The good news is that water temperatures are finally starting to cool down in the Snake River and higher numbers of steelhead are now starting to pass over Ice Harbor Dam (first dam on the Snake River). You should expect those fish to start entering Idaho in about a week, so get ready if you like to fish the lower Clearwater or Snake Rivers.
Now for the bad news. Based on the number of steelhead we are seeing come over Bonneville Dam, it appears that the A-run steelhead (generally one-ocean fish that come in earlier) will come in lower than expected. We are projecting that about 68,000 hatchery A-run fish will enter Idaho. If you are wondering whether this is good or not, I can tell you that we have not seen this low of return since 1999. Right now it is too early to project the B-run (generally two-ocean fish that come in later), but it doesn’t look good for them as well. Early models are projecting that about 12,000 hatchery “B” fish will enter Idaho, but this could change considerably as it is still early. If this comes true, it will also be the lowest B-run we have seen since 1999. We aren’t sure why these runs are coming in so low as it seemed that river conditions were good during their out migration and ocean conditions when they entered salt water didn’t seem to be poor. I obviously have much more to learn about steelhead survival. I hope that this forecast won’t discourage you from fishing as often what you will see in these types of situations is lower fishing pressure which often results in higher catch rates. In fact, I can recall one of my most memorable steelhead fishing days occurred in the 1990’s when steelhead numbers were down.
On a good note, it appears the Fall Chinook are coming in as projected (over 18,000 to lower Granite Dam) which is good. So, if you are having trouble catching steelhead, give Fall Chinook a try. Most of these fish will be less than 15 pounds, but every year we see several come over Lower Granite dam that exceed 45 pounds. Those people who seem to be successful are fishing deep (using a downrigger or heavier weight) with a flasher and a super bait or plug cut herring. Good numbers of Fall Chinook should start hitting Idaho in about a week as well.
Have a great Fall, and I will talk to you later. - Joe DuPont, Clearwater Region Fishery Manager