Anglers to get crack at cohos

With hazy red sunlight reflecting off the water, anglers fish for steelhead on the lower Clearwater River near the Clearwater Paper Mill in Lewiston. On Tuesday, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved coho fishing on the Clearwater River. The season is open seven days a week below Memorial Bridge, and Thursdays through Sundays above the bridge.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved a coho salmon fishing season on the Clearwater River on Tuesday.

The season opened immediately and will run seven days a week from the river’s mouth to Memorial Bridge at Lewiston.

The rules are more complicated farther upriver. Coho fishing will be allowed Thursdays through Sundays from Memorial Bridge to the confluence of the Lochsa and Selway rivers and on the North Fork Clearwater River below Dworshak Dam. The same rule structure applies to the fall chinook fishing season that ends at 11:59 p.m. Oct. 18.

With the same rules in place, the agency will be able to evaluate the degree to which fall chinook and steelhead fishing lead to conflicts and crowding during the steelhead catch-and-release season, which runs through Oct. 14.

Once fall chinook fishing closes on the Clearwater River and after the steelhead harvest season opens, coho season will be open seven days a week from the mouth to the confluence of the Lochsa and Selway rivers and on the North Fork Clearwater River. The season will close Dec. 31 or by emergency rule if required.

The bag limit for all open sections of river is two coho per day. Anglers can keep coho with or without intact adipose fins and catch an unlimited number during the season. However, harvested coho must be recorded on a salmon permit, and anglers can purchase multiple permits.

Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston, said fisheries managers expect 8,000 to 12,000 coho to return to the Snake River above Lower Granite Dam this fall. About 60 percent of those — 4,800 to 7,200 — will be bound for the Clearwater basin and the rest for the Grande Ronde River basin.

DuPont said the department and the Nez Perce Tribe are still working on setting harvest shares for the fishery.

Coho salmon were declared functionally extinct from the Clearwater River in the 1980s. About a decade later, the Nez Perce Tribe began a hatchery program to reestablish the run. It took about 20 years, but the run slowly grew enough to provide intermittent harvest. Fishing was first allowed in 2014 and has been allowed three out of the past four years.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.

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