salmon

Sockeye arrives at Stanley despite warm water, and Idaho Department of Fish and Game has safeguards to ensure their survival

The first sockeye salmon reached the Sawtooth Basin near Stanley on Monday, July 27 despite hot weather and warm water that prompted Idaho Fish and Game biologists to capture fish downstream to ensure survival of one of Idaho’s most endangered species.

IDFG employee holding sockeye

Tens of thousands of sockeye have died in the Columbia River. Most were likely headed to Central Washington, but during July, Fish and Game personnel trapped and trucked 37 sockeye from the Snake River at Lower Granite Dam to the Eagle Hatchery near Boise. High river temperatures were dangerous to the migrating fish, and the captured sockeye will be held in Eagle until they are ready to spawn in the fall. Many other sockeye remaining in the rivers face an uncertain future.

“It’s a tough year for all anadromous fish, including sockeye,” Fish and Game’s Senior Sockeye Research Biologist Mike Peterson said.

Biologists are concerned high water temperatures in rivers will stall, and kill, some sockeye before they arrive to their spawning grounds in the Sawtooth Basin.

Through July 27, 368 sockeye were counted at Lower Granite Dam about 30 miles from Lewiston. Biologists fear only a fraction of those will make it to the Sawtooth Basin, where some are trapped and taken to hatcheries while others are allowed to spawn in their namesake­ - Redfish Lake.

Trapping and transporting sockeye is one of many safeguards Fish and Game implemented to restore the most southern sockeye population in the world and a unique fish that swims 900 miles from the Pacific Ocean and 6,500-feet elevation to Central Idaho’s mountains.

Another safeguard is Fish and Game’s captive breeding program, which raises sockeye from egg to adult in a hatchery, foregoing the risky trip to the ocean. The program ensures that regardless of how many adults return this summer, the agency will still be able to ramp up its release of juveniles in the spring.

Despite a challenging summer, Idaho’s sockeye population has dramatically improved over the last decade, and Fish and Game’s sockeye program is designed to adapt to changing conditions.

An abundant sockeye return in 2010 allowed Fish and Game to try a pilot project where 19 sockeye were trapped and trucked from Lower Granite Dam to the Eagle Hatchery to see if the fish could survive the rigors of transport, and they did.

Fish and Game tried trapping again during a heat wave in 2013, but problems associated with getting cool water into Lower Granite’s fish trap lead to no sockeye trapped. This summer, cooler water was pumped from deeper in Lower Granite Reservoir so Fish and Game personnel could trap and transport them.

Biologists are currently in a wait-and-see mode for the fish remaining in the rivers.

“I don’t know what to expect because this is a year we’ve never seen before,” Peterson said. “We’re going to learn the thermal tolerances of these fish.”

After sockeye cross Lower Granite Dam, they still have 400 miles to travel in the Snake and Salmon rivers to reach the Sawtooth Basin, and biologist have limited ability to monitor their progress, or know what happened to those that didn’t make it.

Biologists know warm water slows their progress, and “every day they’re in warm water takes its toll,” Peterson said.

If there’s a silver lining, it will be gaining more knowledge about sockeye.

“Poor conditions mean we’re learning about these fish, and in the past, we didn’t have enough fish to learn from,” he said. “Experience drives what we do in the future.”

In the last decade, between 30 and 78 percent of sockeye that crossed Lower Granite Dam completed the trip to the Sawtooth Basin.

“I’m hoping we get that 30 percent conversion, but realistically it could be less,” Peterson said.

Even at a 30-percent return rate, it would be the smallest return since 2007.

After sockeye cross Lower Granite Dam, it typically takes 30 to 35 days for the fish to reach the Sawtooth Basin, and it’s “almost like clockwork,” Peterson said.

Sockeye started trickling across the dam in late May and June, but most crossed in July and are due to arrive at the Sawtooth Basin in August.

Even if it’s the smallest sockeye return since 2007, the current situation has to be taken in context of the bigger picture. When Idaho sockeye were listed in 1991 under the federal Endangered Species Act, only four adult sockeye returned to the Sawtooth Basin. The combined annual returns from 1991-99 was 23 fish, including two years when no sockeye returned to Idaho.

