idaho

Rule Changes on Clearwater River

Hi everybody, we are implementing rule changes for steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River that you all should be aware of.  First I will let you know what the rule changes are and then I will let you know why we made these changes.

Starting on the season opener (October 15, 2013), for the entire Clearwater River basin where steelhead fishing is allowed, the limit will be 1 adipose clipped steelhead, 2 in possession (see attachment). 

In addition, from the mouth of the Clearwater River upstream to the Orofino Bridge including the North Fork Clearwater River, only adipose clipped steelhead less than or equal to 28 inches can be harvested.

These rules will apply for both the fall and spring seasons which means they will remain in effect through April 30, 2014 after which the steelhead season closes in the Clearwater River basin.

Obviously, with these rules, people will be needing to measure some of these fish to make sure they are legal.  Here are my recommendations to minimize handling mortality.  If the fish is clearly larger than 28 inches don’t take it out of the water unless you want to take a quick picture.  For those fish close to 28 inches, put some marks on the outside of your boat that you can rest the fish against to check it’s length against (you may be able to do this without taking the fish out of the net).  This will help prevent people from dropping a struggling fish in the bottom of their boat increasing the likelihood of handling mortality.  For bank anglers, try to keep the fish in the water while measuring it.  If you turn a steelhead upside down while in the water, it tends to remain calm allowing you to accurately measure this fish (this requires two of you though). 

I imagine, for some of you, these rule changes have your blood boiling.  Please bear with me and read on so you understand why we had to make these rule changes.

Typically, we collect about 80-90% of the Clearwater River basin’s steelhead brood stock at Dworshak Hatchery depending on how many fish we can collect during our localized brood stock efforts in the South Fork Clearwater River (collected by anglers) and at Kooskia Hatchery.  Our total brood stock needs are around 2,000 fish which means we should trap around 1,700 fish at Dworshak Hatchery to be sure we meet our brood needs.  In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with conserving and perpetuating the NF Clearwater steelhead stock to the best of their ability, and a couple traits that they try to maintain in this steelhead population are a broad spectrum of return and spawn timing and a dominance of the 2-ocean life history.  As such, we just don’t want to spawn any fish that arrives at the hatchery.  We want to make sure we collect fish from early in the run and from late in the run.  In addition, the majority (~95%) of steelhead we spawn are the 2 and 3-ocean fish (these fish tend to be greater than 28 inches) to make sure we maintain that larger size structure the Clearwater River basin is famous for.   So, if you look at the table below, you will see we are forecasting (based on PIT tag returns at Bonneville Dam) a return of 1,948 2 and 3-ocean steelhead destined for Dworshak Hatchery.  If we need 1,700 of these fish to make it to Dworshak Hatchery for brood purposes, that doesn’t leave much for tribal and non-tribal harvest.  In fact, the only way we feel confident that we can get the necessary fish to Dworshak Hatchery is to restrict all harvest of these 2 and 3-ocean fish (those fish greater than 28 inches) as we know some of these fish will not make it to the hatchery for natural reasons (straying or natural mortality) and others will die from catch and release practices.  Because we spawn very few of the 1-ocean fish, it makes sense that we allow them to be harvested and is the reason why you will be able to keep steelhead less than or equal to 28 inches downstream of Orofino Bridge including the North Fork.  Notice that about 40% of the steelhead returning to Dworshak Hatchery will be 1-ocean fish.  Very few (< 10%) of the Dworshak released fish venture upstream of the Orofino Bridge and is why upstream of this location we will allow harvest of all sizes of  steelhead.

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If you are wondering how this Dworshak hatchery return compares to past returns, the table below shows the returns of 2 and 3-ocean fish since the 1994-5 run year.  You will notice that this year’s run (1,948 fish) is projected to be less than half the previous low for these years.  For the 1994-5 run we had a 2-fish limit with no size restrictions and Dworshak Hatchery did not meet its brood needs that year (500 fish short).  For the 1995-6 run, we implemented catch-and-release rules through Dec 31 and Dworshak Hatchery exceeded its brood needs by almost 2,000 fish (evidence that restrictive rules can make a big difference).  Since the 1995-6 run year, the daily limit for the fall steelhead fishery has been 2 fish with no size restriction – until now.  We met our brood needs every one of those years.  Over these years, the data suggest we harvest anywhere from 40 to 70% of the fish that enter the fishery and it seems that during the smaller runs we tend to harvest a higher percent of the fish.

A beautiful day for fishing.

Steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River

Steelhead fishing is still slow in both the Clearwater and Snake Rivers. Weather is cooling off and we had a nice rain storm on Sunday. The featured picture is of the confluence river section 01 and of Washington river section 648. Click here to see the latest steelhead harvest report. - Jaime Robertson, Fisheries Technician

Trophies Come in All Sizes!

