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Ecology and salmon related articles

Few Chinook Arriving-So Far

by Staff
Idaho Mountain Express, June 25, 2008

(Willy Cook) Four-year-old Hailey angler Alexis Burk, standing next to Gaylynn and Rick Burk, fishes for chinook salmon along the upper Salmon River downstream of Stanley last Saturday. Like the few other anglers who have taken to the river for the first chinook season along the scenic stretch of river in 31 years, the Burks reported no success. Fish and Game fisheries biologists believe high spring flows are keeping the salmon holding downstream.

F&G reports indicate chinook salmon are holding downriver because of high flows

High river flows and the slow arrival of chinook salmon into the upper Salmon River near Stanley wasn't about to discourage Hailey angler Alexis Burk last Saturday.

Taking advantage of the first chinook salmon season on the scenic stretch of river between Clayton and the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery in 31 years, the four-year-old braced her heavy fishing rod determinedly.

Looking at his granddaughter standing along the river about a mile upstream from the confluence of the main Salmon and the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River, Hailey resident Rick Burk reminisced about the last time he was able to fish for chinook on the upper Salmon River.

"I was about her age in the 70s when I fished with my dad," he said.

Only last week, the elder Burk caught five chinooks near Riggins, which has already seen much of the spring run pass by on their way upstream.

"This is what I live for-salmon and steelhead fishing," he said.

So far, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game hasn't received any reports of successful chinook anglers anywhere on the upper Salmon River-including from the Burks. But like the few other anglers who took to the river after the rare fishery opened up on Thursday, June 19, the Burks felt confident that the fish are simply holding in deep holes somewhere downstream until the river levels drop.

The last time anglers could fish for chinook salmon in the Sawtooth Valley was in 1977. Since then, dramatic declines in the popular game fish have kept the Idaho Department of Fish and Game from allowing anglers to pursue chinook in the upper Salmon River.

But during its meeting in Jerome last week on May 22, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission adopted chinook salmon seasons on both the upper Salmon River and the South Fork of the Salmon River to the delight of many Idaho anglers. Early projections of the number of returning chinook expected to pass Lower Granite Dam on the Snake River this year on their way to numerous rivers in central Idaho, including the upper Salmon, indicated the run would be about five times the 2007 run.

As part of their adoption of the upper Salmon River fishery, the commissioners established a quota of 254 adult chinook salmon. Once that number is reached-the Fish and Game has placed three check stations along highways in the area to keep tabs on the success of passing anglers-the agency will immediately move to shut the fishery down.

The upper Salmon will be open until August 2 or until further notice. Fishing will be open on the main Salmon River from the state Highway 75 bridge at milepost 213.5, about 10 miles west of Clayton, upstream to the posted boundary 100 yards downstream of the weir at the Sawtooth Hatchery south of Stanley.

Based on years of tracking of the upper Salmon River's annual chinook migration by Fish and Game, the run's average peak has been determined to be somewhere between the first and second weeks of July, said Tom Curet, Regional Fishery Manager for Fish and Game's Salmon Region.

Standing at one of Fish and Game's angler check stations along state Highway 75 a few miles south of the Sawtooth hatchery, Curet expressed confidence that the chinook are coming. However, the cold spring and continuing high flows will likely delay their arrival a few more weeks, he said.

"They are going to be a little slow getting here," he said.

In the rural community of Stanley, business owners who rely on tourists to supply much of their summer cash flow haven't seen much of an influx of salmon-crazed anglers so far.

Last Friday, Jane McCoy, owner of McCoy's Tackle & Gift Shop in Stanley, said that while she has fielded some telephone calls and questions from customers about the rare fishery, she expects more as the season heats up.

McCoy hopes that future chinook runs will allow Fish and Game to schedule similar fisheries in the upper Salmon River. She said this year's run of jack chinook salmon-which fisheries biologists use as an early indication to how strong the next year's adult chinook run will be-indicates good things ahead.

"It's encouraging," she said. "Hopefully this is something that happens year after year."

Along with her late husband Larry, who was a fisheries biologist from Arizona, McCoy bought the building McCoy's Tackle & Gift Shop now occupies in the 1970s, a time when strong runs of chinook still allowed for a salmon fishery in the upper Salmon. The closure of the fishery in 1977 was widely felt among anglers in central Idaho, she said.

"People bemoaned it for years," she said.

Only hatchery chinook salmon with a clipped adipose fin, evidenced by a healed scar, may be kept. Salmon with an intact adipose fin are considered wild fish and must be released immediately. Any salmon caught must be released or killed immediately after landing.

At their Jerome meeting, Fish and Game commissioners voted to change the rules for jack chinook salmon. Fish and Game considers jacks as any chinook less than 24 inches long. More specifically, jacks are young male salmon that return to spawn in their river of origin after spending only one year in salt water.

Anglers may keep two adipose-fin-clipped jacks per day and have six in possession in addition to the adult chinook daily and possession limits. But they don't have to record the jacks on their permit.

When the adult chinook possession limit is reached, the angler must stop all fishing for salmon, including catch-and-release and for jacks.

Few Chinook Arriving-So Far
Idaho Mountain Express, June 25, 2008

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