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
The Salmon River cleared up this past week as flows began to decline, and as result, catch rates improved considerably. Angler effort was very low downstream of Salmon, in location code 16, but the few interviewed anglers that were out averaged 2 hours per steelhead caught and no steelhead were kept. Upstream, in location code 17, angler effort was approximately half of what was observed during the previous week, and interviewed anglers averaged 14 hours per steelhead caught and 20 hours per steelhead kept. Above the Pahsimeroi, in location code 18, interviewed anglers averaged 8 hours per steelhead caught and 30 hours per steelhead kept. Once again, the majority of anglers were observed above the East Fork in location code 19. Anglers in this area continued to do well and averaged 9 hours per steelhead caught and 30 hours per steelhead kept.
Currently, the Salmon River through the town of Salmon is flowing at 1,680 cfs which is 114% of average for today’s date. The river is running clear and temperatures in the low to mid 40s were recorded throughout the week.
As of Thursday, April 9th the Pahsimeroi Hatchery had trapped 3,441 steelhead, while the Sawtooth Hatchery had trapped 3,240 steelhead. Additionally, Blue Mountain Pond in Challis was stocked with 150 adult steelhead on Tuesday, April 7th. Check Harvest Report for more details. - Brent Beller, Fisheries Technician, Salmon Region
Angler effort continues to decline on the Main Stem of the Clearwater and lower Salmon River as the Spring 2015 Steelhead season nears its end. Most of effort this past week occurred on the Little Salmon River and on the South Fork of the Clearwater. The South Fork of the Clearwater produced the best catch rates of 2 hours/fish caught. Check Harvest Report for more details. - Amanda Schmidt, Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region
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
The South Fork of the Clearwater had the highest amount of effort this past week with the Little Salmon River not far behind. Both areas had good catch rates. Effort increased on the North Fork of the Clearwater from the previous week and produced good catch rates. Water levels increased over the weekend on the South Fork of the Clearwater and of the main stem of the Clearwater but the hydro graph looks like water levels may stabilize. The main stem of the Salmon River water level was continually fluctuating and from what the hydro graph shows the water level is going up again. For more details go to the Harvest Report. - Jaime Robertson, Fisheries Technician, Clearwater Region
Steelhead fishing this week on the upper Salmon River remained similar to the previous week. The one exception was in location code 16, where angler effort increased and catch rates improved. The majority of anglers were observed in location code 17 near Ellis and upstream of the East Fork in location code 19. Overall, catch rates were good through Friday, but high temperatures on Friday and rain mixed with wind on Saturday caused flows to increase by Saturday which slowed the fishing down. Interviewed anglers in location code 15, upstream of the Middle Fork, averaged 73 hours per Steelhead caught and did not report keeping any Steelhead. Upstream of North Fork, in location code 16, interviewed anglers did much better than the previous week and averaged 17 hours per Steelhead caught and 88 hours per Steelhead kept. Interviewed anglers upstream of the Lemhi River, in location code 17, averaged 21 hours per Steelhead caught and 38 hours per Steelhead kept. Upstream of the Pahsimeroi River, in location code 18, interviewed anglers averaged 62 hours per Steelhead caught and 82 hours per Steelhead kept. The best fishing was once again found upstream of the East Fork, in location code 19. Interviewed anglers in this area averaged 8 hours per Steelhead caught and 16 hours per Steelhead kept. Go to Harvest Reports for more detail.
Currently, the Salmon River is running high with cloudy visibility downstream of Stanley. As of Monday March 30th, the Salmon River is flowing at 2,150 cfs through the town of Salmon which is approximately 180% of average. Water temperatures in the mid to upper 40s were observed over the weekend.
As of Thursday, March 26th, the Pahsimeroi Hatchery has trapped 2,615 Steelhead while the Sawtooth Hatchery has trapped 1,431. Additionally, Kid’s Creek pond in Salmon was stocked with 256 adult Steelhead last week. - Brent Beller, Fisheries Technician, Salmon Region
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
Steelhead fishing on the upper Salmon River this past week was tough for anglers fishing below the town of Salmon. Anglers were primarily found in location codes 17 and 19 downstream of the Pahsimeroi and Sawtooth Hatcheries, but angler effort did remain relatively high downstream of North Fork. Interviewed anglers did not report catching any steelhead in location code 14, downstream of the Middle Fork. In location code 15, downstream of North Fork, interviewed anglers averaged 103 hours per steelhead caught and 360 hours per steelhead kept. Interviewed anglers fishing below the Lemhi River, in location code 16, also had to put in many hours to catch a fish and averaged 178 hours per steelhead caught or kept.
The fishing improved upstream of the Lemhi in location codes 17 through 19. Interviewed anglers in location code 17 averaged 27 hours per steelhead caught and 43 hours per steelhead kept. Upstream of the Pahsimeroi, in location code 18, interviewed anglers averaged 39 hours per steelhead caught and 136 hours per steelhead kept. The best fishing this week was again found upstream of the East Fork in location code 19. Interviewed anglers in this area averaged 8 hours per steelhead caught and 12 hours per steelhead kept.
Water conditions on the upper Salmon River were beginning to improve towards the end of the week, but cloudy water conditions still exist throughout the drainage. The best water clarity was observed in location code 19. Flows have remained fairly stable for the past few days and are above average for this time of year. Currently the Salmon River through the town of Salmon is flowing at 1,940 cfs which is 166% of average for today’s date. Water temperatures in the mid to upper 40s were observed in all location codes with the exception of location code 19 where the water temperature was in the lower 40s.
As of March 19th, the Pahsimeroi Hatchery had trapped 1,865 steelhead, while the Sawtooth Hatchery had trapped 571 steelhead. Additionally, Kid’s Creek Pond in Salmon was stocked with 150 adult steelhead on Friday, March 20th. - Brett Beller, Fisheries Technician, Salmon Region
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