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WEDNESDAY, MAY 15, 2013, 2:54 P.M.

Idaho spring chinook bite coming on

Jeff Jarrett of Orofino brings a spring chinook salmon out of the net in the Clearwater River  before sunrise during the Idaho season in 2001. (Rich Landers)
Jeff Jarrett of Orofino brings a spring chinook salmon out of the net in the Clearwater River before sunrise during the Idaho season in 2001. (Rich Landers)

FISHING -- The long-term news is not great, but in the short term anglers should be prepared this weekend to take advantage of spring chinook streaming into Idaho waters.

  • Fish have already started showing up at most Idaho salmon hatcheries. 
  • A couple adult chinook were caught all the way upstream at Hells Canyon Dam last week.
  • PIT-tag arrays indicate fish are beginning to move into the South Fork Clearwater River.  
  • Jacks, which are coming in big numbers, have started hitting the Clearwater River.

Joe DuPont, Idaho Fish and Game Department regional fisheries manager just posted an update on all the details. In addition to the above details, he gives the sobering news that last week's surge of salmon hundreds of miles downstream into the mouth of the Columbia has pooped out. 

As the Idaho Fish and Game Commissioners prepare to set chinook seasons during a Thursday meeting in Coeur d'Alene, read on for some of the data they'll be working with, as summarized by DuPont:

Since my last update, the number of adults Chinook salmon passing over Bonneville Dam destined for the Clearwater Region fisheries has dropped considerably. In fact, we have not seen a single PIT-tagged adult Chinook salmon headed for the Clearwater Region fisheries pass over Bonneville Dam for at least 2 days with most release sites not seeing a fish pass over Bonneville Dam for at least 3 to 5 days.

Looking back over past years, when this occurs, it typically means at least 95% of the run has passed over Bonneville Dam. So, don’t expect a whole lot more adult Chinook salmon bound for Clearwater Region fisheries to pass over Bonneville Dam.

...Projected harvest shares have declined since my last update due to the lack of Clearwater Region bound fish passing over Bonneville Dam. It’s important to realize that these harvest shares are projections based on how many fish have passed over Bonneville Dam in comparison to past years and how well they typically survive between Bonneville Dam and Lower Granite Dam.

Some good news is these fish seem to be surviving this journey better than they have in the past which means more fish may show up at Lower Granite Dam than we are projecting which would increase our harvest share.

Some other good news is we have starting seeing summer run Chinook bound for the South Fork Clearwater River pass over Bonneville Dam during the last couple days. None of these fish are clipped as they will be the first summer run adults to return the Clearwater River and will be used as broodstock to build up future releases. Based on our projections, we should have plenty to meet and expand our brood needs.

Harvest was very slow last week, which is not surprising as we are still early in the run and where more fish were available in the Clearwater River, high dirty water made fishing difficult. Flows are starting to drop in most rivers right now, so likely fishing conditions will be good by the weekend.

...I expect people will start catching fish throughout the region by this weekend.

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Rich Landers
Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.

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