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Clearing River may Bring Anglers Luck

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, October 19, 2001

Dropping water levels, less rain should improve chances of catching a steelhead in the Clearwater

Steelhead fishing has been good on the Clearwater River since the catch-and-keep season opened Monday, but officials say the conditions may drastically improve in the next few days.

Water levels are dropping and the river should clear a bit without more rain.

"I would expect the next few days, the Clearwater is going to be really good," said Larry Barrett, a fisheries biologist for the department at Lewiston.

Anglers on the lower Clearwater River averaged 11 hours of fishing per steelhead caught and 18 hours of fishing for each fish kept Monday. The department considers fishing to be good whenever the hours per fish caught are less than 20.

Recent rain storms muddied the water just a bit and slowed fishing some, according to Barrett. But he said the rain and murkiness should also pull more B-run steelhead into the river and also distribute them evenly between Lewiston and Orofino.

"The whole river is going to be good," he said. "It's setting itself up really nice. It should be a fun weekend."

Anglers that forsook the opener on the Clearwater and fished the Snake instead likely made a wise decision. Although fishing was decent on the Clearwater it was red hot on the Snake.

"Heller bar is just really good," said Barrett.

Creel surveys there indicate anglers caught a steelhead for each 8 hours fished and were able to land a keeper for every 13 hours fished. The vast majority of the 190,000 steelhead that have been counted at Lower Granite Dam, 35 miles west of Clarkston, pass Lewiston and head up the Snake River and its tributaries.

Of the 200,000 steelhead expected, 160,000 are projected to be the smaller and earlier returning A-run fish that are destined for the Salmon, Snake and Grand Ronde rivers. Some 34,000 B-run steelhead that return later and larger are destined for the Clearwater and Salmon Rivers. Through Sunday fish counters at the dam had recorded about 15,000 B-run steelhead.

Barrett said steelhead anglers need to take care to identify their catch before they kill it. There are a number of fall chinook and coho salmon in the Clearwater and Snake rivers that have had their adipose fins removed. Steelhead anglers are accustomed to making sure fish they have landed don't have the fins on the rear of their backs. The fin indicates the fish is wild and must be released.

But salmon managers are also using adipose fin clips to identify fall chinook and coho salmon produced to supplement wild runs. Barrett said a fish without an adipose fin doesn't necessarily mean it can be kept. All coho and fall chinook that are hooked must be released.

The easiest ways for anglers to discern fall chinook and coho from steelhead is to inspect their mouths. Steelhead have white gums and white mouths. Fall chinook have black gums and black mouths and coho have white gum lines but black mouths.

"If it has black put it back," said Barrett.

Sharon Kiefer, anadromous fish manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Boise, said anglers' ability to identify their catch is crucial to holding fishing seasons that target hatchery fish in rivers with wild populations of salmon and steelhead that are protected by the Endangered Species Act.

"We kind of get trained to look for that adipose fin and get trained that if its ad is clipped it's OK and in the fall, unfortunately, that is not correct."

Eric Barker
Clearing River may Bring Anglers Luck
Lewiston Tribune, October 19, 2001

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