDAHO RIVERS AS STATE MANAGERS RECEIVED A NEW FEDERAL PERMIT JUST IN TIME TO KEEP FISHERIES OPEN THROUGH THE END OF APRIL. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Steelhead fishing resumes in the following locations:

  • The Main Salmon River between Warren Creek and the Copper Mine Boat Ramp.
  • South Fork of Clearwater River upstream of the Mount Idaho Grade Bridge.

Per Fish and Game director’s order, bag limits for steelhead anglers will remain as follows:

  • One steelhead daily in the Mainstem Clearwater, North Fork Clearwater, Middle Fork Clearwater, Salmon, and Little Salmon rivers, and the Snake River from the Washington state line upstream to the Dug Bar Boat Ramp.
  • Two steelhead daily in the South Fork Clearwater River and Snake River from the Dug Bar Boat Ramp to Hells Canyon Dam.

The federal agency that authorizes Idaho’s steelhead fishing, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, had up until the fall of 2018 allowed Fish and Game to hold fishing seasons for nearly a decade while a permit application was pending.

However, several groups threatened to sue NOAA over the lack of a permit, which prompted to the Fish and Game Commission to order a suspension of the season in December. But Fish and Game officials and the groups reached a settlement that allowed most steelhead fishing to continue while NOAA officials processed the permit.

“During this difficult period, we greatly appreciate the patience of anglers, outfitters and guides, and other businesses and communities that rely on steelhead fishing,” said Fish and Game’s Fisheries Bureau Chief Jim Fredericks. “While it was NOAA’s inaction that created this situation, we appreciate NOAA staff working diligently to expedite this permit in a valid and legally defensible way and completing it when promised, despite a federal government shutdown that lasted more than a month.”

Nez Perce Optimistic About Snake Basin Coho Reintroductions

By Rick Itami

With salmon and steelhead runs across the Northwest experiencing low run counts in most river systems, anglers these days glom on to any visage of hope they can find.

For us Inland Empire anglers, the Nez Perce Tribe is providing such hope through their quiet efforts to reintroduce coho salmon to the Clearwater River and Grande Ronde River basins.

The Clearwater River Basin

History tells us that the once plentiful Clearwater River coho started declining in the 1800s because of habitat degradation. In 1927, the Washington Water Power Company (now Avista Corp.) constructed the Lewiston Dam to produce electricity and aid in flood control.

The original Lewiston Dam had a fish ladder, but it accommodated only steelhead resulting in the extirpation of Clearwater Chinook salmon and any remaining vestiges of a coho run. A second fish ladder was installed in the early 1950s that seemed to help the Chinook salmon run somewhat, but it was too late for the coho.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game tried to re-establish coho in the Clearwater River Basin beginning in 1962. But that effort was discontinued after only 31 coho were counted at Lewiston Dam in 1969. The Lewiston Dam was finally taken out in 1973 after the construction of Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River caused a reservoir pool that backed up into the lower Clearwater River, rendering the Lewiston Dam ineffective. By 1985, coho salmon in Idaho were determined to be extinct.

The Nez Perce Tribe began working diligently to reintroduce coho salmon to the Clearwater River in 1995. Becky Johnson, Production Division Director for the Nez Perce Tribe’s Department of Fisheries Resource Management, is a key manager in the effort to reintroduce coho salmon to the Clearwater River Basin. Johnson provided the following information about how the Tribe carried out the project.

NOAA’s Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund and the Mitchell Act Program provided the Nez Perce Tribe with more than $5 million since 2000 for the project. The Clearwater River Basin Coho Restoration Project also got a jump-start when the Tribe was allowed to acquire surplus coho eggs from the Lower Columbia River as part of an agreement between Northwest tribes and state and federal agencies resulting from U. S. v. Oregon.

