Large Chinook Run Set to
by Brian Smith
STANLEY -- Like a classic muscle car, a well-traveled Chinook salmon draws interest from all around.
With a good run expected to return to the upper reaches of the Salmon River this summer, there could be a traffic jam of both anglers and Idaho's trophy fish.
Take heart, Magic Valley anglers -- with the low snowfall this year and such an influx of fish expected, water conditions should be ripe, said Jason Brunson, Stanley resident and fishing guide for White Cloud Rafting Adventure.
"That fish has to run 900 miles out to the ocean, do their years out there and come all the way back," Brunson said. "It is almost sad that you target them after that journey, but they are big and strong fish."
Pete Hassemer, Idaho Department of Fish and Game anadromous fish manager, said that Chinook returns to the Snake, Clearwater and Salmon rivers are expected to be some of the best in recent memory.
He said 83,000 hatchery-bred Chinook and 42,000 wild fish are predicted to enter the Columbia River headed for Idaho waters. Last year's actual run was 45,000 hatchery fish and 22,000 wild fish, he said.
Forecast breakdowns are just for the hatchery Chinook.
Of this year's 83,000 fish, Hassemer said, 39,900 will cross Lower Granite Dam headed for the Clearwater, upper Snake and Salmon rivers. Of that run, 26,600 Chinook will head up the Salmon River. Last year's forecast for the same population was 16,000.
"Based on the forecast there are sufficient fish coming back that we can plan fisheries in all these areas, and from this point forward we will be working with the regional staff and fish managers," Hassemer told the Idaho Fish and Game Commission on Jan. 16.
The immature upper Salmon River fishery has seen only five season openings in recent memory. The 2013 season was scratched due to the decade-low return of Chinook.
Of the 26,600 Chinook forecasted to swim up the Salmon, 4,400 will be headed to the Sawtooth Hatchery near Stanley and 1,700 to the Pahsimeroi Hatchery.
That's a four-fold increase from last year's forecast of 1,428 for the Sawtooth and 350 for the Pahsimeroi. Actual returns for those hatcheries last year were 1,238 for the Sawtooth and 363 for the Pahsimeroi.
"It is hard to say whether those (forecasts) are going to shake out or not," said Jon Hansen, a Fish and Game regional fishery biologist.
Hansen said Chinook usually arrive around the North Fork of the Salmon River at the end of June, but the run's timing is "fairly broad." Angler interest builds and usually hinges on water levels, he said.
"Often times it is not unusual to have high water toward the end of June, as well, and that's why when the first fish get here, the angler interest might be low because the river might be so high that it's not fishable," he said.
If Fish and Game announces a season, it will usually last only six to eight weeks at most, Hansen said. That narrow window turns the river into a combat fishing zone, he said.
"They hit it pretty hard," he said. "Often times I would say our Salmon fisheries are very intense."
Anglers tend to stack up in several well-known holes along the river, Brunson said.
"If the fish are here running, it usually ends up being busier than the steelhead season," Brunson said.
Hansen said fly fishermen often switch to a bait rig on a spin-casting rod and reel to fish Chinook. Spoons and spinners work well from the shore, while plugs and poppers work from a drift boat.
The second-most popular bait is cured salmon eggs looped to a hook and topped with a Spin-N-Glo or Corky. The most popular bait is a little stranger, yet easier to come by, he said.
"Some people just even use tuna from a can," Hansen said. "They'll take a little mesh bag and . . . put that on a hook and fish it just like they would cured row. People are pretty effective with it."
On the fly rod, try fishing a single red, orange or yellow salmon egg pattern on a size 10 egg or caddis hook, said Les Reitz, a Twin Falls member of the Magic Valley Fly Fishers.
"You can physically see the fish slide back and watch that fly and then you re-flip it again," he said. "Two or three passes and that fish would probably take that fly."
Fly fishers can try an egg-sucking leech or bunny leach in any number of colors, from pink to chartreuse to purple. Use a piece of split shot six to eight inches from the fly, and dead drift it along the bottom, he said.
Or, anglers who prefer to experiment can tie a pattern Reitz said he invented but doesn't have a name for.
"It's a quarter-inch-wide zonker rabbit strip I tie for the tail in chartreuse," he said. "Then I'd do a body of polar chenille in a fluorescent pink. It has got fibers that stick out to a quarter of an inch and you have to sweep them back as you tie. It has got a real pulsing motion. Then I do another collar of the chartreuse rabbit."
If Fish and Game opens a season for the upper river in June and July, anglers will need to heed regulations -- natural Chinook, those with an intact adipose fin (the small one closest to the tail), must be released. The bag limit for hatchery, adipose fin-clipped fish will depend on the size of the run.
"Sometimes they'll say it's two fish, or three," Hansen said. "It just depends on if the fisheries managers are trying to extend the length of the fishery and provide more opportunity for everybody."
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs