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For Anglers Eager to Fish the Lewiston-to-Heller Bar Stretch, Time May Be Running Out on a Chance to ... Hook Chinook

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, May 16, 2002

Salmon fishing is picking up on the Clearwater, Snake and Salmon rivers, but at least one of the popular fisheries is set to expire Sunday.

The stretch of the Snake River from the Southway Bridge between Lewiston and Clarkston and extending south to Heller Bar could end just as the bulk of hatchery spring chinook salmon begin to pass through the river.

Officials at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife are seeking to extend the season that runs Thursdays through Sundays by about two weeks. But they will have gain approval from fisheries officials in Idaho, Oregon and the National Marine Fisheries Service to do it.

"The run does look indeed like it's late and the fish are there," said John Whalen of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in Spokane. "We are looking to see if maybe we can extend it."

The season on the Snake River in the Lewiston-Clarkston area was opened for the first time in 30 years. Fisheries officials designed it to target a small portion of spring chinook returning to the Rapid River Hatchery near Riggins.

They wanted anglers to catch the Rapid River stock without depleting it so much that anglers in the Salmon and Little Salmon rivers wouldn't have a good chance to catch fish.

But they also wanted to structure the season so endangered salmon returning to the Grand Ronde and Imnaha rivers in Oregon and summer chinook returning to the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho would not be affected.

To accomplish that they set a daily bag limit of one salmon and limited fishing to Thursdays through Sundays only. They also designed the season to close when anglers had caught and kept 500 spring chinook or on May 19, whichever came first.

Thus far, fewer than 100 salmon have been caught on the stretch of the Snake. Sharon Kiefer, anadromous fish manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise, said she is looking at data from the Columbia and Snake River dams to determine if the season can be extended without affecting the other runs.

When hatchery salmon climb fish ladders over the dams, the tiny pit tags that were implanted in them as juveniles are read by a computer. The tags contain specific information about the individual fish, including their hatchery of origin.

By analyzing the data, fisheries managers can measure the number of salmon that have returned from specific runs. So far this year about 75 percent of the spring chinook that have passed Lower Granite Dam, 35 miles west of Clarkston, have been from Rapid River Hatchery and Dworshak National Fish Hatchery at Ahsahka.

Of the Rapid River chinook that have entered the Columbia River, some 30 to 40 percent have passed Lower Granite Dam. Kiefer said that percentage could change quickly.

"We have to look at what is going to be hitting Granite this coming weekend. I think we are going to see a huge slug of Rapid River Fish pass through this coming week."

Kiefer said it takes up to five days for chinook to reach the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater rivers once they pass the dam.

Officials in Oregon said they were not aware of Washington's desire to lengthen the Snake River season, but would consider the proposal.

"We are objective about it," said Brad Smith of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at Enterprise. "I haven't looked at the recent dam counts. We'll need to do that and see if our pit tags are moving through."

Smith said Oregon would like to have a fishing season on the Imnaha River this spring, but has not received approval from NMFS. He also wants to make sure the run returning to the Grand Ronde River would not be harmed in the fishery.

Fishing in the Clearwater, Snake and Salmon rivers was particularly good last weekend, according to Larry Barrett of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston. Anglers averaged 3.4 hours of fishing for each chinook caught on the lower Clearwater.

Most of the chinook have been caught right at Lewiston, Barrett said, between the Railroad Bridge and the Potlatch Corp. mill. But he said fishing should be heating up between the mill and Orofino.

"I would expect this week or certainly by early next week they are going to be catching fish at Orofino."

Eric Barker
For Anglers Eager to Fish the Lewiston-to-Heller Bar Stretch, Time May Be Running Out on a Chance to ... Hook Chinook
Lewiston Tribune, May 16, 2002

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