After initial supplementation efforts using Lower Columbia River coho eggs were successful, returning adult coho are now collected at Dworshak National Fish Hatchery, Kooskia National Fish Hatchery and Lapwai Creek. Over the years, the tribal program has grown and now releases 830,000 to 1.1 million smolts annually. Coho smolts are released each spring into Clear Creek and Lapwai Creek, both tributaries of the Clearwater River. In 2014, about 90 percent of the adult coho returning to Lapwai Creek were allowed to spawn naturally.

The final 2014 count of coho salmon over Lower Granite Dam — the last dam the fish have to negotiate before reaching the mouth of the Clearwater River in Lewiston, Idaho — was 18,048 fish. Mike Bisbee, Jr., Tribal Project Manager for the Clearwater Basin Coho Reintroduction Program says the 2014 adult return far-exceeded the project goal of 14,000 returning adults and gave hope for the future of the run.

To the Nez Perce Department of Fisheries Management, the success of the coho reintroduction program helps fulfill its goal of “putting fish in the rivers” to rebuild natural spawning runs and to restore harvest opportunities. This all came to fruition for the Nez Perce Tribe in 2014 and Bisbee says that he and his crew received a lot of pats on the back by Tribal members, both young and old. He and his crew were able to take dozens of excess coho out of the fish trap in Lapwai Creek and give them to Tribal members for the first time last year. In addition, many tribal members were successful harvesting coho individually. The return of the coho salmon has great significance to Tribal members as it helps bring back an important part of their cultural history.

For Clearwater River sports fishermen in Idaho, the reintroduction of coho salmon meant a totally new species to pursue. And some were wise enough to realize that this opened up an opportunity to catch a state record that would permanently put them in the record books.

Ethan Crawford of Moscow, Idaho was the first to set the Idaho record by catching a 9.4 pound, 31-inch female on October 18, 2014 — just a day after the Idaho Department of Fish and Game opened the coho season.

That record didn’t last long, however. On November 9, 2014, Steve Micek from Idaho Falls, Idaho hooked and landed an 11.8 pound coho while fishing with his son Greg. Micek said he hooked the fish on the last cast of the day, using a half-ounce silver KO Wobbler.

He wasn’t impressed with the fight, however, saying the fish “hit like a snag” and was in the net after only a few strong pulls. He attributes the lack of fight to “spawning behavior.”

STEVE MICEK AND HIS IDAHO STATE RECORD COHO, AN 11.8-POUNDER CAUGHT NOV. 8, 2014. (IDFG)

I accidently hooked and landed a nice bright female coho with firm red meat. I say accidentally because I was trolling lighted lures for steelhead early in the morning before sunrise. When the sun came up, I decided to switch to fishing shrimp under bobbers. So I started reeling up my trolling rod with the lighted lure. As soon as I speeded up the retrieve, the fish struck and I happily landed my first Idaho coho that went into the cooler with some steelhead we had caught earlier.

Since many Idaho anglers have never fished for coho salmon before, they naturally have to learn how it’s done properly. Many successful anglers cruised the Clearwater River in their boats until they observed coho salmon rolling on the surface. Then they would throw spoons or spinners like the Blue Fox, twitched jigs, or trolled plugs for them. Favorite colors were silver, chartreuse, pink, cerise and black or combinations thereof.

Toby Wyatt, owner and operator of Reel Time Fishing (208-790-2128), a successful guide service out of Clarkston, Washington says that his clients did well trolling Mag Lips 3.5 plugs in the Doctor Death colors, drifting beads, and casting spoons like the silver Little Cleo or the pink Vibrax Blue Fox spinner.

He said that the bite was never really hot and five to six coho a day was the norm. He targeted the mouths of creeks and hatcheries where coho were released and said he observed a lot of fish that simply would not bite.

Then in 2015, poor ocean conditions caused near record low runs of coho salmon. The low number of adult returns caused the Tribe to miss its broodstock needs for the year which in turn, caused hatchery releases of smolts in 2017 to be low.

According to Johnson, “Once you get into a ‘hole’ like that it can be hard to climb out unless ocean conditions really turn around and are good again.”

