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Clearwater & Snake Rivers Weekend Report for 3/8/2014

The Snake River is showing really good catch rates and good water clarity but, it had very little effort this weekend. This past week, the Clearwater and Salmon rivers were running high with rain and snow melt causing the water clarity to be poor and it made fishing difficult. River section 03 mouth of Clearwater to Orofino bridge had no documented anglers and fishing effort was low during the week as well. It looks like some of the shore effort moved over to the North Fork of the Clearwater for somewhat clearer water.  If you get onto the USGS site and look at the water conditions around Stites on the South Fork of the Clearwater it does look as if the water level is peaking so hopefully water conditions will improve within the near future and make for better fishing. Click here for more details.

Photo from Lindsey Bischoff shows spring runoff affecting the North Fork of the Clearwater above Dworshak Dam.

- Jaime Robertson, Fisheries Technician

 

 

Upper Salmon River Steelhead Weekend Report 3/02/14

This past weekend, road conditions improved enough below North Fork for creel personnel to collect data from all location codes on the upper Salmon River. Anglers in location code 14, downstream of the Middle Fork, averaged 5 hours per steelhead caught and 10 hours per steelhead kept. Effort was minimal and no steelhead were observed caught in location code 15. Location code 16 received the most angler effort over the weekend, and anglers there averaged 49 hours per steelhead caught and 147 per steelhead kept. Anglers in location code 17, from the mouth of the Lemhi River to the mouth of the Pahsimeroi River, averaged 9 hours per steelhead caught and 15 hours per steelhead kept. Similar to last week, angler effort was low upstream of Ellis. The few interviews that were obtained from upstream produced averages of 8 hours per steelhead caught in location code 18 and 17 hours per steelhead caught, or kept, in location code 19.  Click here for complete summary.

The Deadwater ice jam has receded back to Deadwater. With warmer weather in the forecast, it may go out within the week. Water conditions downstream of Deadwater remained muddy throughout the weekend, with visibility around 18 inches. Additionally, all boat ramps between Salmon and North Fork have been cleared of ice, with the exception of the 4th of July Access Area. - Brent Beller, Fisheries Technician

Steelhead Fishing on the Clearwater 2/11/13

This past week the Clearwater Region saw almost a foot of snow or more in some areas. As a result Idaho Fish & Games weekend creel survey did not document any anglers on the South Fork of the Clearwater, Hells Canyon Dam and Salmon River.  Lewiston Tribune reporter, Eric Barker, recently reported that weather and other events are keeping many anglers off the rivers, but for those who are willing to face them have experienced some good fishing at times....

Steelhead surprise on the Clearwater: Die-hard anglers seeing decent catch as crowds stay off the Clearwater and the big fish stick around.

Posted: Friday, February 7, 2014 12:00 am |  Updated: 7:20 am, Fri Feb 7, 2014.  

By ERIC BARKER of the Lewiston Morning Tribune 

Steelhead anglers fishing the Clearwater River have seen restrictive regulations, low bag limits and a disappointing return of B-run fish this fall and winter.

Those conditions have kept efforts low, but anglers willing to face them have experienced some darn good fishing at times.

"You basically have the river to yourself," said Andy Alldredge of Camp, Cabin and Home in Lewiston. "There is plenty of fish around."

The Clearwater, especially the stretch between Lewiston and Orofino, is not the best place to go for those looking to take home a steelhead. Special regulations aimed at ensuring there are enough steelhead for spawning at hatcheries, restrict harvest to fish that are no more than 28 inches long. That has led to some funny-looking harvest statistics.

For example, last weekend anglers on the Lewiston-to-Orofino stretch of the Clearwater landed a steelhead for every six hours of fishing. That's about as good as it gets there. But anglers had to put in 56 hours for every keeper.

"The catching is very good, I would say it's as good as it is in good years. The harvest rates are way down because you can't harvest the big fish," said Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for the department at Lewiston. "The reason the catch rates are so good is the effort is very low and the big fish stay out there. We are not cropping (big) hatchery fish, and there is not a lot of competition."

Don Whitney, another Fish and Game biologist, said he and the creel clerks who work for him have heard few complaints from anglers about the harvest restrictions.

"It seems like people understand the restrictions, that if we don't have the brood, we can't release the smolt."

Hatchery fish are in the system so anglers can catch them. But the system depends on enough fish escaping the fisheries and returning to hatcheries so the next generation of fish can be produced.

Normally that is not a problem. In fact, fisheries managers often fret that too many hatchery fish remain left uncaught and that they could pose a threat to protected wild steelhead by breeding with them and reducing the fitness of their offspring.

But this was a poor year for steelhead returns and especially bad for B-run steelhead bound for the Clearwater. Last October, fisheries officials estimated only 5,800 hatchery B-run steelhead would return this fall and only about 2,000 would be bound for Dworshak National Fish Hatchery. The hatchery has a goal of collecting 2,000 steelhead for spawning.

Dworshak Hatchery met its goal of collecting about 500 steelhead in the fall and has started to collect the remainder of the fish. Both DuPont and Steve Rodgers, managers of the Dworshak complex, said they expect to meet collection goals.

"We really don't have any concern about making it," Rodgers said.

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

--Reposted with permission

Upper Salmon River Weekend Report 11/19/13

Colder weather moved in this past weekend on the upper Salmon River, and angler effort dropped off significantly as a result. The catch rates though remained similar to the previous weekend. Anglers in location code 14 - downstream of the Middle Fork - averaged 14 hours per steelhead caught and 37 hours per steelhead kept. Anglers in location code 15 also averaged 14 hours per steelhead caught and 18 hours per steelhead kept. Upstream of North Fork, in location code 16, anglers averaged 28 hours per steelhead caught and 33 hours per steelhead kept. In location code 17, between the Lemhi and Pahsimeroi rivers, anglers averaged 9 hours per steelhead caught and 13 hours per steelhead kept. Click here for more details.  - Brent Beller, Fisheries Technician

 

Fall Chinook and Steelhead Updates 11/19/13

The 2013 fall Chinook fishery was without a doubt our best season since the fishery began in 2008. Harvest and catch were nearly double of any previous season with a total harvest of 2,667 and a total catch of 11,037. Steelhead fishing is occurring in most open areas and the best catch rates are in the lower Salmon River. The steelhead fishery in the Snake River section 02 from the mouth of the Salmon River upstream to Hells Canyon Dam has tanked over the last couple weeks currently taking an estimated 223 hours to harvest a fish.  - Don Whitney, Clearwater Regional Fisheries Biologist

Upper Salmon River Weekend Report 10/20/13

This weekend on the upper Salmon River the steelhead fishing improved considerably over the previous one in location codes 14 and 15, but remained slow upstream in location codes 16 and 17. Anglers had the best catch rates downstream of the Middle Fork in location code 14, where they averaged 9 hours per steelhead caught and 47 hours per steelhead kept. In location code 15 anglers averaged 17 hours per steelhead caught and 55 hours per steelhead kept. No kept steelhead were found upstream of North Fork and only one was reported as released, which resulted in a catch rate of 356 hours per steelhead in location code 16. In location code 17, angler effort was low and no steelhead were reported caught.  Click here for a full report.  - Brent Beller, Salmon Region Fisheries Technician

 

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.