Steelhead Season May Open
by Eric Barker
Fisheries managers to meet today to decide on possibly allowing fishing Jan. 1 on Clearwater, elsewhere
Frustrated steelhead anglers may get the chance to swing flies, pull plugs and bounce bait on the Clearwater and lower Snake rivers starting Jan. 1.
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission is set to decide today if the Clearwater River and the Snake River downstream of Couse Creek should reopen to limited steelhead fishing. The rivers were closed in October because of low numbers of returning hatchery fish.
"We are just excited at this point we have the potential to provide some fishing opportunity for this run," said Lance Hebdon, anadromous fish manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise.
The department has proposed allowing anglers to harvest as much as one hatchery steelhead per day from the Snake River below Couse Creek, the Clearwater River and its South and Middle forks. However, anglers will be required to release any steelhead longer than 28 inches, and the North Fork of the Clearwater would remain closed to fishing under the state's proposed rules.
The Nez Perce Tribe is contemplating opening steelhead fishing on the lower Clearwater and the North Fork of the Clearwater to its members, also starting Jan. 1. Washington has not yet decided if it will open the Snake River below Couse Creek or parts of that stretch to steelhead fishing. Chris Donley, fish program manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he has some concern about the low numbers of wild B-run steelhead.
"I'm just a little unsteady about the conservation risk," he said.
Fisheries managers at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the tribe's Department of Fisheries Resources Management have concluded that Dworshak National Fish Hatchery is likely to meet its spawning goals of about 1,300 adult fish by next spring, an outcome that had been in serious doubt for much of the fall. Both entities, along with fisheries officials in Oregon and Washington, took extraordinary measures to help ensure enough adult hatchery B-run steelhead would return and be collected for spawning.
The tribe led an effort to intercept steelhead bound for the Clearwater River at Lower Granite Dam and truck them to Dworshak National Fish Hatchery. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the tribe, who together run the Dworshak hatchery, kept the steelhead trap there open for a prolonged period this fall. Trapping has also occurred at Kooskia National Fish Hatchery. All of the trapping efforts will continue into the spring.
In addition, Idaho and the Nez Perce Tribe closed steelhead fishing on the Clearwater River and its tributaries and on the Snake River downstream of the Couse Creek Boat Ramp south of Asotin. Washington also closed steelhead fishing below Couse Creek and together with Oregon implemented rolling steelhead closures on the Columbia River while adult B-run steelhead were returning.
There are now 864 adult B-run steelhead at the Dworshak hatchery, said Joe Oatman, deputy program manager and harvest manager for the tribe's Department of Fisheries Resources Management, in an email to the Tribune.
"As a result of these broodstock acquisition actions and reducing tributary fishery harvest of Dworshak B-run hatchery fish, we are optimistic that we will meet broodstock needs," Oatman said.
Fisheries officials estimate about 4,665 hatchery steelhead, including 3,609 fish that have spent two years in the ocean and another 1,056 that spent just one year in the ocean, will or have returned to the Clearwater. Many of those fish are bound for the South Fork of the Clearwater River where there is no hatchery trapping facility. Fisheries officials plan to use volunteer anglers to catch and hold enough of those fish to fill out the remaining number needed for full spawning.
The Fish and Game Commission will meet via telephone this morning to vote on the proposal. The Nez Perce Tribe Fish and Wildlife Commission will meet Monday to make a decision about its season.
Steelhead fishing is open on the Snake River upstream of Couse Creek and on the Grande Ronde and Salmon rivers.
Limited Steelhead Fishing Season on Clearwater River a Possibility by Eric Barker, Moscow-Pullman Daily News, 11/25/19
F&G commission extends smaller steelhead bag limits for 2020 season for Snake and Salmon rivers by Brian Pearson, IDFG Press Release 11/8/19
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