Deadlines are fast approaching for hunters and anglers to comment on the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s proposed chinook salmon fishing seasons and proposed changes to several big game hunting rules.

Comments on the chinook seasons are due by Sunday, and the hunting proposals are due by Thursday.

Chinook

Fisheries managers are predicting another poor return of chinook to Idaho, and fishing is likely to be limited to the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers and the Snake River in Hells Canyon. The return of chinook to hatcheries in the Clearwater Basin is expected to fall below what is needed to meet spawning goals, known as broodstock, and no fisheries are being proposed there.

Anglers on the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers and on the Snake River in Hells Canyon could see opportunities to fish for chinook, but the catch limits, known as harvest shares, are likely to be low.

Fisheries managers are forecasting about 75,200 spring chinook bound for areas upstream of Bonneville Dam to return at least as far as the mouth of the Columbia River. That total includes an estimated return of 40,000 chinook to the Snake River, of which about 11,100 will be wild fish.

The Rapid River Hatchery near Riggins is expected to see a return of about 4,500 adult chinook, which would allow for a modest harvest share of about 1,150 fish.

“I wish I had better news, but it appears this year’s run will be similar to the past few years,” said Jordan Messner, regional fish manager for the agency at McCall. “The good news though is it now seems we have the framework in place to slow harvest just a little bit, stretch the duration of the fishery and spread opportunity out more evenly across the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers in these low return years.”

To accomplish that, the agency is proposing a four-day-a-week season with a daily bag limit of four chinook, of which only one could be an adult fish. Fishing would be allowed from the Rice Creek Bridge below Cottonwood to Vinegar Creek Boat Ramp upstream of Riggins and on the Little Salmon River from its mouth to Smokey Boulder Road.

The agency is asking anglers to comment on the proposal and to give fisheries managers feedback on strategies to manage the lower Salmon River fishery in years with even fewer fish available for harvest. In such years, fishing is generally allowed in a single stretch from Twin Bridges to Shorts Bar. Some anglers have asked the agency to open the river from Hammer Creek Boat Ramp near White Bird to Maynard Hole Boat Ramp near the Steelhead Inn, and from the Time Zone Bridge to Shorts Bar.

Doing so would be economically beneficial to the town of White Bird and allow both boat and shore anglers to fish the generally calmer water found there compared to the rapid-strewn section between Time Zone and Lucile.

In 2020, fisheries managers expected a harvest share of about 1,600 adult chinook on the lower Salmon and Little Salmon River and the Idaho Fish and Game commission implemented a four-day-a -week season. The forecast proved overly optimistic, and the season was cut back to just two days per week.

In the Hells Canyon Stretch of the Snake River, fisheries managers are forecasting a harvest share of about 190 adult chinook and proposing a seven-day-a-week season with a bag limit of one adult fish between Dug Bar and Hells Canyon Dam. Most of the fishing in that stretch is concentrated around Hells Canyon Dam, said Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for the agency at Lewiston.

In addition to the Clearwater River, the agency is not recommending fishing seasons on the Lochsa River, South Fork of the Salmon River and the upper Salmon River because of expected low returns.

The proposals can be viewed and comments submitted at idfg.idaho.gov/fish/chinook/rules.

Hunting

Game managers are proposing to simplify deer hunting tag requirements in some units of the Clearwater Region and return to a former season structure for whitetail deer in some backcountry units there.

In Idaho, deer hunters participating in general deer hunts — those for which special controlled hunt tags are not required — can purchase a regular deer tag or a whitetail deer tag. Regular deer tags allow holders to harvest either a mule deer or a whitetail deer. Those with whitetail tags can only harvest whitetail deer, but they are able to hunt later into the fall.

The agency is proposing elimination of regular deer tags in units 11, 11A, 13, 14 and 18. Those units only allow mule deer hunting through controlled hunts, where people must win a tag during an annual drawing. Thus, people who purchase a regular deer tag there are only able to hunt whitetail deer. Biologist Jana Livingston said the change is being proposed to reduce confusion.

The agency is proposing to add days to the whitetail seasons in units 16A, 17, 19 and 20. If approved, the season would run from Sept. 15 to Nov. 18.

The season in those units was shortened in 2018 so that it ran from Oct. 10 to Nov. 18. Livingston said few deer are harvested in those remote units, and most people who purchase whitetail tags there do so as a complement to their elk hunt.

“The majority of these units are in wilderness areas, which makes access very difficult, so there is minimal harvest and minimal impacts to these populations,” she said.

Dan Blanco, a former Idaho Fish and Game commissioner representing the Clearwater Region, is urging current commissioners to reject the proposal. Blanco argues the season was shortened three years ago to reduce pressure on whitetail deer populations, which are classified as “medium density” in those units. Blanco said former commissioners also had in mind elevating the status of whitetail deer when they shortened the season.

“I don’t see whitetail deer as a side order for an elk hunt. I think they are entitled to their own management. I think they are entitled to be pursued by people who want to pursue whitetail deer,” he said. “The (proposed) season harkens back to the bad old days when we had these marathon seasons for long periods of time — over two months. We stopped doing that decades ago on our elk and mule deer. Why are we setting aside lower class status for our whitetail?”

Other proposals

The agency is proposing allowing the use of electronic calls in mountain lion hunting in several units and adding a second mountain lion tag in Unit 11. It is proposing to remove restrictions limiting wolf hunting to private lands only from July 1 to June 30 in units 10, 12, 16A, 17, 19 and 20 and proposing to increase wolf trapping opportunities throughout the Clearwater Region.

The proposals can be viewed at idfg.idaho.gov/rules/big-game/2021-22-proposals.

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