Recent Articles: Clearwater

Potlatch River Steelhead

The Potlatch River is a smaller little known river that flows into the Clearwater River about 15 miles upstream of Lewiston, Idaho. For those familiar with this river, images of raging dirty water in the spring and barely a trickle in the summer often come to mind. At first appearance, this is hardly a river that one would consider to support any type of a quality fishery. Years of habitat degradation from farming, logging, grazing and human development has taken its toll on this river. However, about 10 years ago the Idaho Department of Fish and Game began surveying this river and what we learned was truly a surprise.

This river supported a thriving population of truly wild steelhead with almost no hatchery influence. Upon talking to some of the locals, they told stories of when their grandfathers caught steelhead in tributaries that are now dry. It became evident that this river had a lot of potential to produce more steelhead, and that is when it was decided to embark on a major habitat restoration program in this basin. To help direct where money is spent, we initiated a monitoring program to better understand where the steelhead occur, how many there are, and how they respond to the various habitat improvement projects.

We are currently in our tenth field season of studying the steelhead population in the Potlatch River basin. Much of our monitoring occurs in the East Fork Potlatch River and Big Bear Creek, two of the major steelhead producing drainages in the Potlatch. Our monitoring program consists of three major components.  We trap adult steelhead at a weir to estimate how many spawn. We use two rotary screw traps (see picture to the right) to catch juvenile steelhead to evaluate the number of smolts that migrate to the ocean each year. And we use PIT tag arrays to learn when adult and juvenile fish implanted with a small microchip enter or leave certain streams. By using at all this data, we can assess steelhead survival and how well the habitat restoration program is working.

Adult steelhead travel over 500 miles from the Pacific Ocean to spawn in tributaries of the Potlatch River. Since 2008, we have estimated between 71-106 adult steelhead return annually to the East Fork Potlatch River to spawn. In 2014, we estimated 96 adults returned to the East Fork which is the 3rd highest return to date. In one of the strong run years, we believe around 1,000 adult steelhead entered the Potlatch River to spawn somewhere in the watershed.

Juvenile steelhead leave the Potlatch River tributaries typically from March-June as they begin their journey to the Pacific Ocean. We monitor this outmigration and estimate the number of juveniles departing from Big Bear Creek and the East Fork Potlatch River drainages. In 2014, we estimated approximately 8,356 juvenile steelhead out-migrated from the Big Bear Creek drainage and 11,126 from the East Fork Potlatch River drainage. These estimates are typical and have ranged from 7,000-48,000 in the East Fork and 4,000-20,000 in Big Bear Creek. The picture below shows our crew PIT tagging juvenile steelhead.

We will continue to monitor and evaluate the steelhead population in the Potlatch watershed as habitat restoration efforts continue. The IDFG, Latah Soil and Water Conservation District, Natural Resource Conservation Service, US Forest Service, and Nez Perce Tribe have made significant efforts to improve habitat in this watershed. These efforts help insure this steelhead population will thrive for years to come and ultimately provide new fishing opportunities for anglers.  - Jason Fortier, Senior Fish Technician, Clearwater Region

Anglers Help Catch Steelhead Brood Stock

Anglers Catch Steelhead Broodstock for South Fork Clearwater River

Since 2010, Idaho Department of Fish and Game has been recruiting anglers to catch adult steelhead from the South Fork Clearwater River. These fish are being collected to develop a stock of steelhead that are more adapted to this river than fish used in the past (steelhead collected at Dworshak Hatchery). Our hopes are that the offspring from these fish will survive better resulting in more Steelhead returning to the South Fork Clearwater River in the future.

Typically we usually use weirs to trap adult steelhead to meet our brood stock needs. However, we don’t have this option in the South Fork Clearwater River, so we have turned to the angling public to collect the brood stock for us. Each year starting around the last week of February, IDFG personnel begin recruiting volunteer anglers and distributing tubes (see picture to the right) to capture and hold adult steelhead. Volunteers place hatchery steelhead they catch and want to donate to the program in a holding tube and place it in the river. Personnel from IDFG’s Clearwater Fish Hatchery operate transport vehicles and drive along the river collecting tubed steelhead that will be used as brood stock .

When the program began in 2010, the goal was to understand whether we could use anglers to catch steelhead from the South Fork Clearwater River, successfully spawn them, raise their offspring, and release these offspring one year later (as smolts) back to the South Fork. Initially we started with a goal of collecting 50 spawning pair. One year later (2011) we increased our goal to collect approximately 100 spawning pair to produce about 400,000 smolts. Due to our past success, this year Idaho Department of Fish and Game set a goal to collect enough spawners (225 spawning pair) to fulfill the entire 1.2 million smolt release goal in the South Fork Clearwater River. 

