Spring Chinook Salmon Fishing Update:
by Joe DuPont
Hi everybody, it is time for my weekly spring Chinook Salmon update (6/14/2022).
Now that the migration of Idaho-bound spring Chinook Salmon past Bonneville Dam is essentially complete, I am just going to focus this discussion on what the PIT tag detections are telling us about where fish are returning and what it looks like our harvest shares will be. You may recall in my last update I mentioned that the survival of spring Chinook Salmon as they migrated between Bonneville Dam and Lower Granite Dam could influence our harvest shares. Typically survival rates average around 70-74% depending on where they are returning. What we are learning now is that the survival rates are ranging from 63-67%. Unfortunately, when survival rates are lower than expected, that will cause our projected harvest shares to drop. Now that we have a better understanding of what the survival rates are, I have updated the table below that shows where fish are returning and what our projected harvest shares are. The harvest share that was influenced the most by these lower survival rates was for the Clearwater River Return fishery. Last week we were projecting a harvest share of just over 6,000 adult fish, and now with this new information we are projecting it will be closer to 5,200 fish (see darker pink row below). For the Rapid River Return fishery, we are projecting the harvest share will be about 3,600 adult fish (see blue row below) whereas last week it was 3,739 fish. The adult harvest share for the Hells Canyon fishery has remained a zero fish (green row below).
Another thing I want to point out in the table above is that 55% of the fish in the Clearwater River Return fishery are returning to locations downstream of Orofino Bridge. This includes the following Release Groups: Dworshak Hatchery, NF Clearwater River by Clearwater Hatchery, and Nez Perce Tribal Hatchery. Prior to 2020, around 30% of the fish returned to locations downstream of Orofino Bridge based on PIT tag estimates. This change occurred because we began releasing more fish at these downstream locations. The reason I bring this up is because we developed harvest allocation goals in the Clearwater River basin (see table below in the Clearwater Fisheries section) based on these older release strategies. With more fish now returning downstream of Orofino Bridge, it may not be possible to achieve the harvest goals set for the upstream fisheries. I will get into what this means more as I discuss the Clearwater fishery below.
Clearwater River Basin Fishery
This past weekend we saw flows reach 100,000 cfs in the lower Clearwater River which was the second highest flow we have seen there since Dworshak Dam was completed. Not too surprising, catch rates dropped in areas where people couldn't find clear water to fish in. However, in areas there was clear water (sections 2 and 3), catch rates were excellent (5-8 hrs/fish). We estimated that 619 adult fish were harvested last week (see table below) with 80% of the fish being caught in sections 2 and 3. The boat anglers did really well.
With the harvest share dropping by over 800 fish in the Clearwater basin, that brings section 1 right up to its harvest goal (30% of harvest share – see blue section of table above). For that reason, the Director has signed a closure order that will close section 1 of the Clearwater (from Camas Prairie Bridge to Cherrylane Bridge) at the end of fishing hours on Sunday (June 19, 2022). All other areas will remain open through at least this weekend. If fishing continues to improve in sections 2 and 3, we could see those sections approach their harvest goals (see blue section in table above). However, if the upstream reaches (sections 4-8) look like they are going to struggle to reach their harvest goals, we may allow more fish to be harvested from sections 2 and 3. We will keep a close eye on this and keep you informed.
Rapid River Run Fishery
High dirty water was also an issue for the Rapid River Run fishery which kept harvest down for the week. We estimated a total of 177 fish were harvested (see table below). Catch rates were the best we have seen in section 2 of the lower Salmon (14 hrs/fish) and the Little Salmon River (22 hrs/fish), but that was likely related to the low amount of effort that occurred there. We now estimate about 1,300 fish have been harvested from this fishery which leaves about 2,300 fish in our harvest share. For this reason, all river sections (except section 1 of the lower Salmon River) will remain open for at least another week.
Flows are supposed to drop steadily in the lower Salmon River until Friday (to about 40,000 cfs) and then level out. These flows will still be higher than average, but I suspect they will drop enough to get fish moving. If harvest picks up considerably, don't be surprised if the lower Salmon River approaches its harvest goal of 50% of the harvest share (681 fish remaining – see blue section of table above) and closures occur next week.
Hells Canyon Fishery
We estimated that 21 jacks were harvested last week below Hells Canyon Dam. Effort was really low, so those people who made the effort to get there experienced good catch rates (7 hrs/fish). I suspect that we will continue to see similar catch rates this week below Hells Canyon Dam.
Summer Run Salmon Fisheries
The Fish and Game Commission met today (June 14, 2022) and set Idaho's summer Chinook Salmon seasons. I can tell you that they will all open this weekend (June 18, 2022) and the limits for each fishery will be four (4) fish, only two (2) of which may be adults. For more details on the seasons, limits, and fishing areas for these fisheries, please check out our website (https://idfg.idaho.gov/fish/chinook/rules).
The only summer run fishery I manage is the fishery in the Lochsa River, and I will provide updates on that fishery here in the future. For those of you who want to receive updates on the other summer Chinook Salmon fisheries, I would suggest you e-mail Jordan Messner (Jordan.firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested in the South Fork Salmon River fishery or Greg Schoby (email@example.com) if you are interested in the fisheries in the upper Salmon River.
As I'm sure most of you know, Father's day is this Sunday. What better way to spend Father's Day than fishing for salmon with your kids or your father. I know I am hinting to my kids that I'd love it if they would take me salmon fishing. Talk to you all next week.
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