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Salmon Fishers make their Own Run to Riggins

by Fenton Roskelley
Spokesman Review, May 23, 2001

The tiny town of Riggins in north central Idaho is now the salmon capitol of the Inland Northwest. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of salmon-hungry anglers have converged on the village to fish the chinook-packed Little Salmon and Salmon rivers.

In fact, salmon anglers sometimes outnumber Riggins residents 5 to 1.

The word's out. The hottest fishing for spring chinooks is along the rivers near Riggins. Some anglers even catch four-fish limits when big pods of salmon move up from the Snake River.

As many as 4,000 salmon fishermen have fished the main Salmon and the Little Salmon. No one has counted the anglers, but a few bemused local residents think the visiting fishermen number in the thousands.

Anglers have parked their rigs along the road that parallels the Little Salmon and tossed their lures and bait into the fast water. They have fished elbow-to-elbow in many sections, a practice that sometimes leads to temper flare-ups.

Young biologists and conservation officers have never seen anything like the fishing. They were born after the salmon runs deteriorated following construction of the four Snake River dams. Now they're witnessing a run that reminds old-timers of the "good, old days."

They've seen many fishermen fighting big salmon determined to head back to sea, yelling at other fishers to get out of their way. The amazed biologists use words like "awesome," "fantastic" and "unbelievable" to describe the fishing.

The Idaho Fish and Game Department expects 40,000 and 45,000 salmon to return to its Rapid River hatchery this year. On the other hand, only about 25,000 are expected to swim up the Clearwater and its tributaries. The Clearwater, in case you haven't heard, has been providing terrific salmon fishing for several weeks.

Thousands of chinooks are in the Salmon and Little Salmon and more are on the way. Most will head for the hatchery on the Rapid River, a tributary of the Little Salmon. The season for the Little Salmon will end Aug. 5 unless the National Marine Fisheries Service decides to close it earlier. The Salmon is scheduled to be closed June 10. Rapid River, a tributary of the Little Salmon, is closed to salmon fishing.

The Little Salmon is open to salmon fishing from its mouth at Riggins to the U.S. Highway 95 bridge near Smokey Boulder Road. The bridge crosses the Little Salmon about 24 miles upstream from Riggins. However, only a few thousand will bypass Rapid River and move further up the Little Salmon.

Consequently, anglers, knowing the best fishing will be the 4- to 5-mile section between Riggins and the mouth of Rapid River, concentrate where they figure they'll have their best chance to hook chinooks.

The Little Salmon is a fast-moving stream that can be fished best from shore. It's too wild and full of big boulders for sane boat fishermen.

Fish biologist Larry Barrett of Lewiston expects the terrific salmon fishing to continue for several weeks. As long as the salmon come, anglers will be along the Little Salmon every day until no more salmon can be caught.

When the spring chinook run was opened several weeks ago along the lower Columbia, fishing was so good that many shore anglers and some boat anglers caught 10- to 35-pound springers below Bonneville Dam.

As the salmon moved up the Columbia system, the most productive fishing was above Bonneville at the mouth of the Wind River and at Drano Lake. The lower Clearwater became the hot fishing spot after it was opened April 21. Fishing is still outstanding at times.

After a section of the Snake River was opened, the hottest fishing was at "The Wall" at Little Goose Dam.

Now, the Little Salmon is the hot spot. As anglers began hooking chinooks along the stream, thousands of fishermen throughout Idaho began to hear of the fantastic fishing. Then out-of-state fishers learned they could fill their freezers with choice salmon meat.

Highway 95 became the road to unbelievable fishing.

The generous limit of four a day and eight in possession has attracted fishermen who want to fish for several days. They felt they could take home eight big salmon.

Because the Little Salmon is a fast-flowing river, some lures and techniques used by anglers along the Columbia, Snake and Clearwater are not as effective as other lures, including spinners and wobbling spoons. It's difficult, for example, to use a Magnum Wart or a Kwikfish plug.

Many of the thousands of anglers now fishing the Little Salmon use bait, including salmon eggs, prawn, sardines and even nightcrawlers. Keeping eggs and nightcrawlers on barbless hooks is a problem that's hard to solve.

Most of the anglers who fish the Salmon below Riggins fish from boats, although there are places where they can fish from shore. The fishing has been every bit is good as it's been along the lower Clearwater but isn't as good as the fishing along the Little Salmon.

How long will the fantastic fishing last?

Barrett said he believes anglers will be catching springers for several more weeks.

The Idaho Fish and Game Department needs fewer than 10,000 chinooks to take eggs at its Rapid River hatchery. So there will be a big surplus. It's too expensive to trap fish at the hatchery and transport them back down to the Salmon River to give fishermen another chance at them. Consequently, thousands will die without spawning.

For young Idahoans and other anglers throughout the Northwest, catching salmon from a small, picturesque stream is a chance of a lifetime. They may never get such a chance again, so they're making the most of this year's almost unbelievable run.

Fenton Roskelley
Salmon Fishers make their Own Run to Riggins
Spokesman Review, May 23, 2001

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