In the fall of 2018, Johnson estimates 1,200 to 1,400 adult coho returned to the Clearwater River basin. While this was too low a number to allow for a sports fishing season, she says Tribal staff should have enough eggs to produce the 500,000 juveniles for the Clearwater program that will be released in the spring of 2020.

The Grande Ronde River Basin

With the initial success of the reintroduction of coho salmon to the Clearwater River basin, the Nez Perce Tribe turned its attention to the Grande Ronde River basin.

On March 9, 2017, the Tribe held a ceremony to release 500,000 coho salmon smolts into the Lostine River on the Woody Wolf Ranch just east of the town of Wallowa, Oregon. According to Johnson, coho once flourished in the Grande Ronde River Basin but the fish pretty much disappeared by around 1986.

COHO SMOLTS RELEASED INTO THE LOSTINE RIVER ON THE WOODY WOLF RANCH, MARCH 9, 2017. (RICK ITAMI)

This project is co-managed by the Nez Perce Tribe and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The release was made possible by obtaining Lower Columbia River coho smolts from the Cascade Hatchery on Tanner Creek — the same hatchery from which coho smolts came from for the initial releases into the Clearwater River Basin.

According to Bruce Eddy, Manager of the Eastern Region of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the initial goal for the reintroduction is to have broodstock for 500,000 juvenile coho salmon. When asked when the Department might open a coho season for sports anglers, Eddy said that it may be as long as 10 years, depending on all the factors involved.

The Nez Perce Tribe waited expectantly for the first returning adult coho to the Lostine River weir in the fall of 2018. Then on October 26, 2018, a female coho entered the weir — the first coho salmon to return to the Lostine River since 1966.

As Johnson put it, “It goes without saying that we’re super excited to see these coho return home.”

At the time of this writing, Nez Perce staff had trapped 125 coho that were later released to spawn naturally in the Lostine River.

FEMALE COHO TRAPPED AT THE LOSTINE RIVER WEIR ON OCTOBER 26, 2018 — THE FIRST SINCE 1966. (NEZ PERCE TRIBE)

Johnson says they think about 800 coho bound for the Lostine River crossed Lower Granite Dam, based on PIT tag data.

She adds, “Coho that didn’t make it all the way to the Lostine weir likely are spawning in the Grande Ronde and Wallowa Rivers,” of which the Lostine River is a tributary.

At any rate, it appears that the target return of 500 adults was met in 2018. That’s good news, even though the overall return did not allow a sports fishing season, which wasn’t anticipated anyway.

Johnson sees poor ocean conditions as one of the biggest challenges to the reintroduction of coho salmon. As she puts it, “Warm water, low prey base — not good conditions for salmon and steelhead.”

But looking into the future, Johnson says, “I am optimistic about attaining self-sustaining runs in the Snake Basin. Coho were once abundant here and the habitat in a lot of the tributaries up here is available and vacant. Developing a stock that is able to navigate 500 to 600 miles over eight dams out to the ocean and then have the stamina to migrate home that same distance over those same dams as an adult was the challenge when we started reintroduction in the 1990s. We’ve seen great success with that from our Clearwater program. I believe the greatest challenge now is climate change and tough ocean conditions.”

We sports anglers are cheering the Nez Perce Tribe on in their efforts to restore coho salmon to the Clearwater River and Grande Ronde River basins. Having had a taste of a fishable run of coho in 2014 gives us hope for more of the same in the future for both basins.

In this day and age, when disparate groups are fighting each other over fishing rights and oftentimes driven by selfish motivation, it’s refreshing to see the Nez Perce Tribe forging ahead with substantive actions to bring coho salmon back to the Inland Northwest with little fanfare.

Just as the benevolent Nez Perce Tribe saved Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery from certain starvation in the fall of 1805, we hope they can now bring back sustainable runs of the magnificent coho salmon.

Editor’s note: Rick Itami is an angler and outdoor writer based in the Spokane area. His work has appeared in several Northwest sporting magazines, including ours.

