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Idaho agency to vote on opening catch-and-keep season

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 12, 2017, 1:35 p.m.

LEWISTON – The Idaho Fish and Game Commission is set to vote on a proposal to allow catch-and-keep steelhead fisheries on the Snake, Salmon and Little Salmon rivers and on the Clearwater River and its north, south and middle forks.

The commission will vote on the proposal Friday. If it passes, anglers on the Clearwater and its tributaries and the Snake River downstream of Couse Creek would have to release all steelhead longer than 28 inches.

The size restrictions are designed to protect steelhead bound for the Clearwater Basin. The state expects only about 7,300 hatchery and about 1,400 wild B-run steelhead to make it back to Idaho waters, the Lewiston Tribune reported.

Many fly fishermen are concerned about low numbers of wild fish on the Clearwater and lobbied the department and the commission to stick with catch-and-release rules, while many others, including outfitters and guides, back the state’s proposal.

However, some of the outfitters said they would accept lower bag limits and suggested the state should reduce them even in years with good steelhead returns.

“We all need to come together and come up with a new way to manage the entire fishing experience,” Lewiston outfitter Jason Schultz said.

The state adopted a one-fish daily bag limit in 1990, another year with a poor steelhead run, but allowed anglers to catch and release steelhead even after they met the limit. Current rules require anglers to stop fishing when their bag limit has been reached.

“If (catch-and-release) mortality is not that big a thing, that could be something that worked every year,” Riggins tackle shop owner and fishing guide Kerry Brennan said.

Schultz, who agreed with Brennan, said the normal three-fish bag limit on the Snake and Salmon rivers is too high and said a later opening of catch-and-keep fishing on the Clearwater would improve the fishing experience for everyone.

“I’d like to see the catch and release stay on the Clearwater beyond Oct. 15, but catch and kill on fish 28 inches and under,” Schultz said. “After Jan. 1 turn them loose. I think it would be an amazing world-class fishery if they did that.”

Some outfitters also backed a requested regulation by fly fishermen that would require wild fish, which must be released, to be kept in the water. Idaho allows anglers to lift them from the water to take pictures. Some contend doing that reduces survival.

Fish and Game Commissioner Dan Blanco of Moscow said the commission likely will vote on the state’s proposal in three pieces – one for the Clearwater, one for the Snake River and one on the Salmon River.