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