Chinook Fishing Results - May 24, 2015

IDFG Chinook salmon Harvest and Effort Report for May 18 to May 24, 2015.

   
                 

Clearwater River drainage

Chinook Salmon Kept

Angler Hours

Hours per fish kept

Unclipped Adults released

Comments

Adults

Jacks

Total

Railroad Bridge to Cherrylane Bridge

Closed to salmon fishing on May 17

Cherrylane Bridge to Orofino Bridge

648

36

684

5,133

7.5

82

Closed to salmon fishing on May 22

North Fork Clearwater River

586

3

589

2,919

5.0

77

 

Orofino Bridge to Kooskia Bridge

157

10

167

2,489

14.9

37

 

Middle Fork Clearwater River

292

2

294

2,649

9.0

90

 

South Fork Clearwater River

249

0

249

3,207

12.9

16

 

Lochsa River

0

0

0

33

NA

0

 

Clearwater River drainage weekly total

1,932

51

1,983

16,430

8.3

302

 

Clearwater River drainage SEASON TOTAL

5,164

58

5,222

76,479

14.6

1,130

 

               

 

Salmon River drainage

Chinook Salmon Kept

Angler Hours

Hours per fish kept

Unclipped Adults released

Comments

Adults

Jacks

Total

Rice Creek Bridge to Hammer Creek Boat Ramp

208

25

233

3,664

15.7

39

 

Hammer Creek Boat Ramp to Time Zone Bridge

579

6

585

10,069

17.2

79

 

Time Zone Bridge to Short's Creek

834

15

849

8,834

10.4

44

 

Short's Creek to Vinegar Creek

47

0

47

1,111

23.6

0

 

Little Salmon River--Mouth to lower Pollock bridge

1,085

3

1,088

16,444

15.1

33

 

Little Salmon River--Upstream of lower Pollock bridge

0

0

0

0

NA

0

No catch or effort was observed

Salmon River drainage weekly total

2,753

49

2,802

40,122

14.3

195

 

Salmon River drainage SEASON TOTAL

4,605

59

4,664

67,793

Clearwater Salmon Harvest Summary 5/18/15

Clearwater River Chinook salmon in 2015

This past week on the Clearwater creel section 1 closed after fishing hours on Sunday May 17th. Anglers fishing in this section still had the most success fishing from the railroad bridge to Flying J. with the majority of the effort on the hog line. Many anglers that were checked were using green plugs wrapped in herring. Creel section 2  had very good catch rates. Boat anglers reported the most success with back trolling around McGill Hole and just outside of the North Fork boundary using divers spin 'n glo with eggs kwik fish, or cut plugs. Shore anglers fishing at Big Eddy were also successful and they used tuna balls, eggs, and shrimp. Many shore anglers are also seen plunking with spin and glo’s with pink/purple shrimp or tuna balls. Creel section 4 effort picked up over the weekend with many anglers fishing from shore at Zan’s access site. Creel section 5 had very good catch rates. Most of the boat anglers were seen fishing just above Clear Creek back trolling. Shore anglers focused most of their attention at skipping stones and across the river on the dead end access sites. Check Harvest Reports for more details. - Jaime Robertson, Senior Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region

Clearwater Region Weekly Chinook Update (5/20/15)

Hi everybody, this is Joe Dupont, Clearwater Fisheries Manager. It's time for my weekly update on the Clearwater Region’s Chinook Salmon fisheries (5/20/15). Before I get into the details, for those who fish the Clearwater River, please be sure to read the closure notice and read the section below on the Clearwater River Fishery, as another river section will be closing at the end of fishing hours on Friday.

Harvest Share

By now the run of Chinook Salmon destined for the Clearwater Region has almost all passed over Bonneville Dam.  In fact, the vast majority of these fish have also passed over Lower Granite Dam, the last of the dams they must pass over before entering Idaho. For that reason, the table below shows how many fish have passed over Lower Granite Dam (based on PIT tags), and what our harvest shares will be based on these estimates. It is important to know that not all the fish destined for the Clearwater Region have passed over Lower Granite Dam, so the run estimates and harvest shares listed below are minimums. One of the good things that happened this year is the survival of these salmon as they swim from Bonneville Dam to Lower Granite Dam has been higher than normal. I suspect this has something to do with the lower and clearer flows than normal.  As indicated earlier, these flows allow the fish to migrate faster and farther from the river’s edge which makes them less susceptible to anglers, nets, and predators. Higher survival means more fish for us to catch.   

