Steelhead

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.

A beautiful day for fishing.

Steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River

Steelhead fishing is still slow in both the Clearwater and Snake Rivers. Weather is cooling off and we had a nice rain storm on Sunday. The featured picture is of the confluence river section 01 and of Washington river section 648. Click here to see the latest steelhead harvest report. - Jaime Robertson, Fisheries Technician

Question on 2 pole permits in Idaho

Every year I purchase a 2 pole permit in Idaho for salmon, trout, and steelhead fishing. The question I have is very specific and pertains to getting close to limiting out on your daily limit.If an angler is 1 fish away from the daily limit, be is salmon, trout or steelhead can that angler still use 2 poles to catch the last fish. I have looked through the regulations and could not find any specific information on this. I was told by another angler over the weekend that if you are 1 fish away from your limit that you can only fish with one pole until you catch that fish.

Success on the upper Salmon River.

Phil Anderson and sons on upper Salmon 2013

I just wanted to take a few minutes and tell you all what a fantastic job you have been doing in regards to Steelhead and Salmon recovery in Idaho. I have fished Idaho's Salmon River every year for almost 15 years now. I have always targeted the section between Challis and Stanley. Over the years I've seen the fishery grow and become such a great opportunity for anyone wanting to catch these awesome fish. It's so impressive to me that these fish travel the distance they do and navigate the dam systems that are in place on their way home. Each year I visit the Sawtooth Hatchery with my sons and it has always impressed me how clean and professional the operations are. I love these fish and appreciate genuinely the efforts of all the Idaho Fish and Game employees that work to make this fishery great. I just returned from fishing April1-6 and had a great time. The warm temperatures have raised the water temperatures and water level but even with decreased numbers this year we still did very well. I'm attaching a few pics so you can see the quality of fish that are returning. Once again, thanks to you all for a job VERY well done. - Sincerely, Phil Anderson

Weekend Steelhead Summary for Clearwater River 4/20/13

Catch on the North Fork of the Clearwater  this past weekend was great and decent for keepers, but low number of anglers interviewed. The catch on the South Fork is great - 2 hours for each fish caught - but horrible for keepers. Anglers only kept 2 fish out of the 31 caught. On the Little Salmon the catch is good but only 4 fish kept out of the 14 caught.  - Seth Crevison, Clearwater Region Fisheries Technician

Upper Salmon River Steelhead Fishing 4/21/13

The steelhead fishing this past weekend on the upper Salmon River picked up slightly over the previous week. The majority of anglers were found in section 19, near the Sunbeam Dam area or in section 17, near the mouth of the Pahsimeroi River. Minimal angler effort was observed in section 18.  Anglers in section 17 had an average catch rate of 14 hours per steelhead, while in section 18, the catch rate was 4 hours per steelhead.  In section 19, anglers averaged 12 hours per steelhead and reported 47 steelhead caught.  - Brent Beller, Salmon Region Fisheries Technician

Clearwater Steelhead Creel Survey 4/07/13

On section 03 the catch was great at 8 hours but low number of anglers interviewed and hours fished. On 05 and 07 the catch is great but horrible for keepers. - Seth Crevison, Clearwater Region Fisheries Technician

STEELHEAD CREEL NUMBERS   Weekend 3/2/2013                
SECTION RIVER LOCATION ANGLERS CHECKED NO. OF HOURS  FISH KEPT FISH RELEASED TOTAL FISH HRS/FISH CAUGHT  HRS/FISH KEPT WATER TEMP (°F) WATER CONDITIONS
2 Snake R. - Salmon R. to Hells Canyon Dam 9 42 1 2 3 14 42 44 CLR
3 Clearwater River - mouth to Orofino Bridge 4 8 0 1 1 8 -- 45 CLR
5 North Fork Clearwater R. 15 58 2 9 11 5 29 48 CLR
7 South Fork Clearwater R. 33 113 4 10 14 8 28 45 CLR
12 Salmon R. - Little Salmon R. to Vinegar Cr. 2 5 0 0 0 -- -- 50 CLR
20 Little Salmon R. 52 264 16 1 17 16 17 48 CLR

Upper Salmon River Steelhead Weekend Summary 4/07/13

This weekend on the upper Salmon River the majority of anglers were found upstream of Clayton, in section 19. Very few anglers were observed fishing downstream of Elk Bend. Anglers in section 17 averaged 18 hours per steelhead caught, while in section 18, the average was 43 hours per steelhead. Anglers in section 19 also had a catch rate of 18 hours per steelhead with a total of 46 reported caught.

A total of 2,999 steelhead have been trapped at the Pahsimeroi Hatchery trap as of April 8th, and 1,378 steelhead have been trapped at the Sawtooth Hatchery trap as of April 4th.  - Brent Beller, Salmon Region fisheries technician

SALMON RIVER - STEELHEAD CREEL NUMBERS   Week 4/07/13              
SECTION RIVER LOCATION ANGLERS CHECKED NO. OF HOURS  FISH KEPT FISH RELEASED TOTAL FISH HRS/FISH CAUGHT  HRS/FISH KEPT

WATER TEMP  (°F)

WATER CONDITIONS
17 Salmon R. - Lemhi R. to Pahsimeroi R. 89 283 13 3 16 18 22 45 CDY
18 Salmon R. - Pahsimeroi R. to East Fork Salmon R. 19 43 1 1 1 43 43 44 CDY
19 Salmon R. - upstream from East Fork Salmon R.  126 817 21 25 46 18 39 44 CDY