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.


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

Snapshot of Steelhead Fishing on the Clearwater and Snake 12/16/12

This past weekend on the main stem of the Clearwater below Orofino bridge catch rates were great and to keep they were OK.  We are starting to see more anglers out on the South Fork and they are catching a few fish. This past Friday a nice bright 36 in. steelhead was brought in by Lenore. Unfortunately, I was unable to get a picture. However, the angler did get a good laugh at my expense when I face planted it on the boat launch. - Jaime Mills, Clearwater Region

STEELHEAD CREEL NUMBERS For Weekend of 12/16/2012    
River Location No. Anglers Checked No. of Hours No. of Fish Kept No. of Fish Released Total Fish Hours/Fish Water
caught kept Temp (F) Conditions
01  Snake River - Downstream from Salmon River 4 14 0 0 0 -- -- 36 CLR
03  Clearwater River - Mouth to Memorial Bridge 69 393 16 26 42 9 25 34 CLR
04  Clearwater River - mouth to Orofino Bridge. 10 36 3 3 6 6 12 34 CLR
05   North Fork Clearwater R 16 92 0 0 0 -- -- 34 CLR
07  South Fork Clearwater R. 14 37 1 2 3 12 37 CLR CD
10    Salmon R. - downstream from Whitebird Cr. 4 12 4 1 5 2 3 36 CLR

Steelhead Fishing Opportunities 10/31/12

Hi everybody, I thought I’d let you know about some steelhead fishing opportunities that will be occurring in the Boise area.  We will be stocking around 250 steelhead that were trapped at Hells Canyon Dam in the Boise River on Thursday, November 1 from Glenwood Bridge to Barber Park.  I have been told the steelhead fishing can be quite good at times after these stocking efforts.  Plans are to also stock a similar number of fish later in November.  So, those of you in the Boise area who don’t like to travel, this might be a good fishing opportunity for you.

Seeing I’ve got your attention (well hopefully I do), I thought I’d also give you an update on the steelhead fishing in the Clearwater River.  As I suspected, the fishing effort has been very low for the first two weeks after the general opener.  In fact, I can’t remember seeing so few people fishing as I saw on the first two days of the season.  As a result, there were fewer people competing over the fish that were in the river and catch rates have been good (about 10/hrs fish).   With the recent rains, the river flows have shot up and turned the river dirty, but once flows settle back down I suspect a bunch more new fish will have moved into the system.  So plan accordingly, the fishing could get quite good.   Based on PIT tags, about 22,000 Clearwater bound hatchery steelhead have passed over Bonneville Dam this year.  So far, only about 11,000 of them have made it past Lower Granite.  Let’s hope this increase in flows gets those fish moving.  I’m betting on it. 

Fishing in the Snake and Salmon has also been decent at around 10 hrs/fish, so there are plenty of opportunities out there.

Don’t forget, fall chinook season is over tomorrow, November 1.

Talk to you all later.     - Joe DuPont, Clearwater Region Fishery Manager

Clearwater & Salmon River Steelhead Update 10/22/12

River sections 01 and 03 had the best catch rates for steelhead this week at 13hrs/catch and 9hrs/catch. The North Fork of the Clearwater has documented harvest this week of 6 steelhead. The Salmon river catch rates were poor this past week.   - Jaime Mills, Clearwater Region Fisheries Technician

STEELHEAD CREEL NUMBERS For Weekend of 10/22/2012    
River Location No. Anglers Checked No. of Hours No. of Fish Kept No. of Fish Released Total Fish Hours/Fish Water
caught kept Temp (F) Conditions
01   Snake River - Downstream from Salmon River 82 392 3 27 30 13 131 58 CLR
02   Snake R. - Salmon R. to Hells Canyon Dam 22 151 2 2 4 38 76 60 CLR
03  Clearwater River - Mouth to Memorial Bridge 58 208 13 9 22 9 16 51 CL
05   North Fork Clearwater R 25 126 6 0 6 21 21 50 CLR
10    Salmon R. - downstream from Whitebird Cr. 12 45 0 1 1 45 -- 50 CDY
11   Salmon R. - Whitebird Cr. to Little Salmon R 61 357 4 4 8 45 89 50 CDY
12   Salmon R. - Little Salmon R. to Vinegar Cr. 150 845 10 9 19 44 84 46 CDY
13   Salmon R. - Vinegar Cr. to South Fork Salmon R.. 25 305 1 2 3 102 305 48 CD
14   Salmon R. - - South Fork Salmon R. to Middle Fork Salmon R. 8 192 0 4 4 48 -- 46 CDY

