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Commentaries and editorials

Steelheaders Open Early Gift

by Eric Barker
Lewiston Tribune, July 29, 2004

Commission opens short section of Clearwater River to catch and keep Steelhead season comes early this year. The mouth of the Clearwater River opens to catch-and-keep steelhead season Sunday -- a month earlier than normal.

Anglers will be able to catch hatchery steelhead from its mouth to the Memorial Bridge, a short section of about one mile. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission moved the season up so anglers could take advantage of early returning steelhead that dip into the lower Clearwater River for a blast of cold water.

The commission also moved up the opener of catch-and-release fishing on the Clearwater River. In past years the river would open to catch-and-release fishing Sunday, but this year it opened July 1 and fly fishermen and boat anglers have been catching fish for weeks.

So far this year, about 2,500 steelhead have crossed Lower Granite Dam, about 35 miles west of Lewiston on the Snake River. The vast majority of early returning steelhead are expected to nose into the Clearwater River even though they are bound for other locations.

"The water is 15 degrees cooler than it is on the Snake River, and they really like that. It's a nice thermal refuge for them," said Larry Barrett of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game at Lewiston.

Barrett said the A-run steelhead that spend some time in the Clearwater River come from an amalgamation of stocks. It includes fish bound for the Snake River in Hells Canyon, the Salmon River, Grand Ronde River and the Imnaha River.

It will even include some steelhead bound for Lyons Ferry Hatchery on the Lower Snake River. The Clearwater's cool temperatures are so inviting that fish bound for Lyons Ferry swim past their destination and cross Lower Granite just for its chilling effect before slipping back downstream.

Barrett said anglers should be aware that they need an Idaho fishing license and steelhead card to fish in the Clearwater River, including its mouth. Washington and Idaho share a portion of the Snake River, and anglers from either state can fish its waters. But no part of the Clearwater River is in Washington, and there is no reciprocal agreement between the two states that allows Washington anglers to fish the mouth of the Clearwater River.

The Snake River opens to catch-and-keep fishing Sept. 1, and the rest of the Clearwater River above Memorial Bridge opens to catch-and-keep fishing Oct. 15.

Anglers who do harvest fish in the Clearwater River should also be aware they can be issued citations if they fish the catch-and-release fishing zone in the confluence area or the Clearwater River above Memorial Bridge while they have harvested fish in their possession.

"The regulations say it is illegal to be fishing while having fish in possession that violate the regulations for that body of water," said Barrett.

Anglers are permitted to travel through sections of river closed to fishing while they possess harvested fish, as long as they are not fishing there. That means anglers who put their boats in at the North Lewiston ramp or ramps on the Snake River and catch fish in the open section of the Clearwater River can travel back across closed sections of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers as long as they don't fish while doing so.

Eric Barker
Steelheaders Open Early Gift
Lewiston Tribune, July 29, 2004

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