Well, the Super Hunt tag thing didn't go as I had planned.

The morning of October 1, I found myself 80 yards from a really heavy bull. Trees were thick, but open enough. Weather was bitterly cold, which was refreshing. Elk were going crazy.

After watching a bachelor group of small bulls walk by I heard that infamous deep grunting bugle from behind me. I took off running in that direction trying to keep my balance on the steep slope. He would scream every time I did, but I wasn’t gaining ground. I knew he would be in a clearing soon so I kept on trucking. Finally, when I heard him singing I knew he was close. I got down and began looking around and there he was! Massive antlers. I didn’t even count points, I didn’t have to. He was huge!

I waited and waited for a shot trying not to be seen by his cows. Finally, he stopped in between two trees that gave me about a foot wide shot at his vitals. I took the shot. The sound and smell of that old Win 270 filled the air. I watched the bull react. He was confused but that was all. I couldn’t get another shot in. He turned and followed his cows up the hill and if he wasn’t hit then he had one heck of a funny walk.

This was Monday morning at 0930. I spent the rest of that day and every daylight hour until Thursday noon looking for him. Not a lot of blood and no bull. They had walked into the thickest stuff I have ever walked through. I was cutting branches and ripping out bushes. I literally went insane those few days. Not even magpies and crows gave me a clue as to where he was. I hope it was a bad shot and he made it for next year’s archery. I puked several times knowing the biggest bull I have ever taken aim at slipped through another season.

After a long drive home and a lot of coffee I grabbed my family and we headed out to the desert. About 6pm my 6-year old son says, "Dad, elk!!" I look and see cows 50 yards ahead. I hop out and sure enough there was a bull, a small 5x.

I got back in the SUV and both my kids said, “Shoot it Dad. Shoot it.” I said it’s not big enough. Then Hunter, my kiddo said, “Are you kidding me?! He is huge.”  Ha.  That’s when I realized where the true trophy in this hunt was. After several pictures that "trophy" bull is now hanging in my son’s room. I guess trophies come in all kinds.

All in all, not what I wanted from my Super Hunt, but what I needed. It was great!   - John Thornley

Steelhead and Chinook Salmon Update

Hi all, seeing I haven’t provided you an update recently,  I thought I would let you know how the steelhead season is progressing and what we have forecasted for the upcoming spring/summer Chinook salmon season.

Steelhead

If you are wondering how steelhead fishing in the Clearwater has been recently, it actually has been fairly good with catch rates averaging less than 10 hrs/fish during most weeks. Fishing in the North Fork has, on the other hand, has been unusually slow. It should start picking up as the Dworshak fish start moving upstream. We haven’t been monitoring the Snake or Salmon rivers recently, so I don’t have updates for you on those rivers.

Some rumors were being spread that, due to the lower run size for Dworshak Hatchery bound steelhead, IDFG would be reducing limits or shutting down the steelhead season to make sure brood needs will be met.  Well, let me assure you, this is a rumor and we have no intentions of changing the steelhead season.  We are monitoring the number of steelhead ascending Lower Granite Dam that are bound for Dworshak Hatchery as well as how many of these fish are being harvested.   This is what I can tell you.  At the end of December, we estimated that around 13,000 hatchery released steelhead bound for the Clearwater River basin have passed over Lower Granite Dam.  By the time the run is over this spring, we suspect around 15,000 Clearwater River bound hatchery fish will have passed over Lower Granite Dam.  To give you some perspective, runs of Clearwater River hatchery fish have ranged from 20,000 to 57,000 fish over the last 11 years.   

Of the hatchery steelhead returning to the Clearwater River this year, we are anticipating that around 5,400 of these are destined for Dworshak Hatchery (based on PIT tag readings).  The importance of knowing this is, these are the fish that are collected for brood stock that will be used to produce runs for future years.  To fill our hatcheries we need to collect at least 1,500 of these fish.  That means if 5,400 fish are destined for Dworshak Hatchery and we need to collect at least 1,500 for brood stock, then the rest (3,900) can be harvested through tribal and non-tribal fisheries.  The table in the blue box below shows these numbers as well as the number of non-tribal fish that have been harvested based on our creel surveys.  As you can see on this table, we estimate that 914 Dworshak Hatchery bound steelhead have been harvested by non-tribal anglers through December.  Based on discussions with tribal biologists, tribal harvest has been considerably less than that.  However, if we assume the tribal and non-tribal harvest has been identical and harvest rates continue at similar monthly averages, we will still have ample fish for brood needs (see hypothetical example below in orange box).  So, as you can see, there appears to be plenty of fish available for harvest and brood needs, even if tribal harvest  has matched the non-tribal harvest.  We will continue to monitor harvest and coordinate with the tribe, and if something very unexpected happens we will let you know. 

