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Wednesday, April 1, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Outdoors blog

Idaho steelhead, fall chinook, coho fishing seasons open today

Steelhead: Fin structure good with distinct margins. Normal head, slender body.  (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)
Steelhead: Fin structure good with distinct margins. Normal head, slender body. (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife)

FISHING --  Fish from the ocean are arriving daily to Idaho via the Columbia and Snake rivers and anglers are out to greet them.

Harvest season for steelhead opened today in the Snake, Salmon and Lower Clearwater rivers. Harvest for fall chinook opened in the Snake, Clearwater, and a short section of the Lower Salmon, and coho opened in the Clearwater, North Fork of the Clearwater and Middle Fork of the Clearwater rivers.

See Idaho Fish and Game’s rules brochures for boundaries and other rules.

Fall chinook is the big news this year with a large run expected to return to Idaho and provide excellent fishing in September.

Here's a report by IFG's Roger Phillips:

It’s still early in the run for fall chinook, but early returns are among the best in the last 30 years, according to Idaho Fish and Game’s Clearwater Region Fisheries Manager Joe DuPont.

“Warm water is not slowing them down,” DuPont said.

Fish and Game predicts about 40,000 fall chinook will return to Idaho, which would be the third-largest return dating back to 1975.

Through Aug. 31, 2,827 fall chinook have crossed Lower Granite Dam, which is the last dam the fish cross before reaching Idaho. That compares with 1,885 for the same date last year, and 1,157 for the 10-year average.

DuPont pointed out that more than 65,000 chinook crossed Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River in the last five days, so the bulk of the run is now entering the river. Although many of those fish will stay in the Columbia, those bound for Idaho usually get here in about 10 days.

He recommends anglers take advantage of the chinook run in September. The fish are arriving into Idaho by the hundreds daily, and soon to be the thousands, and they typically congregate around the mouth of the Clearwater River in September because it’s pumping out cooler water.

The fish are large, upwards of 35 pounds, and unlike spring and summer chinook, fall fish spawn shortly after arriving in Idaho, so they’re quality for eating degrades more quickly.

As the season progresses into fall, more fish arrive, but they tend to disperse throughout the river systems.

Anglers can only keep chinook with the adipose fin clipped, and only about a third of the returning adult fish will be clipped, so anglers can expect to release most of the fish they catch. 

September is an exciting month for chinook fishing, DuPont said, and anglers can expect crowds at some locations as this fishery grows in popularity.

For those seeking a little more solitude, the Clearwater River above Memorial Bridge on U.S. 95 is popular for catch-and-release steelhead fishing because the harvest season doesn’t open on that stretch until Oct. 15.

This year’s steelhead run is expected to be about average at 70,000 hatchery fish. Steelhead provide a long season for anglers because they remain in rivers until they spawn in the spring. Through Aug. 31, 4,137 steelhead have crossed Lower Granite Dam, which is way below the 10-year average of 11,225 for that date and well behind 9,959 for that date last year. But warm water in the Columbia River has stalled the run, which is common during hot summers.

Anglers will get a bonus this year with the second-ever sport fishing season for coho salmon on the Clearwater River, but with an earlier start this year.

The inaugural season opened mid October last year and provided anglers with a modest harvest of less than 100 fish, but also produced two state-record fish. Last year’s run was a record 18,000 fish over Lower Granite Dam. Clearwater coho were extinct until 1996 when the Nez Perce Tribe hatched eggs from fish in the Lower Columbia River and release the young fish into the Clearwater River. The first adults returned to the river in 1997.

Tribal and Fish and Game fisheries managers don’t know what to expect this year because the the run is relatively new, and managers don’t have enough years of return information to make forecasts.

But fisheries managers are confident that there will be enough coho to replenish hatcheries with adults and also provide a sport fishery. The coho hatchery program is operated by the Nez Perce Tribe.

DuPont said anglers caught most coho incidental to other fishing last year, but with an earlier start to the season this year, they may catch more this year. The state record to beat is 11 pounds, 12.8 ounces. It was caught by Steve Micek of Idaho Falls on Nov. 8, 2014.

Coho return later than chinook and steelhead, and none has crossed Lower Granite Dam yet, but 2,438 have crossed Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River. 

Anglers may harvest coho with an intact adipose fin, however, it’s incumbent on the angler to know the difference between a coho, chinook and steelhead. 

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.

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