Clearwater River Fishery

Before I get into how the fishing was in the Clearwater River basin last week, I want to point out the harvest share I used on the table below (6,500 adult fish) is what I believe is a conservative estimate.  There are still more fish on the way so don’t be surprised if we end up with an even higher harvest share than this.  Last week the fishing was excellent in the Clearwater Basin, with catch rates dropping below 10 hrs/fish in many areas. With this good of fishing, it is not too surprising that a lot of fish were harvested last week.  In fact, fishing was so good in section 2 last week that we will be closing it down to ALL salmon fishing at the end of fishing hours on Friday May 22, 2015 (see attachment). Once again, we will not leave this section of river open to Jack fishing due to their poor return.  Some people have been asking why we can’t leave river sections open to Jack fishing. The reason is that with so few Jacks coming back, we will be able to reach our harvest share on them without leaving river sections open longer.  In case you were wondering, the best catch rates that we saw were in sections 2 and 5 last week.  For those of you who like to fish the South Fork Clearwater River, I can tell you over 2,000 fish have already passed our PIT tag array in that river and more are on their way.  For those of you who want to salmon fish for memorial weekend in the Clearwater River drainage, there should be some excellent fishing for you in the areas that remain open to fishing. 

Rapid River Run

As expected, effort and harvest turned on last week for the Rapid River run. Fish were caught throughout the system with the highest catch rates actually occurring in section 1. Catch rates were also decent in the Park Hole (section 3) and Little Salmon River (13 hrs/fish). It did slow down on Sunday as the main Salmon River turned dirty due to the rains we had; but reports are that it has cleaned up some and harvest has picked up once again. Flows are supposed to climb on the Salmon River through Memorial Weekend, but they are not supposed to climb quickly. Let’s hope that it won’t cause water clarity to diminish substantially which can slow down fish movement and harvest. Once again, the harvest share I used below is an estimate, but I suspect that it won’t be too far from what we end up with. The message is, there are a lot of fish on their way to provide some excellent fishing in the next couple weeks. 

Hells Canyon Fishery

Fishing below Hells Canyon Dam was good last week as we estimated that 161 fish were harvested (256 for the season), and catch rates were 9 hrs/fish. We started trapping fish below Hells Canyon Dam for brood stock and other purposes, so I wouldn’t be surprised if catch rates dropped some, but there still should be a lot of fish in the river to catch.

Memorial weekend is almost here. I suspect many of you are planning a salmon fishing trip, just as my family is. I hope to see some of you out on the river.  Good luck fishing.  -  Joe DuPont, Clearwater Region Fishery Manager

 

Clearwater Coho 11/10/2014

This past weekend on the North Fork of the Clearwater (river sect 05) a 33in Coho was caught. The fish was weighed at Harvest Foods in Orofino at 11.8lbs with a girth of 17inches. Check Harvest Reports for more salmon havest information from last week.  - Jaime Robertson, Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region

Cleawater and Snake River Weekend Creel Surveys 11/02/14

This past Saturday on the Clearwater was wet. It rained off and on most of the day. We are seeing more anglers fish from Orofino and up. Drift boats are dropping in at the Kooskia boat ramp or Button Beach and drifting down to Kamiah. This past week an angler caught a 18lb. Steelhead on the North Fork. Go to Steelhead Harvest Report and Coho Salmon Harvest Report for more details.  - Jaime Robertson, Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region

Steelhead and Chinook Report in Cleawater 10/13/14

Clearwater Region Fall 2014

Anglers are spreading out to fish in the Clearwater region. 185 anglers were checked this past weekend on the Salmon and Little Salmon River. 60 steelhead were caught over the weekend with just under 19/hr catch rates on the Salmon and Little Salmon River.

