LEWISTON – Idaho Fish and Game commissioners approved a new fall chinook fishing season on the Clearwater River and its North Fork at their meeting in Nampa on Thursday.
Commissioners also signed off on fall chinook seasons on the Snake and Salmon rivers and made changes to steelhead regulations in the face of another poor return of both A-run and B-run fish.
The new fall chinook season on the Clearwater from Memorial Bridge at Lewiston to the mouth of the South Fork Clearwater at Kooskia and on the North Fork Clearwater below Dworshak Dam won’t start until the Idaho Department of Fish and Game receives a needed permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service. Once that happens, it will be open Thursdays through Sundays.
Fall chinook seasons on the Clearwater River below Memorial Bridge, the Snake River from the Idaho-Washington state line to Hells Canyon Dam and on the Salmon River from its mouth to the Twin Bridges boat ramp south of White Bird will open Saturday and run seven days per week. Initially, anglers will be allowed to keep only adipose fin-clipped adults and jack chinook with or without adipose fins. The bag limit will be six adults per day and an unlimited number of jacks.
When the state receives its permit from the federal fisheries agency, anglers in all river sections open to fall chinook fishing will be able to harvest up to one adult salmon per day with or without intact adipose fins. Most fall chinook returning to the Snake River and its tributaries have not had their adipose fins clipped, even though many of them originated in hatcheries. Adipose fins of juvenile hatchery salmon and steelhead are generally clipped to distinguish them from protected wild fish and to mark them as available to harvest.
State fisheries managers are expecting to receive the permit, which will also cover Washington and Oregon, as early as the first week of September. Washington and Oregon will also open fishing seasons for fin-clipped adult hatchery fall chinook and clipped or unclipped jack chinook on the Snake River on Saturday. The bag limit in Oregon and Washington will be six adults per day and there will be no limit on jack chinook.
The fall chinook season on the Clearwater River above Memorial Bridge is considered experimental. Once it opens, it will overlap a catch-and-release steelhead season there. The new opportunity is viewed differently among angler groups. Many fly anglers targeting steelhead oppose the chinook season because they believe it will lead to overcrowding on the river at a time of year that has traditionally been more quiet, and also put more stress on protected wild steelhead.
Idaho’s fisheries managers set up the season on the Clearwater River to learn how the fall chinook and catch-and-release steelhead fisheries will mesh. They plan to convene a working group of anglers this winter to consider how chinook and steelhead seasons might be structured in the future.
“This is an opportunity to provide a one-year experimental fall chinook salmon fishery that will help us learn how angler effort, boating traffic, and angler satisfaction are influenced by this fishery,” said Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston. “This information can be used by the working group to help them develop seasons and rule proposals.”
Idaho Fish and Game commissioners also reduced the statewide bag limit for steelhead to one hatchery fish per day and adopted a rule requiring anglers to release any steelhead 28 inches in length or longer caught from the Clearwater River and its tributaries and the Snake River from the Idaho-Washington state line to Couse Creek Boat Ramp south of Asotin.
The bag limit reduction and size restrictions, which take effect Saturday, are designed to ensure hatcheries on the Salmon, Snake and Clearwater rivers meet spawning goals.
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