Fall chinook, steelhead fishing to overlap

Stuart Rosenberger holds a fall chinook caught near the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers.

The Clearwater River will see its second experimental fall chinook fishery in as many years.

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission recently approved a season for fall salmon on the Clearwater that will overlap catch-and-release steelhead fish-ing there.

The river, along with parts of the Snake and Salmon, will open for fall chinook fishing Aug. 18. The North Fork of the Clearwater River will open Sept. 17.

Fisheries managers from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game are forecasting 18,150 fall chinook will return upstream of Lower Granite Dam, including an estimated 11,560 hatchery fish and 6,590 wild fish. Anglers will be allowed to harvest some fall chinook with intact adipose fins, indicating they could be wild fish.

The Clearwater River is known for its extended catch-and release steelhead season that runs from July 1 to Oct. 14. Although it is popular, it is generally considered less crowded than the catch-and-keep steelhead season that opens annually on Oct. 15.

Many anglers, particularly those who prefer to fly fish for steelhead, fear fall chinook fishing will make the river congested and mar the catch-and-release steelhead fishery.

Last year, the commission approved a fall chinook season upstream of Memorial Bridge on the Clearwater River for the first time and billed it as an experiment. Fisheries managers at the department said the season would allow anglers the opportunity to harvest abundant fall chinook and allow agency officials to observe anglers and see if there were conflicts between those targeting steelhead in the catch-and-release season and those going after fall chinook. Data collected during the experiment was to be forwarded to the Clearwater River Fisheries Working Group tasked with helping the agency balance the two fisheries.

However, the dismal return of steelhead last year compelled the agency and commission to cancel all steelhead fishing on the Clearwater in late September through December. Agency officials also believe many anglers were unaware of the new fall chinook fishing opportunity.

The two factors likely skewed the data. The repeat of the experimental fishery this fall will allow them to get a better look at potential angler conflicts, according to a news release from the agency.

The Clearwater River will be open to fall chinook fishing seven days a week between its mouth and Memorial Bridge at Lewiston. The fishery will be open Thursdays through Sundays from Memorial Bridge to the mouth of the South Fork Clearwater River and the same days on the North Fork of the Clearwater River below Dworshak Dam.

The Snake River will be open for fall chinook fishing from the Idaho/Washington state line to Hells Canyon Dam, and the Salmon River will be open from its mouth to the Twin Bridges boat ramp near White Bird. Both the Snake and Salmon rivers will be open seven days a week.

The daily bag limit for all of the rivers will be three adult fall chinook per day, of which only one can have an intact adipose fin. There is no daily limit on jack chinook, and anglers can keep jacks with or without adipose fins.

There is no season limit on the number of fall chinook individual anglers can catch. However the state will have a harvest share to which it must adhere. Based on the run size projection, anglers will be able to collectively harvest about 1,400 adipose fin intact and 1,700 adipose fin clipped fall chinook. Those quotas will be roughly split, with about half being assigned to the Clearwater River and half to the Snake and Salmon rivers.

According to a run forecast update by a collection of state, federal and tribal fisheries managers, the return of steelhead to areas above Bonneville Dam is slightly ahead of predictions. From July 1-27, 25,976 steelhead were counted passing Bonneville Dam. That is just 52 percent of the 10-year average but nearly dead on the five-year average. Returns of steelhead have been depressed for the past three years. Based on the run forecast, fisheries managers expected to see a return of 21,240 passing the dam during the July 1-27 time frame.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game is projecting only 42,950 A-run steelhead and 6,720 B-run fish will return past Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River this year.

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

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