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South Fork Salmon Season Slated

by Tony Hansen
The Idaho Statesman, June 21, 2000

Anglers to get chance to hook hatchery chinook

"It's unanimous, we have a fishery on the South Fork of the Salmon."

Those words, uttered over a crackling telephone intercom from Fish and Game Commissioner Fred Wood on Tuesday, were the ones Idaho salmon anglers were hoping to hear.

Via conference call Tuesday from the office of Fish and Game Director Rod Sando, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission unanimously approved a fishing season on the Salmon's South Fork for summer-run hatchery chinook -- just the second time in three decades that such a season has been allowed.

The season -- pending approval from the National Marine Fisheries Service -- will begin June 30 and close Aug. 4. Fishing hours will be 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. There will be a daily limit of two fish, with a four-fish possession limit. The statewide season limit remains at 20 fish. Salmon may be caught from the mouth of Goat Creek upstream to a posted boundary about 100 yards downstream from the South Fork weir.

There also will be a mandatory check-in for any fish caught. F&G will staff a check station at Knox Ranch on South Fork Road. (Forest Service road 474). Anglers must have any fish they keep checked by 10 p.m. the day they are caught.

F&G Fisheries Coordinator Sharon Kiefer said anglers can expect a run of about 2,300 hatchery chinook to reach the South Fork of the Salmon, about 1,700 of which will be available for angler harvest -- for both tribal and sport anglers -- after the McCall hatchery takes 570 fish for brood purposes.

Remember, the season is for hatchery-reared salmon -- identified by a missing fin near their tails -- only. Wild, non-clipped fish are federally protected species and, if caught, must be released.

While the opportunity to catch one of this nation's grandest game fish is a bonus for Idaho anglers, it's a huge economic boost to the region, as well.

"The last time they had a South Fork Season (1997) really generated a lot of excitement," said Tom McGlashen of Tom's, a bait and tackle store in Cascade. "Looking back on how we did in '97, we had about a 17 percent increase in business. You could safely say that 15 percent of that was related directly to the salmon season -- it made that much of a difference in that short of time. That's a pretty good boost in just a few weeks."

Chuck Grabow, an avid salmon angler and manager of Sunset Sports Center in Boise, said a South Fork salmon season is good for business and an angler's love of fishing.

"It's a great time. I'll definitely take advantage of it," he said. "On the business side, about 50 percent of our business in the fishing department right now is salmon-related. That's a big boost this time of year."

There is one hurdle, however, that F&G must clear before the season is for sure -- the National Marine Fisheries Service .

In order to hold the season, the NMFS must issue F&G a Section 10 Incidental Take Permit, because there is a chance that an angler could land a protected wild salmon.

But Kiefer said that's little more than a formality.

"We have been working with NMFS and expect everything to go through well before the opener," she said. "This is the same thing we went through for the spring season."

The 1997 salmon season was a breakthrough of sorts for both F&G fisheries and recreational anglers. It was the first time since 1964 that anglers were allowed to catch salmon in the South Fork and was one of the first times that significant numbers of hatchery fish returned to their rivers of origin, proving that a hatchery program could provide a limited sport fishery -- albeit an artificial one.

While hatchery returns are going well, the return of wild salmon continues to be a concern.

In 1997, 6,600 wild salmon reached Lower Granite Dam. This year, it's expected that just 1,500 wild chinook will reach Lower Granite -- roughly half of the 10-year average.

"But it's important to note that in 1997 we had a lot of late-running spring chinook, which kind of skewed the numbers," Kiefer said. "This year, we're looking at summer-run fish from 1996 (when the returning salmon were born) which was a fairly low return year."

In addition to the South Fork of the Salmon, salmon seasons remain open on the North and South forks of the Clearwater, Little Salmon and Lochsa rivers.

South Fork salmon

Tony Hansen
South Fork Salmon Season Slated
Idaho Statesman, June 21, 2000

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