Idaho Steelheading Will Remain Open, Outside Of Salmon, SF Clearwater Stretches

THE FOLLOWING IS AN IDFG PRESS RELEASE

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission on Friday, Dec. 7 approved an agreement to keep most steelhead seasons open, but steelhead fishing in two areas will close effective 11:59 p.m. Dec. 7, 2018.

THE NORTH FORK CLEARWATER IS AMONG THE AREAS THAT WILL REMAIN OPEN FOR STEELHEAD FISHING IN IDAHO AFTER PARTIES REACHED A SETTLEMENT TO STAVE OFF A FEDERAL LAWSUIT. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Closures include:

  • The Main Salmon River between Warren Creek and the Copper Mine Boat Ramp.
  • South Fork of Clearwater River upstream of the Mount Idaho Grade Bridge. (See maps below)

The commission also acted to continue the one steelhead daily bag limit through the end of 2018 and into the 2019 spring season.

“I’m glad our anglers and outfitters can continue steelhead fishing,” Fish and Game Director Virgil Moore said. “It’s unfortunate that a delay in receiving federal authorization for our recreational steelhead fisheries created contention and hardship for river communities and anglers. This resolution achieves the commission’s objective to limit impacts to steelhead fishing as much as possible while we remain focused on finally receiving federal approval of our steelhead fishery plan for the long term.”

The continuance of steelhead fishing results from an agreement between Fish and Game, the Idaho River Community Alliance, Inc. and five groups that threatened to sue Idaho officials over the lack of federal authorization for steelhead fishing in the Snake, Salmon and Clearwater River systems.

Moore said he appreciates various parties working together, and commended Idaho Rivers United for dropping its involvement in a potential lawsuit and helping forge the agreement among the various groups.

The agreement is in effect until the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) approves Idaho’s steelhead fisheries plan under the Endangered Species Act, or March 15, 2019, whichever date is earlier.

As part of the agreement, members of the Idaho River Community Alliance, Inc. will voluntarily take a few additional measures when steelhead fishing. These measures are separate from the commission’s decision, and they are not Fish and Game rules.

Idaho sought renewal in 2010 for an expiring NMFS authorization for wild steelhead listed under the Endangered Species Act that could potentially be harmed during Idaho fisheries for hatchery steelhead. NMFS’ permitting backlog delayed approval for years, but Idaho steelhead fishing seasons continued with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency’s (which NMFS is within) knowledge and consistent with Fish and Game’s submitted plan.

Earlier this year, NOAA began reviewing the plan, and an updated plan is available for a  public comment through Dec. 13, 2018. Fish and Game expects NMFS approval of its plan later this winter.

In October, a group of six organizations threatened a lawsuit over Fish and Game’s lack of formal federal authorization from NMFS. To avoid the potential for court-ordered changes and payment of these organizations’ legal costs, Fish and Game commissioners voted on November 14 to suspend the most steelhead fishing effective at the end of Dec. 7. That is the earliest day the organizations could file a lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act, but that suspension is now voided except in the new closure areas.

Salmon River closure

_salmonriver_closure

Creative Commons Licence
IDFG

South Fork Clearwater River closure

steelhead_clearwater_closure

Creative Commons Licence
IDFG

 

Idaho Salmon Managers Set Spring Chinook Seasons

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE IDAHO DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND GAME

Fish and Game Commission on Thursday, March 22 approved spring Chinook fishing on the Clearwater, Snake, Salmon and Little Salmon rivers to start April 28 and run until closed by the Fish and Game director.

SALMON MANAGERS EXPECT TWICE AS MANY SPRING CHINOOK BACK TO IDAHO RIVERS, LIKE THE CLEARWATER WHERE GARRETT GRUBBS CAUGHT THIS ONE SEVERAL SEASONS AGO, THAN LAST YEAR, THOUGH ONLY JUST SLIGHTLY MORE THAN THE AVERAGE OVER THE PAST DECADE. (YO-ZURI PHOTO CONTEST)

Fisheries managers are forecasting a run of 66,000 spring Chinook, roughly double last year’s return and slightly above the 10-year average of 62,000.

