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Idaho Seeks Public Comment On Reopening Steelhead Angling For Hatchery Fish Under 28 Inches
Posted on Friday, October 06, 2017 (PST)

After considering an Idaho Department of Fish and Game proposal to reopen steelhead fishing for hatchery fish smaller than 28 inches and with a reduced bag limit, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission decided instead to ask for public input on the proposal.


Steelhead angling in Idaho has been limited to catch and release fishing since August 14 when IDFG closed the fall steelhead harvest because the run of Idaho steelhead, which already had been forecasted to be lower than average, was returning in even smaller numbers or they were later than expected.


At a special call-in meeting Monday, October 2, the Commission postponed a decision on the staff proposal until after a public comment period. The Commission will revisit its decision on reopening steelhead fishing at a meeting the week of October 23.


At the August closure, IDFG said it would continue to monitor the steelhead run and either add restrictions or restore harvest if hatchery needs are met and additional hatchery fish are available for harvest. Numbers of steelhead showing up in Idaho waters began to steadily improve through September, IDFG said.


“Steelhead returns have rebounded and are now tracking along with the preseason forecast with over 113,000 expected to cross Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River,” said Lance Hebdon, anadromous fish manager for Fish and Game. “Returns projected to Idaho based on known Idaho fish passing Bonneville Dam are now enough to provide a harvest of hatchery steelhead, but with smaller bag limits.”


Hebdon estimates about 22,000 hatchery steelhead above broodstock needs are destined for Idaho rivers. Most of those fish have already been counted at Bonneville Dam. The hatchery fish (both A-run, which are under 28 inches, and the larger B-run) are produced as mitigation for lost fishing opportunity associated with federal and Idaho Power dams in the basin.


As of Wednesday, October 4, some 113,687 steelhead had passed Bonneville Dam, with 33,209 of those wild fish. Last year on this same date, 179,574 steelhead had passed the dam, with 49,824 wild, and the 10-year average is 322,650 with 107,942 wild.


Some 41,739 steelhead had passed Lower Granite Dam as of October 4 (some of the count is from earlier migrations of winter steelhead), with 9,425 wild. Last year on this same date, 54,024 had passed Lower Granite with 13,428 wild and the 10-year average is 107,492 with 29,351 wild.


The proposal is to reduce the traditional daily bag limit from three to two in the Snake and Salmon rivers, with additional restrictions in the Clearwater and lower Snake and limiting harvest to two steelhead less than 28 inches.  Only hatchery fish with adipose fins clipped can be kept. The size restriction protects the larger B-run steelhead that are still not abundant enough to provide harvest without risking overharvesting fish needed to replenish hatcheries, IDFG said.


With the proposal, wild fish, particularly B-run wild steelhead whose numbers are low this year, remain protected. Wildlife managers pointed out that Idaho had low wild returns in the past when there were abundant hatchery returns.


In its update Monday, September 25, the U.S. v Oregon Technical Advisory Committee increased its forecasted number of the combined A- and B-run summer steelhead to 113,200 fish at Bonneville Dam. Based on the recent five-year average run timing, 92 percent of the run is complete by September 24. The week of September 18, TAC estimated the combined run size at 107,800 steelhead, with 106,700 A-run fish, including 78,800 hatchery and 27,900 wild steelhead.


However, TAC downgraded September 25 the B-run size to 6,500, down from the September 18 estimate of 8,500 fish. Some 5,500 of those are hatchery steelhead and 1,000 are wild steelhead.


(See CBB, September 29, 2017, “Treaty Fishing Gets Another Week; B-Run Steelhead Downgraded To 6,500 Fish, 1,000 Wild,”


“Idaho's wild steelhead returns were as low or lower than this year as late as 2007-08,” IDFG said. “But wild returns quickly rebounded after river and ocean conditions improved.”


“Idaho takes a conservative approach to managing wild steelhead” Hebdon said. “We don’t allow any harvest of wild steelhead. About 85 percent of the wild steelhead habitat in Idaho is closed to all steelhead fishing, so the only impact to wild steelhead is associated with catch-and-release handling incidental to both catch-and-release and harvest fisheries targeting hatchery fish.


“Harvesting hatchery fish and releasing wild fish has proven to be an effective conservation tool," Hebdon added. "We will continue to monitor wild steelhead populations in Idaho and are confident that the implementation of Idaho’s steelhead sport fisheries are not a risk to the goal of rebuilding wild steelhead populations."


He noted that Idaho has had essentially the same steelhead fishing rules since the 1990s with occasional changes to account for smaller returns, like this year’s.


The complete proposal is at


Angler comments should be made by email or phone to their local regional fishery manager:


--Joe DuPont, Clearwater Region Fishery Manager,; 208-799-5010

--Greg Schoby, Salmon Region Fishery Manager,; 208-756-2271

--Dale Allen, Southwest Region (McCall) Fishery Manager,; 208-634-8137


Also see:


--CBB, September 1, 2017, “Record Low Steelhead Run Spurs Closures, Reduced Bag Limits; Return Only 30 Percent Of Average,”


--CBB, August 25, 2017, “Fall Commercial Fishing Begins On Columbia, Low Steelhead Numbers Prompts Idaho To Suspend Retention,”


--CBB, July 28, 2017, “Fall Fishing Opens To Lower Than Usual Chinook Returns; Season Includes Rolling Steelhead Closure,”




* Idaho Approves Coho Season Oct. 17; Once Extinct, Now Back With Nez Perce Tribe Reintroduction Program


The Idaho Fish and Game commissioners on Oct. 2 set a fishing season for coho salmon, which will run Oct. 17 through Nov. 16, or until further notice.


Fishing will be open on sections of the Clearwater, South Fork of the Clearwater and North Fork of the Clearwater. Fishing for coho salmon is permitted daily and 24-hours a day during the designated season and locations.


Bag limits will be two coho daily, six in possession and 10 during the 2017 season. Coho season limit is in addition to the chinook season limit. Coho Salmon with an attached adipose fin can be harvested. Anglers must have a valid salmon permit to keep coho.


Anglers should beware that steelhead and fall chinook fishing seasons occur in the same waters, and they must have a clipped adipose fin to be kept. Know the difference between these species.


Coho were reintroduced into the Clearwater River system by the Nez Perce Tribe, and Idaho held its first coho sport fishing season in 2014.


This year’s return is enough to replenish hatcheries and provide a modest sport fishing harvest. Through October 4, 2,874 coho adults and 140 coho jacks had crossed Lower Granite Dam about 30 miles downstream from Lewiston. Last year on the same date, 1,252 adults and 162 jacks had passed. The 10-year average is 1,978 adults and 187 jacks.


Coho were declared functionally extinct in 1985 after counts at Lower Granite flat-lined at zero in the 1980s. Annual adult coho counts at Lower Granite from 1984-1996 registered zero 10 times with a total of 11 tallied combined in the three other years.


Coho salmon once returned to the Clearwater River Basin (tributary to the Snake River) in abundance and supported an important fall tribal fishery.


Earlier efforts to restore coho during the 1960s failed. Snake River coho were never listed under the Endangered Species Act. The Nez Perce Tribe’s reintroduction program began in 1995 with hatchery coho releases into the Clearwater River.


Also see:


-- CBB, Nov. 14, 2014, “Historic Coho Season Ends In Idaho; Record 18,000 Cross Lower Granite, 6 Times 10-Year Average”


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