Steelhead Creel Survey 9/23/12

Hours to catch were decent this week on the Snake River in Section 1 (Blue Bridge –ID/WA boundary). Anglers commented that fishing dropped off when Dworshak stopped letting water out. Section 3  (Couse Creek- Cache creek) documented harvest over this past weekend. Section 5 on the Snake has still not had any documented harvest. On the  Clearwater’s catch rates for Chinook this week are poor, but the steelhead catch rates were decent.  - Jaime Mills, Clearwater Fishery Technician

STEELHEAD CREEL NUMBERS For Weekend of 9/23/2012    
River Location No. Anglers Checked No. of Hours No. of Fish Kept No. of Fish Released Total Fish    Hours/Fish      Water
Caught Kept Temp (F) Conditions
01  Snake River -  Downstream from Salmon River 116 588 15 22 37 16 39 66 CLR
02  Snake River - Salmon River to Hells Canyon Dam  4 17 0 0 0 -- -- 68 CLR
03  Clearwater River - Mouth to Memorial Bridge 92 438 16 14 30 15 27 54 CLR
03A  Clearwater  - Memorial Bridge to Orofino Bridge 11 74 0 5 5 15 -- 54 CLR


Snake River Fall Chinook Creel Survey 9/18/12


Snake River Fall Chinook Sport Fishery Update
September 18, 2012
Expanded Effort and Catch estimates for interval 3 (September 10-September 16, 2012)
Snake River       Total Total Breakdown of salmon released
  # Salmon Kept Salmon Salmon ad-clipped non ad-clipped
  Adults Jacks Total Released Caught adults jacks adults jacks
Sec 1 58 36 94 76 170 36 0 22 18
Sec 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sec 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sec 4 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Sec 5 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Total 58 36 94 76 170 36 0 22 18
Snake R. Season Total 69 45 114 143 257 52 0 62 29
    # Angler Hours Hours/Fish      
    Boat Bank Total caught kept      
Sec 1   5375 0 5375 32 57      
Sec 2   432 0 432 - -      
Sec 3   0 0 0 - -      
Sec 4   0 0 0 - -      
Sec 5   0 59 59 - -      
Total   5807 59 5866 35 62      
Snake R. Season Total   11278 59 11337 44 99      


Section Descriptions:
Section 1: ID/WA State line (rm 139.3) upstream to US Highway 12 Bridge (rm 139.5)
Section 2: US Highway 12 Bridge upstream to Couse Creek boat ramp (rm 157.6)
Section 3: Couse Creek boat ramp upstream to OR/WA border (rm 176)
Section 4: OR/WA border upstream to Sheep Creek (rm 229.5)
Section 5: Sheep Creek upstream to Hells Canyon Dam (rm 247)


Update on Fall Chinook and Steelhead Fishing 9/05/12

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

Upper Salmon Weekly Chinook Update 7/22/12

Angler effort was lower this past weekend compared to the one before, and the number of Chinook harvested dropped as well. Between July 16th and July 22nd, 174 adults and 36 jacks were kept, while 137 non ad-clipped adults were released. The hours per Chinook caught improved this past week with anglers averaging approximately 22 hours per Chinook in section 19, and 29 hours per Chinook in section 18. Season totals for sections 18 and 19 combined are 673 hatchery adult Chinook kept and 389 unclipped adult Chinook released. As of today (July 23rd), the number that have been trapped at the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery is 2, 168 hatchery adults, 200 hatchery jacks, and 315 wild.  - Brent Beller, Salmon Region Fisheries

Expanded Effort and Catch estimates for (July 16 - July 22)                
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 12 3 15 22 37 0 0 22 0 410 674 1084 29 72
Section 19       Weekly Total 162 33 195 139 334 12 4 115 8 356 6931 7287 22 37
Section 18 &19 Season Total 673 72 745 477 1222 60 15 389 13 3041 28269 31310 26 42