Idaho Eyes Another Big Salmon Yearby Brett French, Gazette Outdoor Writer
Billings Gazette, February 26, 2004
If preseason predictions are correct, Idaho's salmon rivers may see another good chinook season this spring and summer.
"We should see a lot of fish over Lower Granite Dam," said Nathan Brindza, regional fisheries biologist for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in Lewiston, Idaho. Lower Granite is the last fish-counting station on the Snake River before fish enter Idaho.
The department is estimating anywhere from 17,000 to 45,000 two-salt salmon for the Clearwater River alone. Two-salt fish have spent two years in the ocean.
The estimate is the same as 2001's preseason forecast, and that was a banner year.
The department bases its estimates on the return of jacks, or one-year male salmon, to the hatcheries the previous season.
Salmon are fair game on the lower Salmon and Snake rivers as well as the Clearwater and its tributaries, such as the Lochsa River.
Last season turned out great, Brindza said, with three-salt fish weighing 30 to 40 pounds returning to Idaho's headwaters.
"The fish won't be as big this year, but there'll be a lot of them," he said.
The Idaho Fish and Game Commission won't set the season and fish harvest until the end of March. But the season proposed for the Clearwater would run from April 17 through Aug. 1.
Many of the Montana anglers that travel to Idaho for salmon fish the Clearwater system, Brindza said, especially if there are fish in the Lochsa River.
"It's easier for them to make a trip over the hill," he said, referring to Highway 12 over Lolo Pass.
The peak of the run in the lower Clearwater River is around early May, then fish move up the tributaries.
"Only 20 percent of the harvest occurs in the lower river because the fish are moving so fast," Brindza said. "You've got to be there when they are moving because when it's over, it's over."
Last year's limit was three salmon a day and the year before it was four. Until the commission rules, this season's take is undetermined, but the department is eyeing a two-fish-a-day season for 2004.
"We're thinking of pulling back to two a day to extend the season and not have to close it unexpectedly," Brindza said. "Perhaps a more conservative bag limit could extend the season."
Last year, the Clearwater was closed temporarily until fish numbers perked up. Closing the season makes it hard for traveling anglers as well as for outfitters and guides, Brindza said.
The possession limit (those fish with an angler) should remain at six fish with a 20-fish season limit (how many you can have in your freezer) unless the runs are huge.
The salmon fishing season can be a big boon to some of Idaho's rural towns.
According to a study done by the Idaho Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the statewide economic impact of the successful 2001 season was nearly $90 million. In the town of Riggins along the Salmon River, chinook fishing accounted for 23 percent of the town's annual sales - an estimated $10 million.
Because of the healthy salmon runs, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission set the most liberal catch and possession limits in the last quarter-century the last three seasons. In 2001, the possession limit on the Salmon River, the Little Salmon River, the Clearwater River and the Snake River in Hells Canyon was 40 fish.
A yearly nonresident fishing license costs $74.50. A salmon tag is an additional $11.50. This year, anglers can purchase a two-pole permit for another $12.50 and fish with two rods.
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