Included in the forecast are 53,000 hatchery Chinook and 13,000 wild Chinook. The 2017 return was 30,000 and 4,000.

The actual run has just started with only six spring Chinook crossing Bonneville Dam as of March 22.

Rules will include open fishing four days per week, Thursdays through Sundays, in the Clearwater drainage and seven days per week in the Salmon, Little Salmon and Snake rivers.

Daily bag limits will be four per day with no more than one being an adult (24-inches or longer) in the Clearwater River system and four per day with no more than two being adults in the Salmon, Little Salmon and Snake rivers.

Sections of the Clearwater River open for fishing will include:

  • Mainstem Clearwater from Camas Prairie Bridge upstream to the mouth of the South Fork of the Clearwater River.
  • North Fork Clearwater from mouth upstream to Dworshak Dam.
  • South Fork Clearwater from mouth upstream to the confluence of American and Red rivers
  • Middle Fork Clearwater from South Fork Clearwater upstream to the confluence of the Lochsa and Selway rivers.
  • Salmon River will be open from Rice Creek Bridge upstream to the uppermost boat ramp at Vinegar Creek.
  • Little Salmon River will be open from the mouth upstream to the U.S. Highway 95 bridge near Smokey Boulder Road.
  • Snake River will be open from Dug Bar boat ramp to Hells Canyon Dam.

Full rules will be posted on Fish and Game’s website in late March or early April.  Printed rules will be available prior to the season opener.

Idaho Mulls Clearwater, Snake Keeper Steelhead Season

Inland Northwest steelheaders may get a keeper season after all.

With enough A-run hatchery fish now expected back to Idaho to meet broodstock goals, managers there are asking for feedback on a proposal to open a season though with a reduced bag limit and maximum size restriction on prime waters.

IDFG says that there will be a surplus of 22,000 of the smaller summer-runs and is taking comment on a plan to open the Clearwater system and lower Snake for the harvest of up to just two a day, neither of which could be longer than 28 inches.

A PROPOSAL FROM IDAHO BIOLOGISTS WOULD OPEN RETENTION ON A-RUN STEELHEAD, BUT REDUCED THE USUAL LIMIT FROM THREE TO TWO. (BRIAN LULL)

That’s an attempt to prevent overharvesting as well as get as many of the bigger B-runs — both hatchery and wild — back as possible.

Idaho’s upper Snake and rivers further up Hells Canyon may be opened too with the same bag, but the size restriction would be shed from the Couse Creek ramp on the Washington side, upstream.

In a normal year, the daily limit is three hatchery steelhead and no size restriction.

Washington steelhead managers are also watching developments.

“We’re waiting to follow Idaho’s lead,” said Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Madonna Luers, who added it may be a couple weeks before a decision is made, per a report by Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune.

This year’s worst-in-40-years Inland Northwest steelhead forecast of 112,000 initially sparked fishery restrictions all the way down to the mouth of the Columbia, inside cool-water refuges in the lower river and gorge, as well as the Snake and its tributaries.

With July dam counts just fractions of average and a dire mid-August inseason update of just roughly 60,000, those looked more than warranted. IDFG closed retention before any fish got anywhere near the Gem State.

State biologists now say that 113,000 steelhead are expected to return past Bonneville Dam this year — still very low, relatively speaking, but they took the fishery proposal to the Fish and Game Commission yesterday.

The panel wanted to consider public comment. To see their pitch, and to comment, go here.

Public input is being taken through Oct. 10.

Meanwhile, the commission went ahead and approved a coho season on the Clearwater and its North and South Forks, daily limit two and a season limit of 10. IDFG says there are enough of the Nez Perce-reintroduced salmon to meet hatchery needs and provide a “modest” fishery.