Anglers Back More Fishing,
by Eric Barker
Department of Fish and Game finds fishermen are willing to adapt to fluctuating returns
Salmon anglers have once again embraced lower daily bag limits in exchange for longer fishing seasons and more rivers open to spring chinook angling.
Fisheries officials from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game wrapped up public meetings around north central Idaho early this week, presenting anglers with different salmon season scenarios. The officials also explained the difficult decisions they have to make when they plan salmon seasons.
The toughest part, according to regional fisheries manager Ed Schriever at Lewiston, is dealing with the uncertainty about the number of salmon that will actually return each year.
The problem is made more difficult this year by perplexing signals delivered by the number of jack salmon that returned last year.
Biologists use jacks -- salmon that spend only one year in the ocean before returning early to spawn -- to predict future salmon runs.
Last year the number of jacks that returned to Lower Granite Dam, about 35 miles west of Clarkston on the Snake River, indicated a good run this year.
But the return of jacks to Dworshak and Kooskia national fish hatcheries was lower than expected.
That leaves biologists like Schriever uncertain about the strength of the spring chinook run on the Clearwater River.
Because of that uncertainty, he has proposed beginning the season with conservative bag limits, perhaps as low as one hatchery salmon per day.
Anglers who attended the meetings mostly agreed with that strategy, he said.
"That was pretty much a no-brainer," he said. "When they saw how things were going to start out, folks didn't have a problem at all with smaller bag limits."
The season opening could also be delayed, according to Schriever, to make sure some salmon make it upriver to hatcheries and other fishing areas.
The season also could open with some popular salmon stretches on the Clearwater closed.
Schriever hopes the Idaho Fish and Game Commission will adopt a framework that allows the department to adjust things, like the season length and the amount of water open, during the season. The adjustments would be based on the actual number of salmon that return, he said.
People at the meetings tended to favor opening more water, over increasing bag limits, if the actual return of salmon exceeds preseason predictions.
According to predictions, about 75,000 hatchery-born spring and summer chinook will return to Lower Granite Dam this year, plus 17,500 wild salmon.
Schriever said the department is looking at reserving a portion of the state's salmon that return to the Clearwater River for upriver fisheries like the South Fork of the Clearwater and the Lochsa River.
That is what the department did last year, when it shut down fishing on the main Clearwater River before the state reached its share of harvestable salmon, but kept the South Fork and Lochsa open.
The state and Nez Perce Tribe split the number of salmon returning to the river, but not needed for spawning at hatcheries.
Predictions indicate a return of 8,400 hatchery salmon to the Clearwater River this year. About 4,000 are needed for hatchery spawning and the remaining 4,400 would be split between tribal and nontribal anglers.
The return of hatchery salmon to places like Rapid River and the South Fork of the Salmon River is more certain, and will likely lead to season structures in the Salmon River basin that are similar to recent years.
That means both the Little Salmon River and the Main Salmon near Riggins are likely to be open.
Fish and game commissioners will make the final call on salmon seasons when they meet in Boise later this month.
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