Locals Excited Aboutby Todd Adams
For the first time in nearly 30 years, the salmon in the upper Salmon River are here for anglers to legally catch. Fishermen caught 30 chinook salmon along the 17-mile stretch from Iron Creek to the Pahsimeroi River in the first three days of the season.
Idaho Fish and Game commissioners voted to put salmon fishing back into this area at their meeting in Stanley last Thursday. This was the first upper Salmon River season in 27 years. The commission made the announcement on Friday and anglers were out on Saturday, July 9.
Sharon Kiefer, anadromous fisheries manager for Fish and Game in Boise, said in a news release that the season would continue until a very limited number of Pahsimeroi hatchery chinook are harvested.
"We believe the state's share of the harvestable surplus for recreational anglers will be between 150 to 450 fish," Kiefer said.
Anglers will be limited to one fish per day, three in possession, and 10 for the season, however long it lasts. Once any of those limits is reached, they must stop fishing. Fishing hours start half an hour before sunrise each day and end at 7 p.m. Anglers must take their chinook to a check station by 8:30 p.m. on the day they catch it.
Bill Horton, salmon and steelhead coordinator, told The Challis Messenger July 12 that he's an optimist and he is predicting that closer to 450 fish will be caught in a season lasting a couple of weeks.
Given low numbers of salmon passing Lower Granite dam this year, Horton said fisheries managers are surprised there was a harvestable surplus at all.
NOAA fisheries approved a permit application for the upper Salmon River season this spring. Fisheries biologists said in May it was very unlikely a season would happen because of lower than anticipated returns,
"We need about 600 adults at Pahsimeroi to reach our broodstock goal of producing one million smolts," Kiefer said in the news release. As of July 7, the hatchery had trapped 94 percent of the females necessary, so "we're very confident we will achieve our production goal," said Kiefer.
A telephone recording at the Pahsimeroi hatchery told anglers July 12 that 900 chinook had been trapped so far, so the goal has been met. In the recording, an enthusiastic Doug Engemann urged fishermen to get their salmon tags, get on the river and fish.
The local scene
Because the traveling public had only a day's notice, the season got off to a relatively slow start. Anglers reported that fishing was slow Sunday. But local business owners and Challis Area Chamber of Commerce officials are optimistic that more people from around the region will flock in and give the economy a boost this weekend.
A total of 481 anglers had stopped at one of two Idaho Fish and Game check stations by the end of Monday (third day of the season) according to Vickie Harber of the Fish and Game office in Salmon. They reported catching 30 fish, of which 13 were wild salmon that must be released. Another 12 were hatchery fish that anglers kept. Five hatchery fish were also caught but released.
The average fishing time worked out to 80 hours, 15 minutes per fish caught for the first three days.
Gary Kimble and Tom Coates, the two locals who were instrumental in securing a permit for the salmon season, said they were surprised and pleased to have a season.
Kimble called the first season in nearly three decades "experimental.
"It's been so darn long, nobody knows the effect up here," on how long the season will last, how many fish will be caught, how much the local economy will benefit or the impacts to the local salmon fishery, said Kimble.
Kimble said he talked to NOAA fisheries managers in Boise last week and was told "absolutely" there would be no season.
Kimble went to Stanley for the Fish and Game commission meeting Tuesday. "I said I was tired of being lied to," he said. He pointed out federal fisheries managers had always promised a salmon season when sustainable numbers were reached. Sustainable numbers of salmon have returned to the Pahsimeroi and Sawtooth hatcheries for the past few years, but no seasons were set. Kimble and Coates helped clear a bureaucratic logjam this spring by convincing state and federal fisheries managers and Sen. Larry Craig's office to push through a five-year federal permit allowing seasons to be set. Seasons still depend upon a harvestable surplus of salmon return to the upper Salmon River each year.
It's "commendable" the Fish and Game commissioners "gave us a season," Kimble said.
Kimble and local Larry Knapp went fishing downriver on Sunday. They had no luck, no bites but "it was a decent day of fishing," Kimble said. "The phone didn't ring the whole time down there."
Ironically, Coates told The Challis Messenger that he's leaving this week for a six-day Alaska salmon fishing trip northwest of Anchorage.
If the airline tickets weren't non-refundable, Coates said he'd be fishing here, even though he's likely to catch fewer fish.
"I think we were all surprised," Coates said of the local salmon season. "We weren't expecting it. It's a big deal. Maybe we got a foot in the door. It's definitely going to be a shot in the arm for our community."
As a Challis native who grew up fishing for salmon, then endured 27 years without a season, Coates said "I've always wanted the opportunity for my kids to fish here." If the season's still on when he gets back from Alaska, Coates said he'll be out on the Salmon River, fishing with his sons.
"It means a lot to be able to do it again," said Coates.
Salmon tag sales
Greg Webster, owner of The Bent Rod fishing stores in Challis and Mackay said the Challis store had sold 60 salmon tags by Tuesday and the Mackay store had sold two. Many locals who fish the hatchery chinook run near Riggins already had salmon tags, Webster noted.
Webster said the season has already boosted his business. He's not sure how much yet, but he's not expecting a big increase due to the likely short season.
"This weekend will be the big teller," said Webster, adding he's expecting many more anglers now that the word is out.
Without a set stop date for the season, Webster said he can't predict the affect on his business, but he's cautiously optimistic. While he'd prefer a set season, any season is better than nothing.
"I think it's great," said Webster. "We're definitely happy we're having a season."
Steelhead season was a little slower than usual because the fish returned in fits and starts instead of all at once, said Webster, so "this [salmon season] will help."
Webster said he didn't place any huge orders due to the lower than expected salmon numbers this spring. When it looked like there would be no season in May, Webster said he thought he'd have to "eat" the extra tackle. Now he's calling other friends in the fishing retail business to order more salmon tackle.
People buying tags are "pretty stoked" about fishing for salmon, Webster's son Dustin Webster told The Messenger. Anglers report slow fishing, but say they're still excited after nearly 30 years without a local season, Dustin said.
Glenda Ebberts said Tuesday that Valley Junction had sold eight to 10 tags, and she's not expecting a big bump in business from the short season.
Deb Fisher at the Gateway Mini Mart (Cenex) said Tuesday that 11 anglers had purchased salmon tags so far.
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