In order to accomplish this goal, IDFG began soliciting volunteer anglers to collect brood on February 13, 2015. Idaho Department of Fish and Game with assistance from the Nez Perce Tribe was able to enlist more than 100 volunteer anglers to participate in the South Fork Clearwater River localized brood program this year. Due to the warmer weather, steelhead seemed to be more spread out than in previous years, and anglers were successful in capturing fish from Stites on highway 13 all the way upstream to Mt. Idaho on highway 14.  Steelhead collected were placed in IDFG transport vehicles, and at the end of each day were hauled to Dworshak National Fish Hatchery where they were held until spawning.

We are proud to announce that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game with assistance from the Nez Perce Tribe, Dworshak National Fish Hatchery, and most notably the public were able to accomplish our goals of collecting 225 spawning pairs by March 7, 2015. These fish have all been spawned; and if all goes as planned, this will allow us to release about 1.2 million localized steelhead smolts into the South Fork Clearwater River in the spring of 2016.

As smolts from previous brood stock collections return as adults, we will be able to compare adult return success from fish produced through the localized brood stock collection and the adult returns produced through other hatchery strategies.

This project would be impossible without the participation of the angling public and the fish they collected. Many volunteers went above and beyond to help the project, some going so far as scheduling their vacation around this effort!  Many thanks to all the volunteers who participated!  - Jaime Robertson, Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region

Clearwater Steelhead Fishing 3/22/15

Clearwater Catch 2015

The South Fork of the Clearwater had a lot of anglers fishing along its banks this past week. Saturday had a high count of 114 anglers on the South Fork. We observed anglers fishing as far as mile marker 23 on highway 14. Many anglers are in drifting boats. It is also the area we documented with the highest amount of effort. Fishing has dropped off on the main stem (river sect 03) and the North Fork (river sect 05) but both areas still have good catch rates. The little Salmon River had the next highest effort and catch rates were good as well. The main stem of the Salmon River had very low effort but river flows were high which impacted effort and catch rates. So if you do not want to deal with the crowds the main stem of the Clearwater or the North Fork might be good areas to try.  Check Harvest Report for more details. - Jaime Robertson, Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region

 

Clearwater Steelhead Fishing 3/16/15

Anglers in the Clearwater Region experienced some of the best catch rates observed so far in the Spring 2015 Steelhead season. The catch rate of 5 hours/fish was documented on the Clearwater River below Orofino, South Fork of the Clearwater River, the Snake River below Hells Canyon Dam and on the Little Salmon River. Anglers on the North Fork of the Clearwater produced a catch rate of 7 hours/fish.

Early in the week, river flows were low to average with clear water clarity. Through the week, flows increased and water clarity became cloudy due to rain. High flows and muddy water conditions were observed by Sunday afternoon on the South Fork of the Clearwater and the Little Salmon River. For more details go to the Harvest Report- Amanda Schmidt, Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region

Clearwater Steelhead Fishing Report 3/13/15

South Fork Clearwater Steelhead 2015

Above average weather temperatures and lots of sunshine made for a beautiful weekend for anglers in the region. Although stream flows were above normal for this time of year, catch rates were fantastic. The best catch rates were documented on the Little Salmon River at 5 hours per fish caught. Anglers also did very well on the South Fork Clearwater over the weekend. Check Harvest Report for more details. - Amanda Schmidt, Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region

Clearwater Steelhead Fishing Report 2/17/15

As stream flows began to decline the past week, angling effort increased and produced some great catch rates through the region on the Clearwater, Snake and Salmon Rivers.

Most of the success on the Clearwater River downstream of Orofino occurred just below the mouth of the North Fork and above the mouth of the North Fork near the Dworshak National Fish Hatchery.  

The North Fork of the Clearwater was a popular fishing area and some anglers did exceptionally well. Inconsistent catch rates may have been contributed to the increased flows released from Dworshak Dam.

Angler effort and success picked up on the South Fork of the Clearwater over the weekend. The best catch rates were observed below the Mt. Idaho grade and near the town of Harpster.

In the lower Salmon River drainage, the best catch rates were observed on the Little Salmon River.

Anglers who were contacted on the Snake River were fishing at the tail race below Hells Canyon Dam. Got to Harvest Results for more detials.  - Amanda Schmidt,Fisheries Technician, Idaho Fish & Game

 

Ice Fishing Report - Cascade Reservoir Feb 12, 2015

If you're a bird watcher this week's report might just make you happy. With all the open water on Cascade there has been a plethora of waterfowl visiting the area, lots of ducks, geese, and swans. If you're an ice fisherman the outlook isn't so optimistic. With all the warm and wet weather we've been experiencing this past week the ice on cascade has gone for the wayside. The south end of the lake I would deem not safe. Besides the large open water gap between the bank and the ice itself there lies many more problems throughout the southern end of the lake. These problems would include but are not limited to large areas of open water, large cracks with open water gaps between them, and some rotten ice.  With that being said I cannot say that anyone should attempt to fish on cascade south of Sugarloaf Island.  This includes all the way from sugarloaf to the town of cascade.   I have attached a few photos that I took today of Ice conditions on the southern end of the lake. 

