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Fish and Game Forecasting the
Largest Salmon Returns in Years

by Roger Phillips
Idaho Statesman, January 30, 2009

Salmon anglers could be in for banner catches according to Idaho Department of Fish and Game forecasts for the upcoming season, which usually opens in mid-April.

Fish and Game expects about 105,000 salmon to return to Idaho during spring and summer, which would be the largest return since 2001. That year, about 150,000 salmon returned - the highest number since counts started at Lower Granite Dam in 1975.

This year's forecast compares to a 53,600 spring/summer chinook run last year and a 10-year average of about 60,000 fish.

Fish and Game is expecting a substantial bump of hatchery fish, which anglers can catch and keep, and wild fish, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

F&G bases its forecasts on last year's "jack" salmon return, which are immature males that return after a single year in the ocean and are an indicator of the following year's run.

Last year, 16,000 jacks returned, which compares to a 10-year average of 6,500 jacks.

While indications look good for the upcoming season, there are no guarantees the forecast will hold true.

Over the past 10 years, forecasters underestimated the actual run six times and over-estimated it four times. Actual runs ranged from a low of 42 percent of the forecast to a high of 157 percent more than the forecast.

Over the past 20 years, actual runs averaged 106 percent of the forecast.

Salmon fishing has become a spring tradition in Idaho, and river towns like Riggins and Orofino welcome the influx of anglers.

Fish and Game commissioners likely will set a salmon season in March, and 2009 will mark the 10th consecutive year of salmon fishing, the longest unbroken streak of sport fishing seasons in Idaho dating back to the 1950s.

Last year, the Upper Salmon River between Challis and Stanley got its first salmon season in 30 years, and anglers got a fall chinook season for the first time in about 30 years.

If this year's forecasts are realized, Fish and Game expects about 20,000 salmon will be available for sport fishing harvest, nearly double last year's sport harvest. That would include more than 9,000 fish for the Clearwater River system and 9,600 for the Salmon River system.

Last year, anglers harvested about 3,200 fish from the Clearwater and 3,800 from the Salmon River.

Other factors are setting up for a good salmon fishing season.

This year's snowpack is mild so far, and a big snowpack usually means high water about the same time the salmon arrive in Idaho, which makes fishing difficult in large rivers.

Large runs also tend to return a little early, so anglers may get a crack at them before and after the peak spring runoff.

Roger Phillips
Fish and Game Forecasting the Largest Salmon Returns in Years
Idaho Statesman, January 30, 2009

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