Chinook Forecast

As most of you are aware, every year around this time we estimate how many spring/summer Chinook salmon will be returning to Idaho based on the number of Jacks that returned last year.  The table below show these estimates.  Remember these are only estimates, and during some years we have been off considerably.  Based on these estimates, returns of adult spring/summer Chinook salmon will be lower than we have seen the last five years.  The next step is to present these return estimates to the public (all of you and others) and discuss the best way to structure a fishery.  We may have to be a little creative for some of these fisheries.  My thoughts, at this point, are we will have public meetings for the Clearwater and Rapid River fisheries in the beginning of March to discuss this with all of you.  Shortly after that, we would provide our recommendations to the commission for how we would like to structure our fisheries.  Due to consistent low turnouts at some of the past public meetings, I will likely only have them in Lewiston, Orofino, and Riggins this year.  One of the things we will do this years to supplement the input we get at the public meetings is also send out questionnaire to all of your through this e-mail list.  I’ll let all of you know when the dates and locations of the public meetings have been determined.

I'll be back in touch soon.  I hope your winter is going well. 

- Joe DuPont, Clearwater Region Fishery Manager

Clearwater Weekly Chinook Update 7/19/12

Hi all.  In the Clearwater River drainage fish are still being caught in the North Fork Clearwater River (we estimated that 87 adults were caught) and the catch rates were extremely good (4 hrs/fish).  We also observed some Chinook being caught on the Lochsa River with catch rates at 40 hrs/fish.  Other than those locations, we didn’t document any harvest.  It looks like Chinook fishing has all but ended on its own in the Riggins area and at Hells Canyon Dam. Very few people were observed fishing for salmon and we did not document a single fish being caught.

Some have asked whether I would be providing updates on any of the other fisheries in the Clearwater Region – especially the steelhead fishery.  Well, my goal is to provide periodic updates on our other fisheries as well, although not on a weekly basis.    

Have a good week.  - Joe DuPont, Clearwater Region Fishery Manager

Upper Salmon Weekly Chinook Update 7/15/2012

Angler effort picked up again this past weekend compared to the one before, but that did not result in many more harvested Chinook. In general, the numbers from the week were similar to those from the week previous. Between July 9th and July 15th, 221 adults and 5 jacks were kept, while 130 non ad-clipped adults were released. Anglers averaged approximately 28 hours per Chinook caught in section 19 and 55 hours per Chinook caught in section 18. To date, season totals are 499 hatchery adult Chinook kept and 252 unclipped adult Chinook released. As of today (July 16th), the number that have been trapped at the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery is 1,982 hatchery adults, 166 hatchery jacks, and 290 wild. Hopefully the best is still yet to come and more Chinook continue to move into sections 18 and 19.   - Brent Beller, Salmon Region Fisheries

Expanded Effort and Catch estimates for (July 9 - July 15, 2012)              
Salmon River Stanley Area # of Salmon kept Total Salmon Released Total Salmon caught Breakdown of salmon released Angler Hours     Hours/Fish
  Adults Jacks Total     ad-clipped adults ad-clipped jacks non ad-clipped adults non ad-clipped jacks Boat Bank Total Caught  Kept
Section 18 Weekly Total 19 0 19 23 42 0 4 19 0 1172 1148 2320 55 122
Section 19 Weekly Total 202 5 207 124 331 8 5 111 0 0 9151 9151 28 44
Section 18 &19 Season Total 499 36 535 316 851 48 11 252 5 2275 20664 22939 27 43

 

 

 

Weekly Chinook Update 6/5/12

Hi everybody.  It looks like people were catching fish about everywhere last week (May 28-June 3, 2012).  Hopefully there are a lot of happy anglers out there.  For those who like to fish the Clearwater River basin, I have some good news.  It appears that survival of migrating adults between Bonneville Dam and McNary Dam was higher than we typically see which has increased our projected harvest share to above 5,000 fish (see table below).  The bad news is survival for the Rapid River fish in this same reach appears lower than expected and has resulted in a lower projected harvest share estimate for these fish.  These differences in survival  are largely based upon when these runs migrated through the fisheries on the Columbia.  Rapid River fish came a little earlier this year which made them more susceptible to harvest.  The final harvest share estimate will be based on the number of fish that pass over Lower Granite Dam, so these harvest shares could still change some.  There was considerable harvest in the Lower Snake River (between Ice Harbor and Lower Granite) so we will have to wait and see how this influences our harvest share. (Click 'read more' for more information.)

