Friday is Opening Day
by Roger Phillips
Season on South Fork of Salmon may be short
Anglers will get a chance to hook a chinook on the South Fork of the Salmon River this summer, but because of a small salmon run, the season will probably be short.
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission set Friday as the opening day during a conference call on Monday. Commissioners expect the season will close before Fourth of July weekend, based on the forecasted run size and historical catch rates.
Although the season will be short, any salmon season is good, according to Tom McGlashen, owner of Tackle Tom's in Cascade.
"That's wonderful news," McGlashen said. "We've been on pins and needles trying to figure out if we're going to be able to move any salmon gear."
F&G fisheries managers are expecting between 1,200 and 2,400 surplus hatchery chinook, which will be divided between sport anglers and Native American tribes. That would leave 600 to 1,200 for sport anglers.
"Those are very fluid numbers" F&G anadromous fisheries manager Sharon Kiefer said. "They may go up or down as we get additional data from pit tags, trapping, and from the fishery."
Last year, anglers caught 2,586 hatchery chinook in 13-days on the South Fork of the Salmon River, including 534 fish in a single day.
The season will last until a quota of hatchery fish are caught or the "incidental take" quota of wild fish is met. Incidental take is the number of endangered wild fish that might be killed during sport fishing.
All anglers must report their catches, even those they release, at check stations along the South Fork.
All wild fish must be released, but fisheries managers expect that some eventually die from the stress of being hooked, landed and released.
Kiefer said a rule of thumb is that one in every 10 wild salmon hooked and released eventually dies, which counts as one incidental take. This year's incidental take could be as low as 17 wild fish, she said.
The harvest and incidental take quotas will be finalized when fisheries managers know how many fish actually return. Once the quotas are met, F&G Director Steve Huffaker will close salmon fishing.
F&G is forecasting a total run of 28,000 summer chinook.
The chinook are now passing over Lower Granite Dam, the last dam the fish must cross before reaching Idaho. Many of those fish have tiny electronic "pit tags" injected before they are released as smolts that identify them as South Fork fish.
Through Saturday, 23,707 summer chinook had passed through Lower Granite Dam. That's about half the 10-year average for the date and about a third of what returned last year, Kiefer said.
With this year's low salmon return, McGlashen said he had been worried about whether F&G would allow any fishing season at all.
Anglers have been able to fish the South Fork every year since 2000. Before that, seasons were sporadic and harvests small.
McGlashen said he has salmon tackle left over from last year, and he ordered more this year. The cold, wet spring has kept anglers away from the Cascade area.
"Any salmon season is a huge benefit to us," he said. "If nothing else, emotionally, it is a big deal."
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