Of the 178 anglers that were checked on river section 01 of the Snake River this past weekend 91 came out at Heller Bar. These anglers fished a total of 746 hours with 28 hatchery steelhead kept and 48 wild released. No hatchery steelhead were released. Catch rates were 10hrs. 74 of the steelhead anglers that were checked at Heller bar were on guided trips. Please keep in mind that these numbers are for Idaho steelhead anglers only and are unexpanded numbers.

Anglers that are fishing above Memorial Bridge on the Clearwater (river sect 03) are using a variety of lures. Some of the lures were Purple Peril, Black Fly, Lady Caroline Skunk, black & blue Table Fly, Skater Fly, Green butted Skunk, Gold Hair Wing, purple & black fly, Orange Hair Wing, and Rust Colored Fly. Anglers are also using yarn with scent and eggs.  - Jaime Robertson, Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region

Snake and Clearwater Fall Chinook Update for 10/7/14

Guided anglers fishing Snake River around Hellar Bar

The weather was beautiful in Lewiston with highs in the low 80’s. The best catch rates this past week were from US Highway 12 Bridge upstream to Hells Canyon Dam. The guides are taking people out to fish at Heller Bar in force. They spend a lot of time fishing in front of the ramp. They drive to the top  of the riffle and drift along the soft water bouncing/drifting bait (usually eggs). It looks like an orchestrated dance between the boats. While we are seeing a lot of effort up the Snake river now we still have quite a few fishermen fishing down in the confluence below the blue bridge (Highway 12 bridge) and up into the Clearwater as far as Memorial Bridge.  You can check harvest data on the Fish and Game website.  -  Jaime Robertson, Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region

Clearwater Region Salmon Fishery 9/16/14

One nice thing about this time of year is while you are fishing for steelhead you could also catch a fall Chinook Salmon. This year, like the past four years, is supposed to be another good year.  In fact, we are anticipating that the returning Fall Chinook Salmon run to Idaho will be the second largest run we have seen in quite some time (last year was the largest).  We are expecting around 50,000 adults to pass over Lower Granite Dam and what is even more exciting is this year the majority of the adult fish are three-ocean fish that typically range from 18-22 pounds. On average, over 2,000 adult Chinook a day have been passing over Lower Granite Dam for the past week.  Soon we should exceed 3,000 adult Chinook a day. Catch rates for Chinook have been quite slow, but they should pick up with all these fish starting to move in.

One thing all of you should know is that only about 30% of the Chinook passing over Lower Granite Dam are clipped. That is because a lot of wild fish are returning and because around half the hatchery Fall Chinook released in Idaho are clipped (This was done to help build the run when numbers were low).   As such, you will have to catch around 4 unclipped fish for every one clipped fish you can harvest.

A commonly asked question that I get is, “why don’t you allow us to harvest Fall Chinook Salmon upstream of Memorial Bridge?” Because it is asked so often, I thought I would share my answer with all of you.  There are three main reasons.

  • First, only about 25% of the hatchery fish released into the Clearwater River are clipped. Thus, when you mix in the wild fish only about 15% of the fish are clipped.  That doesn’t leave a lot of fish to be harvested.  This clip rate is set until 2017.  Discussion will occur to decide what the new clip rate will be starting in 2018.
  • Second, the Clearwater River is a very popular place to catch-and-release Steelhead, and has been for many years.  Anglers come from all over the Nation to fish this unique fishery.  Opening a Fall Chinook season at the same time as this catch-and-release Steelhead season occurs would cause significant changes in the dynamics of this fishery (more anglers and more boats).  Many Steelhead anglers say they are not in support of this.
  • Finally, the Nez Perce Tribe is largely responsible for rebuilding the Fall Chinook run in Idaho.  Because most of the Clearwater River is in the Nez Perce Tribal Reservation, we need to be considerate of their concerns and interests before moving forward with a fishery that targets Fall Chinook in this area.  We will have discussions with the Tribe about this when we feel the time is appropriate.

This doesn’t mean that we will never have a Fall Chinook Salmon fishery upstream of Memorial Bridge, but it is important to realize there are many things to consider and address before we ever do so. 

Here's additional information on the Clearwater's steelhead fishery this fall.

Well, it is time for me to go.  The elk are bugling and I’m hoping one has my name on it.  - Joe DuPont, Fishery Manager, Clearwater Region