Middling Return Predicted
by Eric Barker
Over the past four years, the Snake River steelhead
return has lagged well behind the 10-year average.
Fisheries managers are expecting fall chinook to boost late summer and early autumn angling opportunities over the next six weeks or so.
They are predicting more than 24,500 adult fall chinook to return above Lower Granite Dam this year. That is fewer than the 48,000 steelhead that could eventually climb the fish ladder at Lower Granite on their way to the Clearwater, Snake, Salmon, Grande Ronde and Imnaha rivers. But steelhead return over a much longer time period. The bulk enter the Snake River and its tributaries from July to October, but they keep coming well into the next spring. They also disperse over a much larger geographic area. For decades, that has been a plus. Steelhead have provided fishing opportunity that begins in late summer and stretches late into the following spring.
But over the past four years, the Snake River steelhead return has lagged well behind the 10-year average. That is expected to happen again this year and it could be worse than forecast. Through Tuesday, just 22,569 steelhead had been counted at Bonneville Dam. That is the worst on record for the time frame of July 1 to Aug 18. In 1943, 22,662 steelhead were counted at Bonneville Dam through the same time period but steelhead harvest below the dams was much higher then. fish counts began a Bonneville in 1938.
Fall chinook, while fewer in number, tend to stack up in the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers, where anglers troll for the fish that can tip 30 pounds. They can also be caught in the Clearwater River, the Snake River all the way to Hells Canyon Dam and in the lower Salmon River. The Heller Bar area tends to be a hot spot later in the fall.
The fall chinook season opened in Idaho and Washington Wednesday and will likely last through November, with late August and early September offering the best fishing and best flesh quality.
The daily bag limit is three adult fish in both states. Anglers can keep chinook with intact adipose fins and there is no limit on jack chinook -- those less than 24 inches in length.
The fall chinook return is also off to a slow start. Between Aug. 1 and Tuesday, 6,738 had been counted at Bonneville Dam. That compares to a 10-year average of 13,882. At Lower Granite Dam the Aug.1 through Aug. 17 count was 344, compared to a 10-year average of 801.
The fall chinook run above Lower Granite Dam has been revived by a hatchery program. It started at Lyons Ferry Hatchery, operated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The program was expanded at the insistence of the Nez Perce Tribe that successfully pushed for fall chinook releases above Lower Granite Dam and opened its hatchery on the Clearwater River near Cherrylane.
The Nez Perce Tribe also reintroduced coho to the Clearwater River after the fish were declared functionally extinct in the 1980s. Coho season opens Sept. 1 on the Clearwater River from its mouth to the mouth of Clear Creek near Kooskia. On the North Fork of the Clearwater from its mouth to Dworshak Dam and on the South Fork Clearwater River from its mouth to the confluence of the American and Red rivers.
The bag limit is two adult coho. There is no limit on jacks (coho less than 20 inches in length).
2013 Fall Chinook Redd Counts in Lower Snake River Basin Hit Highest Totals Since Surveys Began by Staff, Columbia Basin Bulletin, 2/21/14
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