Now that we’re done being pessimistic, the north end of the lake continues to be fishable, with one exception.  That exception is finding a spot to access the ice.  With the influx of water from the thaw the level of the reservoir has increased causing the ice to pull away from the shore.  Along with this the ice closest to shore is still fairly weak and soft.  But if you can find your way onto the ice things are looking good.  The ice depth around poison creek were still 6-7” of solid ice.  There was a few places that you can actually access the ice around poison creek and the surrounding area.  The area around boulder creek I wasn’t able to find a place that I could access the ice without going over the top of my boots and getting wet.  If you’re a diehard ice fisherman and need to get that last little bit of fishing in the north end is where it can happen.  With that being said extreme caution should be used especially right now with warm temperatures and thawing ice. 

I guess I could mention that fishing still has continued to be fairly slow with those that have made it out on the ice.  There seems to be a greater ratio of big to small fish but the overall number of fish being caught is fairly low. 

DP - We lost two anglers on Winchester Lake this past week when they fell through the ice.  Please be careful and if there's a doubt - save yourself to fish another day.

 

 

Clearwater Steelhead Fishing Report 2/8/15

Fishing conditions and catch rates on the Clearwater River downstream from Orofino were good during the week but diminished over the weekend. On Saturday, cloudy water conditions were observed and water clarity decreased as water levels began to rise. By Sunday afternoon and the river flows reached 22,900 cubic feet per second causing swift and muddy water conditions with floating debris. The North Fork of the Clearwater was the most popular and productive fishing area over the weekend for both boat and shore anglers who were avoiding the muddy water conditions on the mainstem. On Sunday morning, approximately 100 anglers were observed fishing on the North Fork by IDFG personnel. The South Fork of the Clearwater was not monitored during the week, but anglers reported that they had caught more fish during the week days before water conditions began to become less favorable over the weekend. Saturday afternoon, flows on the South Fork began to rise and on Sunday water conditions were high and muddy. The majority of success over the weekend occurred as high upstream as the Mt. Idaho grade. Very little effort was observed on the Salmon River downstream of Riggins over the weekend due to the high muddy flow coming from the Little Salmon River. Most of the effort occurred above the mouth of the Little Salmon in river locations 12 and 13. A majority of the anglers checked from location 13 were anglers on guided trips. - Amanda Schmidt. Fisheries Technician, Idaho Fish & Game Clearwater Region

Cascade Reservoir Fishing Condition Report January 23, 2015

This week's ice conditions improved from last week with ice reported between 6-8" everywhere around the lake with some spots with 10+ inches. With that being said we also had a warm spelled sweep through the area on Sunday with rain and warm temps causing the snow that was on top of the ice to melt.  Since we have had cold temps the last couple of days that has frozen solid adding another layer of ice to what was already accumulated.  Since there is no snow on the ice, the conditions are very slick so caution should be had.  There have been a large number of people taking ATV’s and Snowmobiles out on the ice, although caution should be used when taking heavier equipment out on the ice.

The pressure this past week peaked on Saturday which saw a lot of anglers scattered throughout the entire lake both North and South.  But with the warm spell on Sunday the fishing pressure dropped quickly with very few anglers being seen on Sunday as well as through the first part of this week.  Even with the increased pressure on Saturday catch rates were still relatively slow.  Once again perch angler reports of mostly smaller fish and very few quality sized fish coming out.  The trout fishing on the South end of the lake near the city boat ramp and Blue Heron boat ramp has proved to be somewhat productive with some nice size trout being taken early this week.

This coming Saturday (1/24) the Hardwater Classic ice fishing derby is being held so pressure through the later part of this week into the weekend should increase significantly.  Hopefully with this increased fishing pressure more quality size fish will be found and anglers will have a better idea as to where to focus their effort.  Until then the best of luck to anyone out in search of perch through the ice.

Related to ice fishing, here is a picture from South Korea of what real ice fishing competition looks like.

Clearwater Steelhead 1/20/15

Tuesday was the first day the Clearwater steelhead fishery was sampled this past week. The Ahsahka Check Station was visited by many happy anglers who had fished the North Fork that day. One shore angler had kept his limit of 3 steelhead and had fished for less than 3 hours. The largest fish checked for the week was a 37 inch female caught by an angler fishing from the Ahsahka Bridge. Anglers fishing the North Fork on Friday and over the weekend were not as successful as those who fished on Tuesday.

Boat anglers fishing the main Clearwater River in the Orofino area on Friday had a very successful day. Multiple anglers who obtained their limit of steelhead were checked by creel personnel. Heavy rain on Saturday caused the Clearwater to become high and muddy on Sunday, but catch rates did not seem to be effected. Most of Sunday’s effort occurred between Cherry Lane and Orofino. - Amanda Schmidt, Fisheries Technician, Idaho Fish & Game