The Idaho Fish and Game Commission Tuesday (April 30) approved a spring chinook salmon fishing season to start Saturday (May 4) on parts of the Clearwater, Salmon and Snake rivers.
Fish counts from Bonneville Dam suggest that the 2013 return of chinook salmon to Idaho may be significantly lower than forecast but large enough to support fisheries, according to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Projected returns for the Clearwater River are farther below forecast levels than returns to the Salmon and Snake rivers.
Through Thursday a total of 556 adult spring chinook salmon had been counted passing over fish ladders at the lower Snake River’s Lower Granite Dam, the eighth hydro project the fish pass on their way up the Columbia and Snake. The dam in southeast Washington is the last salmon encounter on their way to Idaho and tributaries in northeast Oregon. The lower Columbia’s Bonneville Dam is the lowermost hydro project on the mainstem.
Last year’s total count through May 2 was only 93 while the final spring chinook count was 66,366.
Fish and Game tailored the 2013 fisheries proposals to meet hatchery broodstock needs, focus fishing efforts in areas where hatchery fish are most abundant, and still allow fishing in river reaches that anglers have grown accustomed to fishing in recent years.
The proposal for the Clearwater River approved by the commission achieves these goals by limiting fishing to four days per week and reducing the length of river open to fishing in each of the recently fished sections. The Clearwater feeds into the Snake along the Idaho-Oregon border.
Only the Lochsa River is closed entirely to fishing.
Salmon returns to the Salmon and Snake rivers do not appear to be as far below forecast levels as those to the Clearwater. Fisheries in the Lower Salmon, Little Salmon and Snake rivers are similar to fisheries in recent years. These areas will be open seven days a week, and river sections recently fished will not be shortened - except the Shorts Bar to Vinegar Creek stretch of the lower Salmon River, which is closed.
Also, The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will open the upper Snake River for spring chinook fishing on Saturday, May 4 under the following regulations:
-- Open to sport fishing seven days a week from Dug Bar Boat Ramp to the deadline below Hells Canyon Dam. The fishery will remain open until a notice of closure is announced.
-- The daily bag limit is four adipose fin-clipped spring chinook salmon (adult and jacks) per day, no more than one can be an adult salmon more than 24-inches long. Anglers must stop fishing for salmon for the day when they have kept four jack salmon (equal to or less than 24-inches long) or one adult salmon, whichever comes first.
-- Only barbless hooks may be used. Anglers are reminded to consult the 2013 Oregon Sport Fishing Regulations for other applicable regulations.
ODFW and Idaho Fish and Game fishery managers, who co-manage Snake River sport fisheries, delayed opening the season this year because fish counts at mainstem Columbia River dams are smaller than expected.
“We are anticipating a much smaller harvest quota this year” said Jeff Yanke, ODFW district fish biologist in Enterprise. “Anglers should be prepared for sudden changes, including a closure.”
Season changes and closures announcements will be posted on the ODFW website and released through local news outlets.
In local tributaries, Oregon fishery managers plan to open the Imnaha River, but not the Wallowa, for chinook salmon this year. Managers are expecting an especially low return to the Wallowa River this year, with not enough hatchery fish to sustain a fishery, Yanke said.
“Our forecasts indicate an adequate return to the Imnaha, but the decision to open the fishery entirely depends on what we see crossing the lower Columbia dams”, Yanke said. Fishery managers track salmon returns using PIT-tags that are implanted in juvenile salmon before they migrate to the ocean.
Chinook salmon that return to the Imnaha River typically migrate much later than other salmon stocks in northeast Oregon, and Yanke predicts it will be another month before fisheries are decided.
“We will be tracking the returns very carefully,” he said. “Whenever we can responsibly offer these great fishing opportunities, we want to do so.”