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Outdoors blog

Coho adding a new look to coolers of Idaho anglers

A coho salmon sits on ice over a catch of steelhead from Idaho's Clearwater River. (Rick Itami)
A coho salmon sits on ice over a catch of steelhead from Idaho's Clearwater River. (Rick Itami)

FISHING -- Yes, I know that some of the coho Idaho anglers are catching hundreds of miles from the ocean in the Clearwater River are dark and off their prime.

But some of the salmon are bright and very good for eating, and opportunity not to miss in this year of record coho returns. 

The photo above shows a nice coho that stands out in a crowd of steelhead on Rick Itami's boat.  It's a sight popping up in coolers along the river since the state's first dedicated coho fishing season opened Oct. 17.

Here's Itami's report:

Thanks to funding from BPA, the Nez Perce Tribe has re-established a coho run in the Clearwater River to the point that this year for the first time, the IDF&G opened a sports fishing season that allows 2 fish per day and 6 in possession.  To top it off, you can keep wild or hatchery fish.  I didn't bother to target coho because the counts over Lower Granite never got above a few hundred per day which seemingly would not make it worthwhile to go after them.  But early this morning, I was trolling lighted lures for steelhead and was reeling in my line so that I could put away my trolling gear and try bobber fishing.  The fast-moving plug caught the attention of this beautiful female coho and she grabbed it just before I got it to the boat.  As you can see it is nice and bright and the flesh is deep red.  It's fillets are now headed to my new smoker along with the steelhead I caught.

See a report on an angler (who's also a fisheries biologist) who caught the first official state record coho in the new Clearwater season casting a spoon.

A record run (since 1938) of adult coho crossed Bonneville Dam and headed up the Columbia and Snake River systems this year and jacks are the 4th highest since at least 1980. 

  • Through Oct. 31, a total of 262,831 adult and 14,577 jack coho had been counted at Bonneville Dam. 
  • The previous record was 259,533 adults in 2001. 
  • The record for jacks is 22,204 fish in 1986. 

Coho were declared functionally extinct from the Snake River basin in the 1980s. But the run had tanked decades earlier. In 1995, the Nez Perce Tribe began an effort to re-establish the run using eggs and juveniles from surplus stock at hatcheries in the lower Columbia River basin.

The tribe’s fisheries division slowly increased the returns of the fish.

Here's more information from Eric Barker of the Lewiston Tribune:

Over the past handful of years, enough adult coho returned from the ocean that the tribe was able to rely on them to spawn the next generation and did not need to supplement juvenile releases with the offspring of coho that returned to the lower Columbia. Tribal fisheries officials expected returns would improve once the transition was made to a localized brood stock. But they were not expecting the huge leap the run made this fall.

During the previous five years, an average of 3,145 coho returned at least as far as Lower Granite Dam. This year more than 17,100 coho have been counted at the dam.

Outdoors blog

Rich Landers writes and photographs stories and columns for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including Outdoors feature sections on Sunday and Thursday.

Go to the full Outdoors page