Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Idaho fisheries managers lay out possible spring chinook season structures

A chinook salmon caught on the Clearwater River.
By Eric Barker Lewiston Tribune

LEWISTON – Fisheries managers are expecting about 8,000 hatchery spring chinook to return to the Clearwater River this year.

That will produce a modest harvest share of about 1,360 for tribal and nontribal anglers. Last year, the Clearwater River harvest share started out at 2,700 but grew to more than 3,300 when the run exceeded the forest.

It produced a season with fishing seven days a week with a daily bag limit of one adult fish on the Clearwater River and its tributaries, with the exception of its North Fork that was open four days a week.

According to a harvest-run size matrix that was developed with input from anglers, this year’s forecast would call for fishing four days a week with a one adult fish bag limit. The department is asking anglers if they support that fishery design and their feelings on a proposal to change harvest distribution goals.

The department attempts to manage the season so that 30% of the harvest occurs between Lewiston and the Cherrylane Bridge; 20% from Cherrylane to Orofino; 15% in the North Fork; 11% from Orofino to Kooksia; 12% on the Middle Fork of the Clearwater between Kooskia and Lowell; and 12% on the South Fork of the Clearwater.

Joe DuPont, regional fisheries manager at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, said hatchery production of chinook smolts has increased from 4 million to 6 million and more of those juvenile fish are released in the lower end of the basin, which also sees more angling effort. To help make sure the state reaches its harvest share, something that didn’t happen last year, the department is proposing to increase the harvest goal between Lewiston and Orofino from 30% to 35% and in the North Fork from 15% to 20%. The harvest goal from Cherrylane to Orofino would drop to 19%. Orofino to Kooskia would drop to 8%, the Middle Fork to 10% and the South Fork to 8%.

“Remember, we’re not releasing fewer fish up there,” DuPont said of the top end of the basin. “We’re actually just releasing more fish in the lower river. Although these lower river reaches might get more opportunity, the upriver reaches aren’t getting less.”

Rapid River

The Rapid River run that passes through the lower Salmon and Little Salmon rivers will have a harvest share of about 2,510, based on the preseason forecast. Last year, the preseason forecast dictated a harvest share of about 3,800, but a poor return dropped that number to 1,921.

The run stalled at the Slide Rapid because of high flows. When the water levels dropped, a wall of fish stormed upriver. Anglers quickly exhausted then slightly surpassed the harvest share and the fishery was closed. Those fishing in the lower Salmon River caught a larger share of the run than those on the Little Salmon. The department tries to manage the fishery so harvest is split roughly 50/50 between the two rivers

DuPont said this year’s run is strong enough to propose a seven-day-a-week season with a bag limit of one adult fish, based on the harvest-run size matrix. He and the department are asking anglers if they support that season structure or if they prefer to start with a more conservative season with fishing open four days a week. Doing so would slow harvest and could lead to a longer season. It would also help the department distribute harvest equally between the two rivers.

The department is asking anglers if it should retain the goal of splitting harvest evenly between the Little Salmon and lower Salmon rivers, or if it should shoot for a 55/45 split with the larger share going to the lower Salmon. The change would more closely reflect where angler effort is concentrated.

The fishing boundary on the lower Salmon previously stretched from the Rice Creek Bridge below Cottonwood to the Vinegar Creek Boat Ramp about 25 miles upriver of Riggins. DuPont said the department is recommending that the river be closed to harvest between Shorts Bar and Vinegar Creek. Doing so it would protect harvest opportunities for fisheries on the South Fork of the Salmon River and the upper Salmon River.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273. Follow him on Twitter @ezebarker.