Adult Chinook salmon run estimate based on PIT tags passing over McNary Dam
Release group Current number over McNary based on PIT tags Projected total run estimate to McNary based on late run timing Broodstock needs Estimated non-tribal harvest share above LGD
Dworshak 5,040 5,235 1,200 1,739
Kooskia (Dwrs) 2,389 3,460 800 1,161
Kooskia (Clwr) 1,138 1,155 NA 550
Selway 2,043 2,132 NA 594
Powell 1,305 1,360 694 311
SF Clearwater 3,478 3,664 1,014 1,127
Total Clearwater R. 15,395 15,850 3,708 5,482
Rapid River 11,220 11,338 2,000 4,240
Upper Little Salmon 646 653 NA 300
Total Riggins Area 11,867 11,991 2,000 4,540
Hells Canyon  2,253 2,276 400 847

In the Clearwater Region last week, people were catching fish from the mouth all the way to the South Fork Clearwater River.  The only place we didn’t document harvest was in the Lochsa River, although I know they were there.  Some of the best catch rates last week were from Cherrylane Bridge to Orofino Bridge, the North Fork, the South Fork, and yesterday I heard fishing was really good in the Kooskia area.  There should still be a couple thousand adult Chinook destined for the Clearwater yet to come over Lower Granite so don’t over look the lower Clearwater as well.  Finally, I have good news for all of you Clearwater anglers.  Because of the higher than expected survival, we will be proposing NO closures this week in the Clearwater River basin.  So go find your favorite place and catch some fish.  We will look at the harvest numbers next week and get back to you. 

Fishing in the lower Salmon River picked up last week which was good to see. Catch rates were not the greatest (20-25 hr/fish), but I certainly talked to some people who limited out over multiple days.  I was surprised to see that more fish were not harvested in the Little Salmon River last week; but after I was informed that high flows made the fishing difficult, it made more sense.  The rain we had over the last couple days brought flows up considerably in the Salmon and Little Salmon which turned the rivers muddy and has turned off fishing.  Based on the flow prediction services, flows should start coming down by Thursday which should mean the fishing will be good this weekend.  Obviously, this will depend on what the water conditions are like.  Let’s hope it stops raining, as the fish are there and ready to be caught.   

Clearwater Weekly Harvest Summary 6/5/12

The North Fork of the Clearwater saw a 41 in/27lb Chinook harvested this weekend.  - Jaime Mils, Clearwater Region Fisheries

Clearwater River Drainage Chinook Salmon Kept     Angler Hours Hours per fish kept  Unclipped salmon released
  Adults Jacks Total      
Railroad Bridge to Cherrylane Bridge 224 81 305 5,802 19 9
Cherrylane Bridge to Orofino Bridge 258 0 258 4,176 16 57
North Fork Clearwater River 131 0 131 1,686 13 13
Orofino Bridge to Kooskia Bridge 49 5 54 1,317 24 20
Middle Fork Clearwater River 53 3 56 1,248 22 27
South Fork Clearwater River 103 0 103 1,271 12 61
Lochsa River 0 0 0 0 - 0

Clearwater River drainage

Week total

818 89 907 15,500 17 187

Clearwater River drainage

Season total

2,068 129 2,197 45,718 21 564

 

Chinook Limits Lowered on Clearwater

Hi all, one thing we have continually heard from anglers is that they would rather have lower limits and a longer season – ideally to last through 4th of July weekend.  Before the season began we projected that our harvest share for the Clearwater River drainage would be over 9,000 adult fish, and with that many fish we believed we could have a two-adult fish limit and the season would likely last until the beginning of July.  It is now apparent that non-tribal harvest share for adult Chinook salmon will be about 4,800 adult fish.  If we combine that with the fact that flows and water clarity have been favorable in the Clearwater system allowing for good fishing and high harvest rates, it seems evident that if the limits are not lowered we may not be able to make the season to last as long as the public desires.  As such, we are reducing the limit of adult Chinook salmon to 1 fish in all reaches of the Clearwater River basin except the South Fork Clearwater River and Lochsa River where anglers have had difficulties harvesting fish in the past.  This rule will take effect at the beginning of fishing hours on Saturday June 2nd.  This will change the daily limit to four salmon per day, only one (1) of which may be an adult. 

The Lochsa and South Fork Clearwater rivers will remain at four salmon per day, only two (2) of which may be adults.

I’d appreciate it if you could all help spread the word. 

Thanks for your help, and good luck fishing.

- Joe Dupont, Clearwater Region Fishery Manager